It’s been over 26 years since Sushmita Sen won the Miss Universe crown. A woman with poise and elegance, Sushmita has, since her beauty pageant days, led by example, be it about her unique sense of style, her film choices, her decision to adopt her two daughters or even taking a decade-long sabbatical from the film world.
Now, after making her grand comeback with a successful web series Aarya, the actress will soon be seen mentoring participants of a digital reality show called Myntra Fashion Superstar. In a candid interaction, Sushmita tells us how she hopes to share her values with her mentees, teaching them to be authentic and fearless in expressing themselves.
Excerpts from the interview
Your driving force to up your style game?
My fashion sense has evolved with me over time. There was a time when I could only afford and understand the fashion of Sarojini Nagar Market and Janpath in Delhi. Then, I began making enough money to own branded designs and moved on to understanding the journeys of brands, while still mostly dressing up for others even as I upped my own game.
However, with age and experience, I began getting comfortable in my skin and began dressing for myself. That’s where I am right now. I don’t buy things just because everyone thinks it’s the hottest of the season but because I think I will look good and be comfortable in it and because it will highlight my personality.
Do you agree with the conventional idea that one should dress according to one’s age?
You shouldn’t listen to people when they talk like that. Age has got nothing to do with how you dress unless it is how you want to dress. Public opinion can even dictate you to cover yourself from your head to toe, giving you a list of fashion policing directives, which I think are eccentric.
I believe fashion is always something you enjoy; if you don’t enjoy it, you’ll be uncomfortable. So also, over the years, I’ve understood that even when you reveal, it should not conceal your personality. You have to have a beautiful balance. It is important to know yourself so you can choose you would like to look at a certain age. In my case, if I can carry off something really well and I like wearing it, I will wear it no matter what age I am, and I will still kill the look because I am enjoying wearing it.
How do you process getting older in a business which is notoriously ageist?
This is a brilliant question. The film business is a visual medium, and there’s definitely a pressure to look good all the time — whether you’re a 20-year-old or a 40-year-old. But as hard as it may be, it’s important to understand that you’re now living with something that you cannot fight, so it’s best you embrace it. And when you embrace it, you start looking and feeling sexy at forty because you aren’t struggling to feel 20. Instead, you are accepting of who you are at that age.
Of course, it goes without saying that you have to maintain what you want to sustain for long, but you can’t stress about getting old and start hiding your age. It not only makes you a shallow person but also a terrible actor.
How would you say you’ve evolved as a person and as an actor over the years?
In many ways! The 18-year-old Sushmita was a very naïve girl who was told every second of every day what she should do, how she should speak and what she should wear.
The Miss Universe pageant took me everywhere around the world while I was still young and impressionable. When I turned 20 years old, I began exercising what I’d learned. Of course, in the process, I made many mistakes, which taught me more.
The woman you look at now still makes mistakes, but these are mistakes she knows to take responsibility for rather than blame the whole world for those while being confident she’ll make new mistakes! (Chuckles)
What changes have you noticed in the industry over the years?
There are many. Social media, for one, has given people a voice. There’s a lot of freedom, although I feel that freedom should be used wisely. Also, there are opportunities for everyone to showcase their talents and explore creativity. So the industry is not just a 70mm screen — it is way bigger.
The content available is also more globalised. I think even Aarya wouldn’t have been possible in the industry that I’d entered. Nobody would have invested the money in that kind of show or film.
Your older daughter Renee is debuting. Your advice for her?
I’ve told Renee that she has to complete her education before she goes full-on into acting. She also knows if she wants to become an actress, she has to pick up the phone and start looking for opportunities. I’ll only guide but not spoon feed. I am a self-made woman and want my daughters to be so, too. And I’ve told her to not work for free — even if she earns only a rupee.
Is Renee prepared to be targeted as a ‘star kid’ given the recent talks around that topic?
I never cared about what people said. And I’d like to think my daughters are brought up in a way that they wouldn’t care much about shallow things in life. And they’re well trained to not bother about the questions that aren’t relevant because they are born to that. And they’ve grown up understanding that they have to listen to the one powerful voice that comes from inside of them.
Fashion is always something you enjoy; if you don’t enjoy it, you’ll be uncomfortable. Over the years, I’ve understood that even when you reveal, it should not conceal your personality. You have to have a beautiful balance