Actor, model, singer…pretty Sonal Chauhan dons many hats! And the charming young lady is refreshingly untouched by fame. Not one to pause and give politically correct answers, and with strong views on fashion and fitness, she breaks stereotypes when it comes to attitudes towards dieting, beauty and the need to look good – all virtually matters of life and death in the industry that she is in!
The lissome lass was in Hyderabad recently, shooting for the Telugu film ‘Legend’ and is waiting to head to Dubai for the last leg of shooting. ‘Legend’ is slated for release by end March/early April and Sonal is quite excited, understandably so! Talking about her experience shooting the film, she gushes, “It was fantastic. It’s been so smooth. Everyone was really nice and warm. Balakrishna (Nandamuri) was really, really helpful in spite of being a huge superstar. He was very welcoming.” And despite not knowing Telugu, she says, “It was not as difficult as I thought it would be. As I said, everyone was so helpful. They understood that it (language) is a problem for me and they went out of their way to help me. I am very grateful to them.”
Sonal comes from a conservative Rajput family and her parents were not exactly thrilled when she decided to join the film industry. Coming from a non-film background and being hurtled into the glitz and glamour of Bollywood was tough. She recalls, “I was very young when I entered the film industry and I was very introverted. It was difficult because my family would constantly says that this is not what we wanted for our daughter, When I won the pageant (Sonal won Miss World Tourism 2005 at Miri, Sarawak, in Malaysia – the first Indian to win the title), my parents saw that I wouldn’t have to go from door to door for work, and they kind of warmed up. They were okay with it and now they are very supportive.”
Nevertheless, entering the industry came with its share of challenges. She confesses, “I was clueless; I didn’t know an actor has to do her own PR. Initially it was too much to take and I made lots of mistakes. Because I am an introvert, people thought I was arrogant. I was just a misfit – I didn’t know how to talk to people.” Today, she has evolved and matured; “Along the way, I’ve been learning – I’m still learning! I hope it gets better,” she says with a laugh.
There were rumours that Sonal had packed her bags and left Bollywood to make the South her home. However, she is very much in Mumbai. But she is open to moving south of the Vindhyas. “I don’t know if the South is going to accept me,” she says philosophically. “Let’s see. There have been some good offers.” But, she is reluctant to divulge the details, saying, “I’m very superstitious. I don’t want to jinx it.”
Recently, Sonal got rave reviews for her ramp appearance for Shantanu Goenka at Lakme Fashion Week 2013. She looked dazzling in a black lehenga and choli with an intricately embellished net dupatta. She has dabbled in a lot of modelling in the past few years. So, which does she prefer – acting or modelling? She laughs and replies, “That’s one thing I’ve been thinking about for the longest time.” She pauses dramatically and says, “I want to do both!”
“Walking the ramp is an adrenaline rush. There are no retakes – those 30 seconds or that one minute – it’s yours. There is no bigger high. I love doing it,” she says emphatically. “And being the showstopper – it’s my moment; it feels so special. At that moment, the ramp belongs to me and I have to make it my own.” She adds, “However, I love acting too. It’s very special to me.”
What about singing, we ask. She sang the song ‘Kaise bataaoon’ in the film ‘3G’. She is a self-confessed music aficionado. “Right from childhood, I’ve been fond of music. I’ve never had any training though.” She recollects how, when she was in Class II or III, there were selections on for the music choir. “I stood in line and got selected,” she says happily. Her love for singing continued and followed her onto the sets, where, she laughs and says, “I used to sing on the sets; I would sing at the drop of a hat!” And that was how she got an offer to sing for music composer Mithoon. She got a call one day after she had returned from shooting asking her to come to the studio and give singing a shot. It was her first experience of stepping into a recording studio. “I had never done it,” she exclaims. “Anyway, it was a good thing. I feel it’s better not to know the technicalities; I prefer not to know too much – that way, you do it with all your heart! I loved it; singing is something that makes me very happy. I would love to pursue it. For me, it’s like meditation.” She hastens to add that she wouldn’t wish to make a career out of music. “Not at all,” she emphasises. “I don’t want to make money out of it. If someone wants me to sing, I will do it happily.”
This young lady is known for her stunning looks and her great body. Fitness plays an important role in her life but she is quick to point out: “I do not obsess about working out.” She believes, “It’s important to stay healthy. I realised that five-six months back when my Dad went for a surgery.” She emphasises that fitness should begin when you are young. “There can be nothing more important than health in your life.”
And unlike many models and film stars who starve themselves or go on bizarre diets, Sonal feels, “It’s important to eat healthy. Never say ‘I am going on a diet’. It takes away your charm and your face looks dull. Her advice: “Exercise – give yourself one hour a day; it’s not tough. Understand your body type. Look good, smile, be happy!”
The charming actor is a self-confessed foodie. “I eat everything; I love food,” she declares. “When I feel I’ve put on weight, I hit the gym. Working out makes me feel good. Exercise releases happy hormones, it’s been scientifically proven and it’s an instant mood enhancer for me.” Her exercise routine is varied. “I get bored – I do a little cardio, weight training, yoga, cycling and swimming. However, I am not a good swimmer.”
Sonal has been very vocal in the past about her views on the size zero phenomenon. She has maintained that it is not important and she continues to feel the same way. “I don’t think it can be achieved without dieting. I tried it once and I hated it. I looked like a patient and my skin was so dull. It’s not attractive. We Indian women are blessed with curves. When we go abroad, people love it. We should enjoy it and celebrate it.” And amazingly for a model and actor, she doesn’t feel it’s a compliment to be told that she has lost weight. “Sometimes I check myself and if I feel I have lost weight, I hate it!” We need more role models like Sonal to bust the myths of dieting, size zero and the urge to be stick-thin at the cost of our health!
She is not obsessed with a beauty regime. “When I’m not shooting, I hate wearing makeup. It has to do with my mother. When I was a kid, and even when I was growing up, she never allowed me to wear makeup.” However, she feels it is important to say hydrated and she religiously moisturises her skin.
In terms of fashion too, Sonal has a laidback attitude. “At home, I like easy lounge clothes that I’m comfy in. Comfort comes first!” On a normal day, when she is not shooting, you will find her in a pair of denim shorts, a comfortable T-shirt and flat shoes. Despite being a model, she is not fashion conscious and doesn’t follow the latest trends. “For me, what’s important when I wear an outfit is how I feel. What a model wears on a Milan ramp may not necessarily look good on me. I have never understood the concept of fashion – someone deciding what I wear. I hate it when people say bad things (about her attire); it’s my choice.”
Fame, for her, has its charms and its challenges. Has fame changed her? “I don’t think so,” is her reply. Laughing, she says, “People around me would answer that better!” She adds, “If at all, I’m more humble – it’s more to do with growing up. I’m not someone who feels I have to be treated differently.”
What she dislikes about fame is the invasion of her privacy, and of course, the endless gossip and speculation. She muses, “Before, I could go out with friends. I was in a co-ed institution and I had a lot of male friends. Now, even if I go out for a coffee with a male friend, there is speculation. That can be embarrassing.”
But she perks up and says, “Otherwise I love it. I love that I can buy what I want. I love the attention.” Nevertheless, the attention can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes, when she is out with her friends and gets mobbed, she finds it awkward, and her friends can be uncomfortable too. “They don’t know what to do,” she says. However, she fesses up: “I like it more than I dislike it!”
This spirited young lady lives in the moment, happy to do her best in whatever she is engaged in. Her philosophy: “I don’t plan too much ahead. Whenever I plan ahead, God has other plans for me. So I let Him hold my hand and take me. I trust him.” Well, we hope God blesses you with whatever you wish for!
Fashion according to me is what I feel comfortable in, something that makes me feel good about myself. My fashion is individualistic.
Name three people who have influenced the way you style, dress and carry yourself.
I would say my mother, my younger sister and my publicist Rhea.
An attire you wouldn’t be caught dead in?
I think I can wear anything
Your favourite accessory
Lately I’ve been obsessed with Rayban’s Wayfarers and Aviators.
Any fashion faux pas that you’ve committed?
Lots…but I’m not going to tell you!
Your favourite designer?
I recently worked for Shantanu Goenka, I think his clothes are beautiful
Any favourite clothes?
Shorts and T-shirts