ELLE Digital Cover Star: Alaya F. Has Her Priorities Straight

What if there was a way to accomplish meaningful work without the associated breakdowns or stress? What if ‘making an impact’ didn’t require massive amounts of energy or sacrifice? What if you could get more done by doing less? When I pose these questions to Alaya F., she laughs and gives me a self-assured reply, “I don’t think success comes with stipulations. It’s important to put in the hard work, but it’s also important to prioritise yourself on days that you’re not at 100%,” she says.

There’s a refreshing maturity to Alaya F., a trait that hasn’t been diluted by the machinery that seeks to control what celebrities say and think. But it wasn’t always that way with the 26-year-old. Now six films old, with her latest release being Srikanth, which spotlights the incredible true story of Srikanth Bolla, a visually-impaired industrialist and the founder of Bollant Industries, and stars Rajkummar Rao in the titular role, Alaya believes she’s coming into her own. “I’ve evolved as an actor. I want to think that I’m a director’s actor, so with the kind of synergy that develops between me and a director, I am steadily pushed to grow and challenge myself. I love being on sets where I’m challenged and pushed and feel like I’m levelling up. I really enjoy that. I didn’t know this about myself before, but now I realise that it excites me and makes me love my job. It keeps my days fun and fresh,” she says.

On Alaya F: Celia top and Lori trousers, both by VIRGIO Lazuli sculpt
hoop earrings, Oh Acuti ring, O.H monogram spin ring, all by
Outhouse Jewellery. Toni knotted curved hobo bag and studded pointed-toe
slingback pumps, both by CHARLES & KEITH.

One of the other things she’s learned about navigating Bollywood, stardom and box office success is that developing patience is key. Alaya believes that you can’t rush things, especially if you’re in it for the long haul. “You know, things are going to happen when they need to happen. Things are going to start when they need to start. Audiences will notice you when they’re meant to notice you. So, I think I’ve learned to be a lot more patient, and I’ve realised that I am more patient than I give myself credit for,” she says.

Making Of A Star

On Alaya F: Asymmetric cotton poplin blouse, pants, jewelry, all by

There’s so much that goes into the making of a star, including being mindful of looking after a team of people who work with you—we’re talking managers, glam team, etc. Alaya acknowledges that as an actor in this industry, you come to depend on a team of wonderful people who help us all do our best work. “Luckily, I’ve been surrounded by a team that works on the same wavelength as me. We share the same values, which is important because you work with these people every day. They need to see my career the way I see it. I’ve been grateful to have hardworking, kind, and happy people around me. They become an extension of your life since we spend more time on set and in makeup chairs than anywhere else,” says Alaya, adding that she sees her team more than her friends or family. So, she’s made it a point to surround herself with positive people and avoid those who are hostile or rude. “Creating a good work environment for yourself and your team is important. I try to be positive and productive and to be around people who are the same.”

Setting Priorities

Apart from the movie sets, celebrities also engage in commercial shoots and social engagements. Alaya is no exception, telling me categorically that she has “off days.” 

On Alaya F: Mariah dress by VIRGIO. Shroom hoop earrings by
Outhouse Jewellery. Naiad cuff, Faun cuff and Sirena cuff, all by MISHO.
Danika chunky chain padded bag and Catelaya two-tone metallic accent slingback
pumps, both by CHARLES & KEITH

“Sometimes I feel calm, and everything is great, even when shooting non-stop. Other times, I’m shooting non-stop and feel overwhelmed. Personal problems can affect professional work and vice versa. It’s hard to have a set way to deal with it. Even though they overlap, you can’t let personal bad days affect your work. I have different responsibilities and obligations. I evaluate the moment and find the most practical solution,” she says. Recently, Alaya felt mentally and physically drained, so she cleared some time off and went to a health retreat in the mountains for five days. When time permits, Alaya takes breaks for a digital detox, meditation, and yoga. For the actor, a mental health break can be as simple as finishing the day and going out or just lying in bed watching Netflix and eating what she wants. “It depends on the situation and my obligations. I always address the feeling when I’m not feeling myself and try to find the best way to deal with it. Being in touch with yourself helps you understand your needs and find what you need in the moment,” she says.

Healing From Within

While health and Alaya almost feel like a natural fit, given the many Reels the actor puts out documenting her journey with her body, she admits that she wasn’t always into wellness. “I used to eat whatever I wanted and never felt the need to prioritise things like exercise. I took my body for granted. Then, one day, I found out I had PCOS. I started gaining a lot of weight and struggling with it, and my skin was getting worse. I wanted to be an actor, so I realised I needed to focus on my overall wellness. I started exercising and found a routine that I enjoyed,” she says.

On Alaya F: Anya shirt and Cassandra skirt, both by VIRGIO
Mesh and leather shoulder bag and leather pointed toe slingback pumps,

Alaya admits there are many ways to eat healthy and exercise without feeling deprived or like she is forcing herself to exercise. “I made exercise enjoyable and found foods that made me feel good. I got excited about understanding my body and what worked for it. Fitness became exciting for me because I discovered I was capable of things I never knew. I started yoga late in life and realised I had a knack for it, which felt great,” she says. 

During the pandemic, focusing on wellness gave Alaya content to share, and people started associating her with wellness. With beauty, she’s still learning. “When I started in the industry, I didn’t know much about makeup, styling, or skincare. Over time, I’ve picked up grooming tips and learned what works for me. My look in my first film (Jawaani Jaaneman) was very different from how I look now because I’ve learned so much about beauty,” she says. 

On Alaya F: Navy blue knit top, bright azure leather skit, wraparound heels and
blondie hoop earrings, all by Gucci

And just like how she’s figuring out life and all its extraneous demands, Alaya is committed to constantly honing her craft by taking acting classes and learning new things. “Sometimes you know a lot on set, and other times, not as much. But I’m always working on improving. I never sit idle, though I should learn to do that sometimes. I keep pushing myself, hoping to take on roles that challenge me and show audiences what I can do. I try to keep it exciting and fun,” she says. 

ELLE India Editor: Ainee Nizami Ahmedi, Photographer: TITO+, ALF, Jr. Fashion Editor: Shaeroy A Chinoy (styling), Asst. Art Director: Sanjana Suvarna (cover design), Words: Barry Nathaniel Rodgers, Hair: Madhav Trehan, Makeup: Reshmaa Merchant, Bookings Coordinator: Anushka Patil, Assisted by: Komal Shetty, Aaryaa Chhabria (styling), Production: CutLoose Productions, Artist’s Reputation Management: Spice, Videographer: Roshan Paul

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