Blouse, Gauri & Nainika; Trousers, AKHL; Rings, Lune; Shoes, Christian Louboutin
KIARA ADVANI’s life is hidden in plain sight. There’s so much you know about her and yet there’s so much under the surface, passing us by. We attempt to demystify her.
Full disclosure: when a celebrity is on their way to your set, it is never a quiet affair. You are notified of their every movement – from the minute they enter the building, down to the last 10 seconds before they enter the room. People don’t actually whisper, “The Eagle has landed” into their walkie-talkies, but they might as well be doing it. That’s the norm. Except when Kiara Advani enters the suite that we are in. Some of us are so engrossed in what we’re doing – laying out the jewellery, steam-ironing the pieces that are hung on the clothes rack, and discussing the unbelievably hot Mumbai weather – that we don’t realise she has arrived until she greets us. “Hi guys!” – it is the familiar silky voice that we’ve heard so many times in movies, on TV and on the Reels that appear on our social media. There she is, in a sea foam green broderie anglaise dress, her air-dried wavy hair framing her makeup-less face, holding an oversized Christian Dior tote. She looks equal parts movie star and SoBo It girl.
Kiara has a packed day ahead of her and very little time to waste; after this shoot, she has fittings to zero in on the promotional wardrobe for her new movie Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, which also stars Kartik Aaryan. It’s going to be the biggest horror-comedy movie to release this year, she says. There’s something else lined up for the evening that she can’t seem to remember, but then her eyes dart across the room toward her team who gesture that they have it under control. “I don’t know what I’d do without my team,” Kiara says earnestly. “I give them credit for who I am today. You know, they’ve been with me since my first movie came out!” The love, it seems, is mutual. Kiara is also an early sleeper – the kind that starts yawning at 10.30 pm – which, apart from explaining why she’s not papped at Bollywood parties very often, also explains her need to stick to her schedule like clockwork. As if on cue, she tries on the looks she is keen on wearing, does quick poses in front of the full-length mirror to visualise how these will look on camera, and finalises her four favourite outfits. All of this in under 10 minutes. Later, enveloped in a fuzzy white bathrobe, she beckons me to follow her into the bathroom – a serene oasis of caramel-coloured Italian marble and now a make-shift vanity room – where she’s going to get ready. She asks with genuine concern if the mechanical whirring of the hair drier will interfere with my recording. I shake my head, and, as I settle down on the thick end of the alcove bathtub, I wonder how many people would want to switch places with me right now.
Dress: AKHL; Rings: Studio Metallurgy
Kiara is talking with me in the mirror and flitting the mascara wand over her lashes in small but swift motions. In conversation, she draws you in because of her down-to-earth energy. Of course, she is beautiful, something we can credit to her diverse genetic makeup. For those new to Kiara’s family tree, she’s the daughter of Jagdish Advani, a Sindhi businessman, and Genevieve Jaffrey, a former teacher whose lineage is half-Indian and half-British. The late Ashok Kumar – one of Bollywood’s most iconic actors ever – was her maternal step-great grandfather and the British-Indian actor Saeed Jaffrey her mother’s uncle. The family also shares a deep-rooted friendship with actor Salman Khan, who grew up with Kiara’s mother and even briefly dated her aunt Shaheen Jaffrey, a former fashion model. In fact, it was Salman who gave Kiara, born Alia Advani, the sage advice to change her name before making her Bollywood debut since the industry already had one Alia (Bhatt), who was by then well established.
Did growing up with these names woven casually into conversations influence her career path? How else does a South Bombay girl, so far removed from the settings of a typical filmi family, want to become an actor? “Growing up, watching movies was my favourite thing to do,” Kiara tells me. “I would watch every movie on every channel and dance to the songs of Kareena (Kapoor Khan), Kajol, Rani (Mukerji), Preity (Zinta), and Madhuri Dixit, whom I loved and admired. Every time I watched a movie, it transported me to a different place. It made me feel good. It felt aspirational. At some point, it must have struck a chord because I knew from a very young age that this was something I loved and that brought me a lot of joy. I wanted to become an actor because of how movies made me feel! There was never a plan B or an alternative career path.” Her tenacity is palpable.
Despite her family’s connections with Bollywood, Kiara considers herself an outsider in the industry. For her, Mumbai is simply a clique where everyone knows everyone. “Yes, my family knew a few people, but that’s very different from someone whose parents are actors or have been in the business,” she says. No one came to Kiara with a tailor-made debut role that would turn her into a household name overnight. That journey was hers alone. So, does she remember her first break? “It’s interesting you brought this up because the woman who gave me my first break is sitting right here,” says Kiara, turning ever so slightly to continue letting Mehak Oberoi fill in her eyebrows while looking toward Ashvini Yardi, whose production house co-founded with Akshay Kumar, Grazing Goat Pictures, made Fugly (2014), Kiara’s debut movie. “I remember auditioning for the film and getting a call from her. She told me, ‘You’re fabulous!’ It was my first validation from someone in the film fraternity. It was my first time being in front of the camera. I had never even shot any ads or modelled before. So, everything that I learned was on that film.”
Bralette and Skirt, Shivan & Narresh; Choker, Misho by Suhani Parekh; Necklace and Ring, Fendi
But Fugly was not a commercial success. And, instead of propelling Kiara into stratospheric fame like she had thought it would, it drove her underground. “It was a difficult phase. I must have been 22 years old and, at that age, I felt a bit lost not knowing what I was going to do next or whether I would get another chance,” she says. One can tell that, even now, thinking about it makes her pensive. “Going out became difficult,” she admits. “I would be very conscious about attending parties or events because I felt like no one knew me. When you have credibility attached to your name, people respect you and appreciate you for what you bring to the table. But it has taken me on a journey. It’s days like those that have kept me grounded.”
If we had to trace Kiara’s journey down to a single point when her career graph just shot up, it would be her role in the 2018 Netflix drama, Lust Stories, where she played a young newlywed taking charge of her sexual pleasures. But it was Kabir Singh (2019) and, later on, Shershaah (2021) that set the cash registers ringing for her. “You know, I have interestingly been offered roles that are so versatile. But what I have noticed is that, while my other performances have been lauded, Preeti (Kabir Singh) and Dimple (Shershaah) have been the most loved characters. They have gotten the kind of love from the audience that’s very rare for actors – we get it maybe once in a lifetime.” And here she is with two such roles, less than a decade into her career.
At this point, Kiara gets up from her seat – she seems happy with the makeup – walks to the clothes rack, motions people toward the closet where she is changing and is back in the room wearing a red Rimzim Dadu signature corded drape with shiny black shorts. There’s still time for her to start shooting, so she plops cross-legged on the bed and tells me we should pick up where we left off, but not before asking if I’ve had anything to eat. How many stars care about strangers who have just come into their orbit?
While Shershaah was greeted with a collective cheer, Kabir Singh, despite its sizeable box office draws, was a bitter pill to swallow for many members of the audience who thought that the movie endorsed what generations have been trying to squash – toxic masculinity. Kiara was publicly chastised for playing Preeti, a submissive and silent woman who mistook abuse for love.
“You know, we knew we were playing two very flawed characters,” says Kiara, who sincerely believes that Shahid Kapoor and she were disrupting cinema’s obsession with idealistic characters that seldom exist in the real world. “Preeti and Kabir were flawed. They were not the best to each other in their relationship, but they grew as people and learned from their mistakes. I would have been very upset if the two characters did not come together because, in the end, it was about hope.” For Kiara, Kabir Singh held up a mirror to a society where, unfortunately, toxicity, or traces of it, are incontrovertible in relationships. “At least this started a conversation about respect between two people!”
Top and Shorts, Rimzim Dadu; Ring, Studio Metallurgy
For Kiara, respect and loyalty are sacrosanct in a relationship; she is a self-confessed romantic. “I love to be in love. I feel like the world is a happier place when people are in love,” says the actor who, given her celebrity status, knows better than to scream about her dating life from the rooftops. “A relationship is between two people; it is not a community project,” she says, laughing at her own analogy. “For me, it’s not important to think about what the world is saying. If I’m in a relationship with somebody, then whatever anybody else has to say is not my problem.” A day before this interview, #KiaraAdvani was trending alongside #SiddharthMalhotra and netizens and tabloids alike, armed with screenshots of their Instagram activity, tried to ascertain the status of their supposed relationship after a rumour of their break-up made headlines. He liked her pictures, she liked a fan-made reel, a montage of their on-screen and off-screen moments, and the two dropped posts with cryptic captions – that was enough for the internet to decide that there was no trouble in paradise.
She’s happy alright, though we can’t tell if it’s because she’s in love or because she has three potential hits lined up for release this year. There’s Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, whose trailer, by the time you read this, will have created quite the buzz already. There’s another family entertainer alongside a stellar assemblage of Anil Kapoor, Neetu Singh and Varun Dhawan called Jug Jug Jiyo, and Govinda Mera Naam, starring Bhumi Pednekar and Vicky Kaushal. “You know, I really want to shoot a rom-com now; just go abroad and shoot!” she laughs. “While it’s been very interesting to play characters whose life experiences have been so different from mine, I am waiting to play someone who is closer to me, an urban girl.”
Kiara and I have been speaking for two hours. And had someone not called her to shoot her first look, we’d have spoken some more. As we wait for our elevator in the lobby, several people stop to crosscheck if it is indeed Kiara they’re seeing. She flashes a smile – a cross between acknowledgement and gratitude – at anyone who recognises her, and steps into the elevator. I notice she’s fairly comfortable being around a crowd; it doesn’t send her into a tizzy or crank up her paranoia. “I still go to theatres on Friday nights to watch movies, you know,” she says, as though she’s read my mind. I shoot her one last question: what has she learned in the last eight years? “To stay true to myself; to be calmer, less reactive, more understanding, and less attached to things I have no control over,” she says, seconds before transforming into a total vixen in front of the camera. You can see exactly why Ashvini Yardi thought Kiara Advani was fabulous the day she met her. She’s even more so now.
Photographs: Suresh Natarajan
Styling: Krishna Mukhi
Art Direction: Bendi Vishan
Hair: Mike Desir (Anima Creative Management)
Makeup: Mehak Oberoi (Eficiente Management)
Makeup Assistant: Nidhi Agarwala
Fashion Intern: Ritvi Mehta
Videographer: Vaibhav Nadgaonkar
Location Courtesy: St Regis, Mumbai
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