In a mere span of three years, Ananya Panday has established herself as one of the most popular Gen Z stars. We talk to our November cover star on her journey till now, how she’s evolved with time and her equation with her contemporaries.
In conversation with Ananya Panday:
I vividly remember meeting Ananya Panday for the first time in 2019 at one of designer Manish Malhotra’s famous house parties. She looked striking in a metallic dress. She seemed shy and extremely endearing, mostly keeping to herself. Cut to 2022, she’s gotten even more endearing but the shy girl has transformed into a confident star, owning the room wherever she goes, becoming the life of every party.
Ananya Panday has the X factor and everyone’s talking about it. Her popularity amongst the younger audience is unparalleled. Social media stats suggest she’s one of the most trending actors. Brands love her and have confidently placed their bets on her. Ananya definitely having a moment right now. But it’s not always rosy and Ananya is well aware of that. Right from her debut, she’s had equal bouquets and brickbats. Trolling, nepotism remarks refuse to leave her. However, she’s developed a thick skin and considers this a small price to pay for the abundant love she receives. She believes in keeping it real and it’s working wonderfully for her. We chat with her to know more about what’s going on in her life…
Three years and five films later, what do you feel about your journey in showbiz?
You know… the other day on set, I was telling Ayushmann (Khurrana) that Dream Girl is the seventh film I’m shooting. It feels surreal and crazy that I’ve done so many films in a short period. First of all, I can’t get over the fact I’ve become an actor because that was my biggest dream growing up. It was just an obsession with cinema I had, watching these actors on the big screen, doing these larger-than-life roles. I was just obsessed with this world, and I didn’t know anything about it. Even on my first film set, Tiger (Shroff) would move me between shots to show me where my mark is. I didn’t know anything about focus, about multiple camera set-ups. My first film was a sort of education for me. It was like going to a film. The most important thing for me is just learning and being a student on every set. I’ve tried to maintain that in every sense because I’ve been lucky to work with people like Shakun (Batra), Deepika (Padukone), Kartik (Aryan), Bhumi (Padnekar), Zoya (Akhtar), and now, there’s Adarsh (Gourav). I’ve lucked out with my co-stars, directors, and production houses. I try to absorb as much as possible. I’m happy because I’m getting to do what I love. Every day, obviously, you feel a different set of emotions and there are always ups and downs but in general, I would just say I’m the happiest because I get to work every day.
Ananya, I have known you for a few years now. From being this shy girl, standing in the corner at parties, to now becoming someone who owns the whole room at the same parties, what has led to this metamorphosis?
I honestly don’t know what it is but I think it’s parallel to me understanding myself, getting confident with myself, and loving myself a little bit more. I know it sounds cliche but I think that when you start working fresh out of school, as I did at 18 for the film, there are so many issues that a young girl, in general, has with herself. We have our body issues, we have our own set of mental health issues, relationships and it could be anything. At that age, we’re constantly battling something or the other. Then at the same time, you’re starting in this big world and you’re putting yourself out there. So I was nervous back then. I didn’t know the ropes to call it. Even though my father’s an actor, I never grew up on a film set in that way. So I was still learning how to conduct myself. I was still learning the way things work, how to interact with people, and how to meet people for work then. I’m a little more confident in myself in general now because I’m easier on myself and I think that’s what it is.
What do you mean by you are easier on yourself now?
When I started, I was cautious about every single thing I said in interviews. I was paranoid about making any mistake. I had a list of many do’s and don’ts. I think the more I’m growing up, the more I’m realising that it’s okay to make mistakes. Even though I’m under the lens 24/7, I’ve already made many mistakes and I see people a lot older than me still making mistakes. And it’s okay, life goes on. Someone told me that if you’re yourself right now, some people might get thrown off and might not like it but in the long run, people will like you for being yourself. And you, yourself will be happy that people like you because of who you are. That’s why I am real and I’ve stopped being so hard on myself.
Since you’re just 24 and this is the age people make mistakes, does it affect you that you have to always think twice before doing or saying anything?
Your early twenties are the formative years, and you’re finding yourself and finding your personality. I feel people forget that we are, at the end of the day, normal 20-somethings and we will make our fair share of mistakes. There are days when I do get bothered by it and I do get upset and then I just wish I could deal with this in private and everyone didn’t have to know every single detail about my life. But it’s also a part-and-parcel of the job and I feel the pros for me, definitely outweigh the cons. This is a small part of it and it’s okay. As long as I’m kind to myself, it’s fine. On my birthday I got so many long messages from my fans saying I have made them feel okay to be themselves and to make mistakes. That for me is victory.
What is the one perception people have about you that you want to sustain and one perception about you want to change?
One perception that people have of me that I want to keep around is that I’m a kind, welcoming person. I take a lot of pride in that. Another one is what you tell me – that I’m the life of any room or party. A lot of that energy derives from wanting other people to also feel comfortable and have a good time. For me, the most important thing is to make people around me feel comfortable. I think I get that from my father because he’s a funny man. He wants everyone around him to be happy and to just radiate those positive, loving vibes. That’s something that I hope to maintain, however far I go. And something that I wish changed. Well, it’s been my aim since sometimes but I think this year, more than ever. I want to solidify myself as an actor. I want people to see that side of me, be it with the roles that I choose, the performances that I give, or the people that I work with. I want to prove myself as an actor, and I want to get better. I want people to see a different side of me, especially on screen. I feel people associate our off-screen personas with the characters that we play. For example, if they see one interview of mine, they’ll judge my entire being based on that interview. So I wish people would realise that’s not my entire personality. Sometimes you say things or do things for particular reasons.
Would you consider yourself a people pleaser, Ananya?
I feel I put others’ happiness and other people’s comfort over mine. So that’s something that I’m working on, to try and find the perfect balance. I believe that’s also something I got from my father. He’d always be okay when people would make jokes about him. I do the same. I’m self-deprecating with my humour and I’m okay when people clap jokes at me. I also have a thick skin but I think I have to learn where to draw the line.
We learn a lot from our friends and I know you’re close to your contemporaries Jhanvi Kapoor and Sara Ali Khan. How often do you guys talk and discuss the highs and lows of your life?
Quite often. Honestly, it’s funny that you ask this because last night Sara called me and we had a 30 minutes conversation about work and she wanted some advice as well. I admire the sort of friendship that we have because I feel like even though we’re contemporaries, I can pick up the phone at any point and ask either of them for help when it comes to anything. Both of them have always been the first few people to message me whenever a trailer comes out or a song comes out. They’ve been very supportive. They’ve given criticism or feedback when it’s required as well. So that’s how I know it’s coming from a real place. They also inspire me to do better.
Who do you look up to in terms of career?
The two people who inspire me, and I’ve always maintained this, have been Alia Bhatt and Kareena Kapoor Khan. They are phenomenal on screen and even off screen they stand for who they are. They’ve always owned their life straight. They’ve always been true to themselves and that’s the personality that I’ve fallen in love with. Both of them have kind of given me the confidence that I could be myself and I hope I can be that person to other people. They have also done every kind of cinema possible. They’ve both done those commercial out-and-out masala films and balanced them out with heavily performance-driven films and their characters have never been reduced to just side characters. They’ve always stood out like heroes in their own right and that’s something that I respect about them.
Ananya, Your mum is an important part of your professional life as well. She’s an involved mother. Do you have disagreements at times and who trumps who?
I keep joking she’s my momager. And to answer your question, of course, there are disagreements and I appreciate you used the word “involved” instead of “interfering”. She’s involved in everything and I’m happy that she is because at the end of the day, I’m an actor and I’m in love with the process of acting and I’m on set every single day. But there are some other aspects that I don’t understand and I don’t know how to deal with them. That’s where my mom steps in and I’m happy that I have someone like that in my life who guides me, who tells me what’s right and what’s wrong. And like any mother-daughter relationship, there are countless disagreements. I usually trump her but in the long run, she’s always right and sometimes I realise that a little bit too late. She’s someone who will always have my best interest.
Let’s talk about other important women in your life, Shanaya Kapoor and Suhana Khan. Your best friends are soon becoming actors. Have the conversations matured between the three of you?
Yeah, it has. Honestly, acting, cinema and performances have been something that we discussed all our lives. From us playing acting games to watching every single movie under the sun together, to now discussing how each of our days has gone on set, life has come a full circle and it’s been a beautiful transformation. I’m blessed and grateful that I’ve had both of them to hold my hand along the way. Honestly, people keep asking me if I give them any advice. Honestly, I don’t think that they need my advice because firstly, I have not reached a place where I could give people advice. I normally, as a best friend, talk about my experience on set as I would talk about any other thing; and they share their feelings towards that in the same way.
What are the things you’re most looking forward to right now?
Good work! There are a few projects that are going to be announced soon and I’m feeling good about them. They’re all challenging, they’re all different from each other, which is important to me because I’m someone who doesn’t want to be put in a box. I’m also excited about doing things beyond acting as well. I’m kind of exploring other interests that I have.
What would they be?
I’m passionate about food and I’m passionate about my project SoPositve as well. I’m really excited to grow things with that because there are so many ideas coming up. I want to build something beyond cinema and my work as an actor. And another thing I’m looking forward to is just love. I don’t mean being in a relationship. I was someone who always associated love with just being in a relationship but now that I’m growing up, I have realised that love can come from so many different aspects of your life. You can get love from your friends, you can get from your family, and you can end up in a relationship as well. I’m looking forward to a lot in my life right now.