Ever since Sonakshi Sinha made her Bollywood debut with Dabangg, a decade ago, she’s been hustling non-stop. The rare vacation or time off work she may have taken in this time has lasted two weeks tops. This year, the Covid-19 outbreak ensured Sonakshi was away from the camera for five months until she turned cover girl for our September digital cover. The Mumbai studio we were shooting at felt like another planet to Sonakshi, thanks to the numerous safety protocols in place. “It was like being surrounded by aliens because everyone was in PPE kits. And then, there’s even more paranoia because you’re the only one who’s not wearing one but I was just so happy to finally get out of the house and shoot,” she laughs.
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When India first went into lockdown, Sonakshi was determined to make the most of it. “I was like… wow, the world, or rather my house is my oyster. I went on like a binge-eating spree, didn’t work out much and basically just chilled,” she says. Two months into this new non-routine, she decided it had gone too far and slowly moved towards sticking to her regular diet and exercise schedule.
But that wasn’t the only change. Sonakshi took up painting and sketching again — a hobby she began to nurture four years ago. As a kid, she loved art but never formally learnt to paint. In 2016, a bedroom was converted into a professional studio with easels, canvasses, brushes, tools, the works… “I didn’t even know what I was supposed to do with it all, I just went ballistic stocking my room. And then when I put the canvas on, it just flowed. Painting is like meditation for me, it’s very cathartic.”
Top and pants, both Lovebirds Studio X SMOKE LAB; Necklace, Romanar Singhani
Being Sonakshi Sinha
Observing Sonakshi’s 10-year long journey in Bollywood gives you the feeling that this calmness and centeredness comes naturally to her. The actor has never let critics or cyber trolls faze her. It didn’t bother her when her choice of male-dominated films was questioned, and more importantly, not even when her weight became the easiest way to attack her. “My superpower is my ability to shut that down and move past it. So even when I have a moment of self-doubt, I tell myself, ‘What the hell? You’ve worked really hard to be where you are, and you’ve done it all by yourself. Who are these people who are even trying to bring you down? They haven’t achieved half as much as you have, so shut the hell up and move on,’” she says. “I think I’m my biggest cheerleader. I believe that if you don’t cheer for yourself, if you don’t clap for yourself, it’s going to be very difficult for the world to do it for you. I have always been the one to push myself forward, no matter what people are saying about me. I’m very strong that way, I have the ability to look past it.”
Sonakshi’s confidence is contagious. I can’t help but ask her, “How do we achieve your level of body positivity?” The first step, she says, is acceptance. “Rather than punishing yourself for what you don’t have, accept what you have and start appreciating it. It makes it easier for you to achieve what you want.”
Blazer, Marks and Spencer; Shoes, Christian Louboutin; All jewellery, Misho
With Sonakshi, you know this advice is coming from a real place. As an 18-year-old who weighed 95 kgs, she knows exactly what it’s like to be body-shamed. “When I was younger, I would have really liked a role model to tell me that I’m beautiful just the way I am,” she says. “And even though I had lost 30 kgs, my reason was that I wanted to be healthy — I couldn’t run on the treadmill for more than 30 seconds. So when I became an actor, I wanted to be that person for other girls. It feels really special when young girls today come up to me and say, ‘We want to be just like you’, ‘You’re so comfortable in your skin’.” That’s the real achievement for me.”
For Sonakshi Sinha, being authentically herself also means standing up for herself. She’s known for clapping back, rather hilariously, at Twitter trolls. As someone with first-hand experience, she’s now helping protect others and making the internet a safe space for everyone. She has joined hands with Mission Josh (a community whose aim is to spread happiness) and Maharashtra Police to create awareness about cyberbullying. On social media, Sonakshi has been posting her video chats with lawyers, psychologists, victims of cyberbullying, touching upon the legal aspect, the mental toll it can take on people, and more. “For 10 years, I took the vile comments thinking I can’t do anything because I wasn’t aware of the laws that are in place. A lot of women feel like there may be a certain shame that comes with it, or they feel like it’s too tedious a process. But I think we need to step up, and not let this happen to ourselves, or others around us. The minute you report one person, you’ll probably be saving fifty other women going through that,” she points out.
Up next Sonakshi is gearing up for the release of Bhuj: The Pride of India, a movie about unsung heroes of the 1971 war. It follows the journey of Ajay Devgn, who plays IAF Squadron Leader Vijay Karnik who saved Bhuj from being taken over by enemy forces. Sonakshi essays the role of Sunderben Jetha Madharparya, a farmer, who convinced and led 300 women to rebuild Bhuj’s only runway overnight. “This role was offered to me twice before, as a standalone film, but it didn’t work out. I got third time lucky with Bhuj. In terms of preparation, you really have to put yourself in the shoes of such a sacrificing, brave person, and that automatically inspires you to do better. I want Sunderben’s legacy to be really, really, larger than life. While filming, I did a lot of strenuous manual labour, which I’ve never done before. And it gives you a reality check that this is not even close to what those women went through.”
Sonakshi, who’s been spending the lockdown meditating (“I wish I’d started in my 20s”), re-connecting with herself and counting her blessings, is itching for things to go back the way they were. “I want the normal that was, just a 2.0 version,” she chuckles. “Just people being more helpful to each other, more appreciative of each other.” Amen to that.
Photographer: Colston Julian; Make-up: Savleen Kaur Manchanda; Hair: Madhuri Nakhale; Styling: Samar Rajput; Assisted by: Rupangi Grover (styling); Cover design: Pinky Akola; Actor’s PR agency: Universal Communications