Bollywood glam groover Shilpa Shetty is going enigmatic with ‘it’s not a comeback as I’ve never been away. Though Shetty took a 14-year sabbatical from the silver screen––long enough for most actors to slip into married oblivion––she claims to never have stayed away from fans. When she was not subjecting her body to yogic contortions in YouTube videos, she had been rustling up healthy meals on Instagram. When she was not overdoing it as a member of the jury of a dance reality show, she was a bespectacled, masked-up wife who had her husband Raj Kundra’s back during trying times. “I’m kicked about working in a full-fledged role now. There is nothing like watching yourself on the big screen,” Shilpa waxes eloquently. She is back on it with a lead role in producer-director Sabbir Khan’s 'Nikamma' which was released on June 17.
On the remake of the 2017 Telugu film 'Middle-Class Abbayi' starring Nani, Shetty describes shooting for the film with youngsters like Abhimanyu Dassani and Shirley Setia as an ecstatic experience. Regardless of the indifferent or bad reviews, Shetty has succeeded in getting moviegoers talking about her. She is used to the limelight since childhood. In 1991, after completing her 10th grade, she began her career as a model with a Limca television commercial.
More commercials and advertisements followed, after which she began getting offers for film roles. “I debuted with 'Baazigar' in 1993 when I was 17. But I wasn’t nervous since I wasn’t sure that I would pursue a career in films. I am all charged up now. My son was stoked when he saw the film. He hugged me and said, ‘Mom, you are the number one actor for me’,” she exclaims. Shetty, born Ashwini Shetty, had done 45 movies before taking a break.
Her most memorable roles are in 'Baazigar' (1993), 'Life in a Metro' (2007), and 'Dhadkan' (2000). As the girlfriend who gets killed in 'Baazigar', as a wife who feels unloved in her marriage in 'Life in a Metro', and as a girl torn between her lover and husband in 'Dhadkan', she won our hearts.
Shetty recently trended on social media after she came out with the remix of the hit song ‘Churake Dil Mera’ from Main Khiladi Tu Anari (1994). Her fan base is diverse and includes the late TN Seshan, the controversial Chief Election Commissioner, and former English cricketer Geoffrey Boycott.
In 'Nikamma', Shetty plays Avni, a forthright, righteous government officer known for her integrity. “My mom’s best friend Ashwini was my inspiration for the role. She was an honest officer and I just had to invoke her to play the role,” she reveals.
While being back on the main street is exciting, Shetty doesn’t regret the time spent away from showbiz. She was keen to give time to her son Viaan during his formative years. “Movie shoot schedules are erratic and I had just stepped into motherhood, which is a full-time job. I wanted a job with fixed schedules. Reality shows seemed like the right fit. I did not want to be forgotten either, since I had put in 14 years of hard work to reach where I am today. I was trying to find new means to remind my fans that I am still here and working,” she looks back. Shetty is also the mother of two-year-old Samisha, a surrogate child born just before the pandemic.
The 47-year-old confesses that she also enjoyed her space and time away from the silver screen. But she believes that out of sight is out of mind. She was the first Bollywood actor to get on to social media 20 years ago. Her peers scoffed and judged her for ‘trying too hard to get famous’. “I said that’s not why I am doing it. I wanted to change the perspective of people that I can cook healthy nutritious meals because I was into fitness. I wanted to disprove the myth that healthy meals are not delicious. While I was active on YouTube, my young niece convinced me that Instagram is the social media of the future. She even created my Insta handle. For my debut post on Instagram, she asked me to jump from a bench which she posted. It got 20,000 likes, but I felt that I needed something more creative and meaningful to stay relevant. I started mixing and matching things,” she elaborates. #SundayBinge is where Shetty pigs out unapologetically. Mondays were about #ShilpasYoga. On the weekdays, she posted pictures and videos of healthy plates. Eventually, Shetty became synonymous with not just glamour and spunk, but yoga, healthy food, and Sundays.
“I am a fan of using social channels since it does not demand much time while letting me stay in touch with the audience. At the end of the day, it’s the love of the audience that matters. I thrive on love. I feel I am more popular now than I was 15 years ago,” she declares.
Fame has its trials and tribulations. The last two years have been taxing for the 'Dhadkan' girl. When her husband was arrested last year in an alleged online pornography case, Shetty was trolled for marrying him. “I have taken such insults in my stride. I believe in the adage, that when you hit the ground so hard, the bounce back is better. No matter what happens in my life, I know that I will overcome it. I do that with a smile.”
Shetty is looking forward to bouncing back in style. “I am looking at interesting roles. I have Abundantia Entertainment's 'Sukhee' and Rohit Shetty’s debut series 'IPF' (Indian Police Force), which also happens to be my debut on the OTT. I am also doing 'Super Dancer',” she shares.
Welcome back, Shetty!