A determined young woman, who has gone through experiences to last ages – that’s Leena Shekar for you.
Having studied to become a dentist to tackle her family pressure, she almost immediately turned her attention to the world of glitz and celluloid, where her heart lay, right from childhood. After being a model and then entering movies, Leena has now turned an entrepreneur with a chain of highly successful salons named The Nail Artistry, with very successful outlets in Kochi and Chennai and with plans for expanding into other cities, very soon! Read on to know what makes this young tycoon tick…
Photographer: Karthik Srinivasan
Hair & Makeup: Jaanmoni Das
Stylist: Chandini Khanna
Location: The Nail Artistry
Tell us about your childhood, how and where you grew up, your education and about your early influences…
I was born and raised in Dubai, where I grew up with 3 siblings. I studied in Dubai till my 12th standard and later came down to Bengaluru to study Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS). I was interested in classical dance and was into the performing arts since my school days and hence always enjoyed performing on stage. My early influences were Bollywood and Malayalam cinema, which I thoroughly enjoy watching till date.
Tell us about your career so far…
I started out by doing BDS from Oxford Dental College Bengaluru, but have never worked as a dentist, as I didn’t enjoy the subject. Even during my studies, I had already started doing a couple of print and movie ads and that’s how I paved the way to get into movies in Malayalam and Tamil. Later, I got married and finally I’m here doing what I’m passionate about – THE NAIL ARTISTRY!
How did you get into movies? Who spotted you?
I had won the title of “Navy Queen” while I was in Kerala, during my college days. Soon after this, I was approached by ad-film makers for starring in their advertisements and that’s how my career in the glamour world started.
How was your experience working in Malayalam Cinema? Tell us some memorable incidents from your experiences…
My journey was fabulous, as I loved being in front of the camera and with Malayalam being my mother tongue, I enjoyed it even better. All the teams I worked with in Malayalam always made me feel at home. My every venture in this journey has been very memorable, so it is very difficult to differentiate between them. However, my most memorable experience would be sharing screen space with superstar Mohanlal. I am a huge fan of his work and I have always felt that he is one of the finest actors we have in our country.
How did you get the chance to star in Madras Cafe?
I would say that the complete credit for this goes to my husband, as it was only because of him that I got a chance to star in this film.
Are you keen on more film offers?
As I have now stepped into a different zone of my life – that is business, I am trying to make a mark for myself as an entrepreneur. So even though I have received a few movie offers, I don’t think I would be able to balance both movies and my business as I would not be able to focus enough on both. I want to give my 100% to what I am doing currently.
How did you come to meet your husband Shekar?
I studied my BDS in Bengaluru and he was also based in the same city. We had a lot of common friends and it was through them that we met. I should say that we hit it off instantly.
You were writing an autobiography with a very interesting title – Love for a Man”. Tell us about the book and when you are planning to launch it…
Well, this book was supposed to be launched 2 years back. However, I was not in the best of my health and was recuperating slowly and hence the delay. This book is all about the experiences I went through over the past 11 years of being with my husband. My life is an open book and certain downfalls in my life have moulded me into a far better person and of course, into what I am today! I have learnt to be more empathetic towards people and more importantly, never to be judgemental! This book is an ode to love, because all that is needed in a relationship is “love”. My husband has taught me that and I’m blessed to have him in my life. This book is about how love surpasses everything and from whatever different background, up-bringing and thinking two individuals come from, “Love” is the essence for a happy relationship!
You are an entrepreneur now, with The Nail Artistry range of salons in Kochi and Chennai. Tell us about this venture…
Once again, for this venture, I give complete credit to my husband. We were settled in Mumbai before but due to my ill health, I had to shift to Kochi for my treatment. When in Mumbai, my husband was very particular that I was well groomed. I used to have my nails groomed well with long French extensions and he was the one who introduced me to the world of nails. When in Kochi, there was absolutely no place to get my nails done. I used to fly technicians down from Mumbai just to get my nails done. Finally, my husband coaxed me to start a centre in Kochi, for getting my nails done! I was initially sceptical as to how Kochi would accept it. However, he was like, “Even if nobody else comes, you get yourself pampered there.” This gave me the confidence to go ahead. My youngest sister also encouraged me to do something which I’m passionate about. Hence, TNA was born and by God’s grace we were embraced very well by the people of Kochi.
Tell us about the entire range of services offered by The Nail Artistry chain of salons. Also, tell us your key differentiators and what your USP is!
In Kochi, we are predominantly for nails. We offer services like extensions, gel-polish, 3D nail art and so on… We can vouch for providing the best services and hospitality and all of this at a very affordable pricing. We also provide eye-lash extensions and micro-blading services too. In Chennai, apart from these services we also provide all kinds of Hair related services with the best products in the world, like Balmain, Nashi and so on. Apart from this, our pedicures and manicures are a hot favourite among our clientele, as we pay utmost attention to hygiene. Our USP is our sterilization procedure… We use autoclave sterilization, which is used in dental clinics and hospitals. We intend to give the best for our clients. Every client should feel like a king or a queen when they are at The Nail Artistry. They are given individual iPads and headphones at every nail or hair station and also at each pedicure pod. They are also provided with a wide range of Netflix and Amazon movies to watch. We also pamper them with mocktails, munchies, burgers and other beverages. TNA treats all our clients like royalty.
You have won a national-level award for The Nail Artistry. Congrats! Tell us more about it…
We are grateful to our clients and thankful to God for making us win such a prestigious award in such a short span. We want to live up to that reputation always. We have also recently won an international award as the Best Nail Salon, in Asia!
Your salons are absolutely plush and amazing, yet the services are very affordable. Tell us more about your business model…
There is no such thing as a specific business model, as the only goal is to serve our clients with the best! About the rest, we want to provide super luxury services for every genre of clients, so that everyone can afford to experience being a prince or princess.
The beauty business is well-known for the intense cut-throat competition. How do you plan to establish and expand the business? What are the opportunities you have spotted in your field and how do you plan to fulfil the demands of the market?
There is competition in every business but it is about what makes you the special one and our clients know that better! And yes, we are expanding 4 more branches by next year, starting with Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Goa and Dubai.
How do you train your workforce? How do you stay up-to-date with international trends in the beauty segment?
We have international trainers coming in from Paris and Russia, who visit us regularly to train our staff and my team also travels to various international beauty exhibitions, which helps us keep up with all the latest international trends!
A lot of actresses and Instagram influencers have their own beauty range now. Since you are already in the business, do you have any plans to launch your own skin care or beauty range?
No, not all! My hands are already full. I would rather work hard on developing what I have and better it everyday but who knows what the future holds!
What is your view about home beauty services that many salons are offering online? Do you plan to enter this segment?
Not really, as our brand is all about luxury and we want our clients to experience the best when they are at our salon.
As a woman who has gone through so much in your life and yet stays determined and motivated to succeed, what is your mantra to stay positive and focussed?
I am a Taurean and I am somebody who has got a very strong heart! It is very necessary for one to be always positive and let go of negativity and look forward for the best to come and I live by this rule! Also, your past mistakes are always the best lessons for a better future!
As an entrepreneur running Nail Artistry, tell us about some heart-warming experiences you have had with customers.
We have clients from different sections of society and our experiences with all of them are extremely heart-warming and I feel very happy when they put up their reviews. Their warm testimonials about our hospitality and how our services are world class and top-notch, keep us motivated and make us want to serve them better.
Tell us about your other ventures… Since you are an actress do you plan to produce films?
I have already turned a producer! I am currently working on my first project, which is a Malayalam web-series and it is to be released in the beginning of next year.
Where do you see yourself and the business in 5 years?
We are working hard at becoming one of the top 10 best salons in the world and this is our current dream for the next 5 years!
Tell us what you do in your spare time… Where do you holiday? Where do you shop? Your favourite brands, guilty pleasures and the like…
I love spending time at home, going with the saying – “Home is where your heart is!” I love watching TV and spending time with my loved ones! I love travelling to the South of France or Europe for my holidays. I love my shopping as I am a shopaholic and I frequently shop at Paris and Dubai. My favourite brands are Gucci, Valentino and Dior, which are my regulars. I also love Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Chanel! My guilty pleasure is that I am a total foodie and being a teetotaller, I love my food and I literally trip on it!
Would you like to share anything with the public, through this interview?
For all the girls and women out there, dream big and it sure will come true! Stay focused on what you want and give your 100% in everything you do and the rest will follow.