Anu Aggarwal became a household name in the 1990s after her debut film ‘Aashiqui’ became a massive success. Not only was her performance praised, but the music of the film became eternal. Even to date, people listen to the movie’s songs.
However, after the initial few successful films, Aggarwal changed the course of her life, after she had a major accident. She fought through, came back victorious and is doing fantastically in her life now. In a candid chat with Prateek Sur, she speaks up about how her life has changed, and all that’s happened to her ever since. Excerpts:
You met with an accident many years ago and that completely changed the course of your life. How did you deal with that?
To begin with, let me clarify one of the biggest misunderstandings there is about me. The accident was in no way instrumental in my leaving the entertainment business, I was out way before that.
At my super success, superstar young achiever status I was facing the dark night of the soul. Ironically, when the world thought I had everything I was the unhappiest ever. So, in 1994 I stopped signing new films. The agency ICM, International Creative Management, which was number 3 in Hollywood then, wanted to sign me up in 1996 when I was in Los Angeles, California. I was excited but in meditative moments. I am meditating since 1991 right after ‘Aashiqui’. I yearned to self-develop as I had achieved all there could be in Bollywood. So, I ended up joining Bihar School of yoga in 1997. That is what transformed me.
The accident happened in 1999 when I was a full-fledged yogini who was trained in preventive healing. On the basis of the training there, I ended up self-healing myself after 1999.
How tough was it to bounce back?
It was not just tough it was the matter of life or death. Doctors had given my gestation period as 3 years. Where I would have to learn the alphabet again and live as a vegetable case if I did survive. The question was not my recovery from several multiple fractures, and brain bleeds, but the point was whether would I even survive, and live, even if in a disabled paralyzed body. It seemed impossible after I miraculously woke from a 29-day coma. They did not expect it. I was in a wheelchair, bedridden, had severe trauma, and PTSD, and was half-body paralyzed. Nobody thought I would ever stand up. Most cases of this nature die on the spot. Contrary to what everyone may have thought I was totally positive I was to live. After my out-of-body experience where I saw the other side, I was telepathic and could see things others could not. I was being directed. Nobody imagined that I was feeling joy and compassion as I was taken deep within to touch the inner joy when my body broke into a million pieces. When I woke up, I saw a million stars in my head like newly born do. I was in magical wonder even when everyone around me was grieving about me.
You want to get back to acting and there are different mediums that have opened up today, but it's never easy. How do you plan to go about things?
There is no getting back, I never left. Acting is a karmic skill I was born with. Yes! It is such an exciting time in the entertainment biz with all the different mediums opening up and I’m perhaps a lot more to come. The whole face of the industry is in a revamp. For me, it was never easy. Supermodels were not welcome in Bollywood then. So, in a sense, I was breaking the mould. I was too tall, too dusty, too forthright, too humorous, too supermodel in fashion, too independent, too blunt, too…(laughs). I was not in any way your quintessential heroine material. Regardless my acting skills worked, and I ended up as an iconic figure, a barging self-made success story. To live life according to your own principles, and not to social conditioning or expectation, is not easy for anyone. I today am the epitome of making the impossible possible. Each one of us can do that. That is the message I want to spread. This gets added to my approach to acting which always was to play bold, socially meaningful female characters from the heart. In this Life 2.0, I know the universal law which says for best results, accept whatever is happening, but put your heart and soul in whatever you do. That is my approach to acting too. Use your mind creatively, and not to worry as that is self-defeating. See the heart-in-the-art of acting. That has always been my approach though when I acted the vulnerable girl in ‘Aashiqui’, or the psycho killer in ‘Khalnaika’, I followed the same principle though I could not define it then.
Are you in touch with people from the industry?
Not much but I am just a phone call away. This industry, with ‘Aashiqui’, apart from making me a ‘one film wonder’, gave me the biggest transformation anyone can ever imagine.
I have been following a different path especially since I turned a monk in 2001 where I lived with two loose clothes changes in a bag and my head shaved, by the Ganges. I studied the nature of the mind, watched it 24/7 and made friends with my mind, which is the hardest. Now, I am teaching that through Anufunyoga and raising the inner joy in people for which we reached over 2.4 lakhs children and women already.
Talking about your acting career, how did it all begin for you? Also, Aashiqui was a huge hit, but you didn't do many films post that. What was the reason for that?
I have been acting since school time. So, it is second nature. Greek monologue of 12 A4 size sheets got me selected as the actor of school when 11.
Knowing the crux of acting I did very select roles which were strong different roles. If my main goal was to amass as much wealth as quickly as possible, it would have helped me stay in the film business, I would have stayed.
The film industry I felt needed to go into a revamp then, a talk of trade that is in go now. I asked for scripts, and the content of the film before signing but 97% of producers don’t have that. They came to sign me with suitcases full of paper money and humbly toiled me the script will be made after I sign. I threw them out as earning money was not my main goal. I wanted to do socially meaningful roles I was conscious of.
So, I was selective and ended up signing lesser than 10 films. A couple didn’t get completed and in 1995 I left for my sabbatical, a world trip starting in Paris.
On the personal front, you have been single for a while. Do you miss having a companion?
I have written about love and the importance of people giving each other space to grow, trust, and not stifle others, while still supporting the other person's growth, is true togetherness in a couple; it is a paradigm we don’t really see.
Sometimes, I have been too much of my own person, practising self-love, totally on the upward swing, creative, innovative, and compassionate. Any partner I had, became a barrier to self-growth by being jealous, and possessive. I looked and researched, as I do on everything, for men. Being an international model, I had a chance at a young age to travel and earn abroad. I met the best, the classiest of men, but couldn’t find a suitable boy. And I have been financially, and emotionally independent since I remember growing up. Though yes, I have felt vulnerable, being alone, being self-made three decades ago when it was almost unacceptable for a girl to be alone. I am happy to see girls coming on their own in gen-next today. Now with my foundation, which is a lot of hard work, I do feel the need for a like-minded partner who has the same compassionate goal to serve people and believes in aiding progressive, supportive growth for each other. Yoga told me: You are born alone and that is how you are going to die. When I truly understand this truth then it calmed me and changed my viewpoint on the limited belief of what society thinks.
You turned to yoga and spirituality in recent years. Comment?
A bit of correction is needed here: yoga and spirituality are not recent add-ons to my life.
My mother used to teach yoga to lecturers in a college near our house when I was 3 years old, each Sunday, for free. I used to join in and that is how young I started yoga asanas. I did my first vipassana meditation course right after ‘Aashiqui’. I got hooked on meditation and have advanced in it since. Ask any of my old friends. I was always spiritual. I have advised them, I don't remember but they do, on how to take the right course in life. Recently on LinkedIN I got a friend request from someone who had modelled with me. “Do you remember me?” he asked. I didn’t. Apparently, we walked the ramp for a Nari Hira fashion show, two years before ‘Aashiqui’.
He thanked me and told me how I sorted out his bad relationship with his father by giving him the right advice when he was going through a terrible patch, and even lent him some money! Wow, really, I thought that must have been tough as I was living as a PG and modelled to pay my rent! Spirituality for me is non-religious and non-dogmatic but is aware of me at my spirit level. Go within than without. I was the darling of the media. I am grateful for them pushing me to take the yoga plunge. I moved to yoga in 1997 just after I vanished from the film industry when I was still a top contender. Top stardom, being a cover girl for years, did not answer my questions about “Who am I?” I am not the name, I thought, especially invented untrue stories about me helped me ask the question, “If you are not this bohemian, sex bomb, free-spirited, swings both ways, etc, Anu that they represent you as, then who are you?’
How have yoga and spirituality helped you?
Transformation. Transcendence. Joy. Compassion. Caring not just for my own but all. I have had an incredible growth chart; of having a balanced mind to not get egoistic with unbelievable success while not going into depression when failure comes.
I am truly rich today. I found my inner wealth, which is way bigger than any trillions you can earn in materialism. I am miraculously alive today, self-healed. I work for not just my child, but all children of India through my foundation, AAF. I am a self-empowered woman who empowers other women, even those destitute, and underprivileged. Forbes chose me as one of the 100 top leaders of India.