Yoga is known for its powers to transform lives and here is one such splendid example. While living in the fast lane, Bijay Anand’s life seemed to be headed in the wrong direction. He was caught in the whirlpool of ill-health, addictions and depression. Fortunately for him, he discovered yoga and it turned his life around. The actor and art consultant even went on to get a formal training in yoga from the Kundalini Research Institute, Los Angeles and founded Anahata Retreats, an organisation that brings together yoga and wellness gurus to offer retreats to people across the globe.
Now after a long sabbatical he’s back to acting but with a renewed perspective on life. We caught up with Bijay Anand for a quick chat on his journey so far.
Many years ago, you suddenly quit films and TV. Tell us what happened?
Bijay Anand: I was in the glamour world for 16 long years. I started with modelling and worked in more than 300 commercials for brands like Raymonds, S Kumars, Chiclets and Vadilal ice-cream to name a few. I did 15 television serials after that stint and then my career peaked with the movie Yash and then Pyar to Hona Hi Tha, which went on to hit a silver jubilee. Being one of the lead actors in the film, I was offered around 26 films immediately after its release. Many of those offers were tempting and hard to refuse. But somehow, I had just switched off from the film industry, acting, glamour and fame that came my way. Art was my newfound love and an exciting adventure that I was eager to undertake. It was then that I decided I would not act anymore and I would only pursue art and took up my role as an art advisor/consultant.
When did you get into yoga?
Bijay Anand: As an art dealer, I had a lot of time to travel. Most of my work was via emails—that is how we bought paintings as well as sold them. With that kind of free time [and easy money], I took to travelling with a passion. A lot of my trips somehow drew me towards exotic spas and resorts and several others took me to destinations like Europe, Thailand, Bali and Rishikesh. These are hotspots for yoga and that is how yoga happened to me. It fell into my lap due to my nomadic, adventure seeking, hungry-for-knowledge quest.
Did you dabble in various other forms of yoga before you discovered Kundalini yoga?
Bijay Anand: Yes, I tried almost all forms of yoga before I accidentally stumbled upon Kundalini yoga at the week-long International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh. I was dazzled by this “gang of white angels” led by Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa whose class I took on the last day of the festival just out of plain curiosity. First five minutes into the class and I knew I had finally come home.
What difference did Kundalini yoga make in your life?
Bijay Anand: The discovery of Kundalini yoga brought a new meaning into my life. It showed me clearly who I was and it changed me in ways that surprised and then amazed me. Then one day, during my meditation, I saw that my purpose in life was to spread the joy that this science had brought into my life. I felt that this is what I was meant to do for the rest of my life. So I taught Kundalini yoga for a little over two years and also founded my company Anahata Retreats, which organises yoga retreats. I do this because I don’t want people to go through what I went through in my life. The anger, pain, sorrow, addictions [smoking, gambling and alcohol] and also the diseases that I was struck with like arthritis, high cholesterol and depression… I don’t want others to go through the same. [Read Bijay’s first person account of how he quit smoking]
What brings you back to acting after a break of 17 years?
Bijay Anand: One day I received a call from Nikhil Sinha’s office inviting me to play the role of King Janaka, Sita’s father for his show Siya ke Ram. Since the past many years, I had refused several acting offers. So at first I refused this role as well, but still went along to meet the director. When I heard Janaka’s character and read the script, it was like an epiphany. Every word that I was teaching in my classes, workshops and courses around the world was repeated in those dialogues. As Nikhil Sinha put it, “You are not an actor playing Janaka’s role. You are Janaka.”
I realised then that whatever I was teaching 30, 40 or sometimes even 200 people, I could teach the same philosophy as Janaka and reach out to millions of people to spread my message of love, compassion and an organic way of living.
And that’s how I am now back to acting, after 17 years.
What’s special about the role you are playing?
Bijay Anand: Janaka is quiet, still, calm, strong, loving, compassionate, and not only wise and knowledgeable but also hungry for more wisdom and knowledge. Janaka is a ruler who believes in the Karma of loving unconditionally and without any expectations. He is a great ruler, the perfect husband and also the most doting and loving father to Sita.
For an actor, a role with such a range of emotions is a dream and I am so excited about playing it. Getting to play this Janaka is also special for another reason. Many years ago, when Ravi Chopra was casting for his new project, Ramayan, even before he decided who will play the character of Ram, he had made up his mind that I would play the role of Laxman. When asked what made him so sure he had a one-line answer, and, I quote, “Have you ever, ever in your entire life seen anyone as hot-tempered and aggressive as Bijay? End of discussion.” That was some 20 years ago, and today I am being cast for the role of Janaka.
I am grateful to Kundalini yoga for having changed me from being an actor always cast as an angry, aggressive and belligerent young man to being cast as a calm, wise and knowledgeable king who epitomises love and compassion.
How does it feel to face the camera after such a long gap?
Bijay Anand: I feel like it never left me all this while. It is an amazing feeling to be facing the camera again and I’m loving every minute of it.
How much has changed in the film industry since you left?
Bijay Anand: Not much and yet so much. What we see outside is only but a reflection of our own soul. In that sense I see so much has changed now but I guess it was always there before.
All the wisdom you have gained from yoga has evidently changed you as a person—has it also changed you as an actor?
Bijay Anand: Tremendously. 17 years later, I certainly know more about human emotions than I did back then. More importantly, I know today who I am. It is only when you know yourself does your ego finally break down and you see the light. It also helps you to internalise scenes, emotions and situations as an actor and play these roles with more authenticity.
Who do you consider as your gurus/idols… in yoga, in acting and in life?
Bijay Anand: My first guru is Osho. I had listened to only four tapes of his when I was around 15 and these four tapes [Love, Death, Compassion and Guilt] changed the course of my life. I’ve never heard any of his tapes hence or read any of his books but I believe him to be my guru and an original philosopher.
The are many teachers for who I have utmost reverence and respect. Some of them are Jehangir Palkhivala, Jawahar Bangera, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, Gurushabd, the eminent lawyer Harish Salve and Kamal Choraria who have given me so much in terms of understanding the world and existence.