The blazing heat on Tuesday afternoon could not stop the women members of the FICCI Ladies Organisation (FLO) from dressing their best for their first event of the new fiscal. Sipping on some fresh coffee and summer coolers, they waited in groups in the corridors of The Park Somajiguda for the guest of the evening - Mandira Bedi.
The actor, TV presenter and fitness evangelist was the guest speaker of Shubharaa Maheshwari's first interaction session as FLO's new chairperson. All set to get inspired by Mandira's life journey, they took their seats and were in for a talk that would be hard to forget. "Hyderabad has the best fashion sense... Look at all the ladies dressed up," she said drawing loud cheer and applause from the audience.
In conversation with Shubharaa, Mandira started right from the top - her entry into the glamour world which started with Hindi TV serial Shanti. "I come from a corporate background, my father worked for ICI all his life and my brother did his MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad. I thought of taking up a bank job back then, but unfortunately I did not have the brains or the aptitude to become a banker," says Mandira, who studied social communication media.
It was when she was interning with ad filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar that she was spotted. "Someone asked me if I would like to audition for a TV serial. I had no expectations from it and just went with the flow. I auditioned for the role thrice and finally, the makers asked me about my plans for the year as they were making a first daily soap," she recalls.
Surprised at the offer, she took up the acting gig over a creative writer position at Ogilvy and Mather. "I remember writing a letter to Piyush Pandey (who gave her the job). I told him that I got a chance to be a part of a first ever daily soap, I am going to give it a shot for one year and return to writing later." Twenty seven years later, whenever Piyush meets Mandira, he reminds her that she still has a job for her.
Being a part of a male dominant industry and fighting stereotypes every step of the way was not easy for Mandira. "I am grateful to have played Preeti in DDLJ, I am grateful to be a part of history that is still running in Mumbai. That was my first film, after which I got offered to be everyone’s bhabi, sister, second lead role. I had to pause. I said no to a lot of films. It was male dominant as the hero carried the film, while the heroine had to just look pretty and dress cute," she says.
Speaking of her unconventional jump into cricket commentary, Mandira says that she was at the right place at the right time. "It was not my decision to be the first woman cricket anchor. India was playing with England at the Champions Trophy to get into the semi-finals in Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka loved Shanti. I love cricket, so I bought the tickets to the match. The broadcasters saw me there and and few days later, I got a call from Set Max asking me to meet them. When I got there, they asked me if I would you like to host the 2003 World Cup. I was shocked and said yes," she recalls.
As Mandira turns 50 next week, she also shared what fitness means to her. "For me, 2008 was a turning point when I joined show called Khatron Ke Khiladi where I had to do stunts. I wanted to win and that was the first time I got a trainer. At 38, I was pregnant with my son and I shot up from 52 kg to 74 kg. Post delivery, I took it upon myself to shed my weight in six months," she says.
After her whirlwind journey through careers, Mandira continues to live life on her terms, feels that self-belief is key and never hesitates to seek help.