Tell us something about Lara, the person.
For starters, I love being me. I take good care of myself because I think it is a big part of being yourself. Also, I think the older one gets the more one needs to care for oneself.
I don’t smoke or drink [I never have]. I am a pure vegetarian and believe in a holistic approach to good health. I avoid taking allopathic drugs unless I absolutely have to. I propagate and practise homoeopathy and ayurveda. I lead a healthy life and enjoy my work.
How do you manage to keep the real Lara separate from the character you are playing? Has your role ever required going against what you really are?
It is very important to have your very own identity irrespective of the profession you are in. As an actor, I have played many characters through which I have learnt new qualities from each of them. I don’t believe in bringing my work home but at times we play characters which require us to acquire skills or qualities that we don’t have. These new qualities then end up becoming a part of you and you tend to adapt to them.
For instance, my role in my next film Blue required me to dive and I was hydrophobic! But this role had caught my pulse and I wanted to be a part of this film. I just wanted to overcome my fear and hence took up this challenge. First, I learnt swimming, then scuba diving. Now, here I am loving water so much that I have become a certified diver! Today, diving means experiencing a whole breathtaking and unimaginable new world many meters below.
What is the difference between the Lara before becoming Miss Universe 2000 and Lara of today?
I don’t think I have changed much; intrinsically I am the same as I have had a very rooted upbringing. Yes, I was naïve and simple, but I still feel naïve even now sometimes [laughs]. My world view has changed for sure just because I have seen many things, met more people and gathered more experience compared to them. So in a way, I could say I have become wiser with age. But I will ensure that I won’t get cynical as I get older.
What is the one thing you want in life?
When I think about myself today, I feel my ‘core’ has regressed in a way. Life has been so fast-paced and stressed in the past few years that today when I have achieved so much, I want my younger days back with all those moments that I missed out during this rapid journey.
How important is health to you? How do you remain fit?
Being healthy is essential for every human being. I think I am blessed with good genes, and have never followed a crash diet in my life; I never will. But I also make an effort take care of my metabolism by eating right, though I do binge on chaat and namkeen occasionally, because I am a foodie. I don’t really have a sweet tooth, and am an extremely careful eater. I do weight training and practise yoga [I have been doing it for nine years now] to stay fit.
How do you manage your psychological wellbeing?
I think my ambitious trait drives me to be the way I am. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to multi-task. I like expansion—it’s a very fulfilling process for me, that’s why I learn, observe and keep my mind in control. I break my comfort zone readily for new avenues and embrace all experiences good, happy, ugly fulfilling—may be that is why I stay happy and a happy mind is all you need for psychological wellbeing.
What is your idea of pampering yourself?
Spending a day at a good spa, pampering myself with exotic fragrance oils, taking a massage to relax both my body and mind. There is nothing more soothing than this
If clothes are who we are, does chasing trends reflect inconsistency?
I never follow current trends and buy what I like. I go for comfortable clothes that fit me right. I also take care of whatever I buy.
Besides, most of my time is spent working. When I’m working, I wear what the designers give me. Another major part of my time goes in working out, and many times, I go to the shoot straight from the gym, which means I am usually in gym wear. So I invest in good looking work-out clothes. To wear at events and at occasions, I invest in good pieces.
What is love to you? How important is it for you to love yourself?
Love starts with loving yourself and knowing yourself better than anyone else. It’s all about discovering yourself, so you are more confident in facing the world. Knowing yourself also equips you to judge people more smartly.
How do you handle success?
I think my upbringing has to do a lot with this aspect. I come from a totally non-filmy background and I think the non-involvement of family in my work keeps me grounded. I don’t get carried away easily by success or failure. I hang on to my values, enjoy myself and take each experience seriously.
I also think successful actors—or stars—are perceived as arrogant, but their attitude is not arrogance, it is maturity and acquired responsibility of being a public figure and handling oneself.
This brings us to your line of work. Is it a very male-dominated field? Do women have it more difficult in it than men?
I feel the industry has its cycles—trends come, go and come again. For example in the ’60s we had some great women-oriented films like Aandhi and Mother India. Then came the ’70s which saw the ‘angry young man and the distressed woman’ phase. The woman’s age returned in the ’80s with Paativrata. The ’90s portrayed women in a different light—women got candid about their sexuality. Today, cinema is changing the way it portrays women again. There are more women-centric characters and powerful woman roles and I am glad to be working in this time and age.
Having said all that, one has to learn to live with the fact that ours is a male-dominated industry. There will be stereotyping, instead of fighting it, I think one should learn to embrace—ingrain it in one’s mind and system.
What did your work involve when you were the UNFPA Goodwill ambassador?
I am still the UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador and that too the youngest one they have ever had on their panel till date. In my role, we deal with problems of adoloscents at grass root level. The two campaigns that I have been actively part of are the HIV/AIDS campaign and female foeticide in India. Another important aspect of being a UNFPA Goodwill ambassador is to ensure that funds are risen for the cause we deal with and also that these funds are put to correct use.
What role does family play in your life?
For me, my family is the biggest extension of myself. My father was in the defence forces and my mother has been a home maker. Together they raised three girls and have helped each of their girl achieve what she wanted. My family is my backbone and my biggest support system. I am a homely person and whenever I get any free time, I spend it with my parents, my sisters and my nieces.
Men are from Mars Women from Venus. Do you agree?
Totally! And, that’s the reason we survive.
How do you handle it when life throws a curveball at you?
In terms of career, I had it relatively smooth. Things just came in place for me from being a model to an actress. Even my family life has been normal. Personally, I don’t regret any decisions I made.
Do you believe in God? How spiritual are you?
Yes, I do believe in God. I was raised in a very cosmopolitan manner: my mom is catholic and father, a Hindu. So I have experienced the best of both worlds. To me religion is manmade, but spirituality is what we really believe in or have faith in. I meditate a lot and have been doing so for eight years. I think without meditating and pranayama I would be a lesser person. That’s my way of being spiritual. To be religious is not to be ritualistic, but a good human with a good heart.
What does happiness mean to you? We have coined a term, Happiness Freak for someone who makes conscious efforts to be happy, stay happy and spread happiness? Would you call yourself a Happiness Freak?
I am a very happy person by nature, but not a happiness freak for sure. To me, feeling grief, pain, stress or sorrow is also a way to reach happiness. I believe that the chemicals in the body make us happy or unhappy. So everything in life, all emotions culminate finally to become one and that is happiness. Too much of good is not good so being unhappy is good for you too, as opposites are complimentary.
What is your health, happiness and wellbeing advice to Complete Wellbeing readers, especially the women?
I think women are an incredible force to reckon with and they really need to start looking after themselves. Taking regular health check-ups and having calcium are two things I propagate to all women of all ages. I urge homemakers to start taking their looks seriously. Women should begin with feeling good and looking good. They should break away from all the rubbish stereotypical projection of them and accept that they are ‘powerhouses’ of energy, beauty and grit. I think most women bite more than they can chew in all fields. They need to stop being so harsh on themselves and realise that they are the best multi-taskers in the world. So women, give yourself credit and keep your soul intact to be happy and healthy.
This was first published in the April 2009 issue of Complete Wellbeing.