Photographs by Atul Kasbekar. Styling by Nisha Jhangiani. Make-up by Mahendra Gupta. Hair by Madhuri Nakhale. All furniture, from Eastern Treasure Lifestyle, Mumbai.
This feature was originally published in Verve Magazine’s Volume 12, Issue 4; September-October 2004.
Rust silk ruched gown, by Shantanu And Nikhil; white and brown diamond bracelets and earrings, all from Royal Orchid Jewellery, Mumbai. Silver heels, by René Caovilla, Venezia. Diamond solitaire ring, Sushmita’s own.
Forget her forgettable Bollywood roles; forget her impactful presence in Main Hoon Na — more lofty presentation than talent; forget her Miss Universe status as old hat; and the fact that we applauded her for adopting little Renee, against all odds…. And then, having peeled off these obvious layers, discover the goddess. Love the fact that she thinks about things with a quicksilver mind, that she quotes from popular songs that somehow add meaning to her life, that she smacks you with a forehead kiss the first time she sees you, that she throws herself wholly into whatever it is she is doing. And, that her rare beauty draws you in, warming instead of leaving you cold.
She does not see herself as a goddess until a naughty thought occurs — why not the deity of everything. Why not Ma Durga herself. She who is the amalgamation of seven gods, drawing into herself the power of every element that exists or does not exist. “For, from her brow arose the goddess Kali; her mind symbolises Saraswati, the goddess of learning….” Suddenly, she discovers herself among the pantheon of the elevated, the exalted, the divine…and isn’t she just loving it!
Earlier this year, she reaffirmed to herself, her select status of goddess incarnate. A freak accident on the sets at Films Division, saw her in hospital, thrown by a huge fan. The verdict, protrusion of the spine, of the worst kind. She dreamt of a black stone with a red tikka, so like a photograph, that ‘where is this place?’ she asked. Soon she was heading for Vaishno Devi — by chopper, since she could hardly walk. Bad weather and a VIP visit, however, ordained that she trudge barefoot, seven hours at a stretch. After some initial difficulty, “I was walking so fast that I unknowingly left my family behind. Mobbed by people, I could not see them anywhere and it took them 45 minutes to catch up. Back in Mumbai, the X-rays pronounced a near perfect spine. A miracle…?”
In the large and comfortable trailer that is her rarefied preserve, she is visited by a rapturous lady. Unbidden tears spring to the young fan’s eyes. “How wonderful to be free to emote what you actually feel,” says her idol. Making me think, more than anything, here is the goddess of illusion — in real life as much as on celluloid. Verve endeavours, through the power of the elements that represent the gods, to demystify the seraphic ‘Sush’.
“Air symbolises life, freedom, to me. In the last 10 years, I have valued nothing more than freedom. When I had (adopted) my daughter, my mom and dad sat me down and said, you now have a responsibility, you will have to curb yourself. But, being a mother does not mean that I sacrifice myself. I must live my life as I do and share it with someone else. Air, which has been shut in a room, goes stale. It must spread all around. In a strange way, air also symbolises to me the mind and dreams. Like air, the mind is free to go where it likes and where it is driven.”
Cream georgette pleated jacket, gold sequinned bra, tulle net horse-riding pants with shiny velvet embroidery, by Pria Kataria Puri; ‘Sassy’ three-row necklace in yellow gold with amethyst, pink tourmaline and freshwater cultured pearls, from Bvlgari’s Allegra collection, New Delhi. Freshwater pearl ring and Victorian pearl, blue sapphire and diamond ring, at Vipul Arts, Mumbai. Gold shoes, by Enzo Angiolini.
Grounded or in the air? I am an extremely passionate person. When I am grounded, I am one hundred per cent grounded and when I let go, there’s no grounding me.
Personal style Asleep at night, I must be as invisible as air. I am very delicate and vulnerable when I sleep. I wear things that are almost not there — soft satins and silks.
What blows me away A well-mannered man…A moment that overwhelms me…A child’s innocence…A rare, momentary feeling of helplessness…When a man loves a woman more than she loves him…And, if I decide to have a child biologically, outside of marriage, my mom will blow me away!
My autobiography Butterfly, with only the last line already written. ‘What the world calls the end of a caterpillar’s life, God calls a butterfly’.
“Fire, to me, is courage, a killer instinct, the power to go for what you want instead of merely wishing for it. Determination, too, is very fiery.
I am a very romantic kind of person. Life becomes far more exciting to bear and to live, when you romanticise it.”
Unbeatable romantic fantasy I like abandoned places, when it comes to romance. Places that have a lot of silence so that when the man breathes next to you, you can hear it. Like the people who came with us, forgot to take us back.
Flaming attribute I never leave things halfway. I genuinely do not have a single thing in my life that I did not finish. Even like making a mistake, I make it completely.
Raging thoughts… I want to do La Femme Nikita, a French film, a classic, an action film…. I quite liked myself in Main Hoon Na…. My favourite painting, ‘The Sage’ by Prashant Hirlekar, gifted to my solicitor…. I collect old windows of churches; at Chor Bazaar, they call me as soon as they hear of one…. Hispanic men are hotter than Italian men, they have a soul…. I like designers Roberto Cavalli, Gianfranco Ferre; Neeta Lulla and Manish Malhotra for my films; Malini Ramani and Sabyasachi for myself…. Wearing a G-string is like being in a bad relationship.
Hottest part of my anatomy My mind because you can try everything with it and never really know it. Live with it, talk with it, stimulate it but it always remains free. My mind is a mystery to me also.
Favourite song Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’.
Golden halo Highlights by Adhuna Akhtar.
Electric quote from a mum (Shubra Sen) “She has always had this effect on people, that she draws them to her….”
“Earth symbolises stability, the perception of being grounded. A sense of nurturing, of being a mother. Also, all our materialistic instincts and desires. Desires are an important aspect of life.
I love nature, I am very close to it and I am a big nature watcher. Nature, of course, symbolises earth. Earth is also a school that you learn from.”
Off-white and beige georgette blouse and skirt with satin belt, Gauri and Nainika Karan for Magnetic Rag; uncut diamond pendant with pink tourmalines (used as brooch) and uncut diamond purple ‘archery’ thumb ring, both at Vipul Arts; kundan, emerald and ruby pendant (used as brooch) and kundan and semi-precious stone kada, both at Jaipur Gems. All in Mumbai. Beige sandals, by Gucci.
Mother goddess Two months ago, I entered the kitchen for the first time. My daughter had insisted that I make breakfast for her. I was on the phone the whole time with a friend to figure the egg part of it. The kitchen was a mess. The breakfast, mediocre. My daughter loved it.
Standing tall Five feet, eight inches in my socks. With shoes, the sky’s the limit.
Personal style At home, I am very grounded…a very jeans and ganji kind of person.
Grounded thought A goddess must be very approachable. If you cannot reach her, how will you look up to her?
Earthy decision Rather than a wishy-washy heroine, I prefer to play the other woman and make it more exciting for everyone concerned.
Elemental calculation The beauty of all the elements is that they teach you that nothing is permanent. The nature of existence is momentary. Air can be vacuumed, earth consumed by water, water evaporated, fire extinguished. But, in their moment, their existence is complete, teaching you to live in the present.
The rock How dare the media credit some high-flying industrialist for giving me this ring! Surely I can buy it for myself.
“The greatest part of being a woman is being a nymph. One of the joys of womanhood is being very light-footed. It is part of her poise to be nymph-like.
Younger, I had a very bad temper. I teased my mom that the temper side of me is Kali. Then, I thought that I should be rock steady as a mountain. Now, I realise that I would rather be flowing water, since water can cut through mountain. The temper part of me was mountain. The endurance part of me, that my daughter has taught me with her endless questioning and wonder of things, is flowing water.”
Aqua corset with bead, crystal and sequin embroidered net sleeves and layered georgette skirt (stole not shown), by Suneet Varma; Peridot and crystal silver and gold rings, at Vipul Arts, Mumbai. Diamond studs, Sushmita’s own. Blue beaded shoes, by René Caovilla, Venezia.
Water sign Scorpio
Teary moment I always wanted to be a princess. When I finally wore the crown (Miss Universe 1994), I held my mother tight all night long, howling and saying now finally I am a princess.
Seafood Sushi, my most favourite food in the world. I enjoy my sushi in a particular way — there has to be mayonnaise in it, caviar all around it….
Cool description of self I am a thin, lanky girl.
Personal style When I present myself to the world. I am like water — very ‘flowey’, very fluid.
Famous last line No one is perfect. I am the goddess of imperfection.