By the end of this read, there will be a bevy of adjectives that one will come to associate with Shruti Haasan, but I promise that ‘diva’ will be nowhere close to making it to that list. After managing to stay relevant in the entertainment industry where talent is alarmingly dispensable, you may think that Shruti’s 10-year-old career (or the fact that she is the daughter of two cinematic genii) has altered her persona. But as she sits across from me, valiantly jaunty despite the stifling Mumbai heat, you know she’s genuinely personable.
She’s also exceptionally beautiful in a way that extends beyond her thick raven hair and envy-inducing glow. I’m beginning to believe it has something to do with the fact that she is so self-assured and comfortable with who she is – a bona fide rock star - a side of hers we explore via candid conversations that we manage to squeeze in between shots, and hold over innumerable cans of Coke Zero, her preferred beverage to stay hydrated on a particularly hot day like this.
We’ve set up shop at The Great Eastern Home – an Art Nouveau-inspired interior store in Mumbai which seems like a natural extension of the atmosphere she’s grown up in. “My parents do so many creative things that art was always around me. There were always these incredibly talented people coming over for lunches and dinners and I would get the chance to hear these incredible conversations and ideas all the time. The environment was so conducive to me becoming an artist that it almost felt like a natural progression”, she says when I quiz her about the exact moment she knew she wanted to be in the entertainment business. I almost let out an inaudible sigh of relief when she quips about how she wanted to be a lawyer at one point but aborted the plan in a little less than two weeks.
I dig a little deeper to unearth Shruti Haasan’s unconventional childhood – after all, her unconventional family-setting cannot be discounted when we’re discussing her out-of-the-box personality (for the uninitiated, she is the product of great cultural cross-pollination; her mother, Sarika, is equal parts Maharashtrian and Rajput, while her father is a Tamilian). But I’m amazed when Shruti also credits her school life for bequeathing her with tremendous character-building experience. “I grew up in the most incredible school. It was free and liberal and creative and we were always learning in nature. We didn’t have desks or compulsory footwear. We could have our lessons in history and science out under the trees if we liked. It was an amazing Montessori school that encouraged our individuality” she says. How many of us are lucky to talk about schools like that, anyway?
It’s also surprising to learn that the versatile actor ‘accidentally’ stumbled into films. Before she made her debut as a lead actor with the 2009 movie, Luck, Shruti was almost certain of her career as a musician, having spent the better part of her life studying the art – a decision she says her mother encouraged her to make.
Her parents, in fact, come up a lot during our chat about her music. She thanks her father, Kamal Haasan, an iconoclastic actor and filmmaker himself, for urging her to write her own songs when she was younger – a habit she says she now finds cathartic. I ask her to give me a glimpse into the creative process of composing a song and she is quick to reply, “I write from the place of knowing that we get to play different characters musically and are able to dedicate a time and space to a single set of emotions. My biggest inspiration is what moves me and makes me feel.”
Watching her sing along the rock songs that are blaring through the speakers and injecting the venue with a mood of rebellion I doubt it has ever experienced, I can’t help but ask Shruti about the genre she always turns to for comfort. I’m surprised when she quips, “metal”, considering she was the vocalist of her alternative rock band, The Extramentals, and that her favourite song is, in fact, ‘”Foxy Lady’ by Jimi Hendrix.”
Witnessing her in action over the course of a few hours, it has become clear that at the crux of most of Shruti Haasan’s decisions lies her mood, which is reflected in everything from her music choices to her wardrobe – especially her wardrobe, which the actor describes as a hippodrome filled with clothes that are a mish-mash of ultra-feminine silhouettes and edgy pieces. “I love the whole boots with lace aesthetic”, she says, quick to address this sartorial status quo.
Shruti’s love for such androgynous exuberance only makes me wonder about the kind of bride she thinks she will be. “I dream of a white wedding” she says. But I can’t help but imagine a pair of riveted black leather boots underneath the dress. By this point in conversation, I’m convinced that Shruti and her rockstar-vibe can never be mutually exclusive. And that if there’s anyone who’ll put non-conformity back in the bridal lexicon circa Vivien Westwood, Shruti Haasan would be it.
As we inch toward the end of the shoot, I ask Shruti, who’s sporting her cover look - the Amit Aggarwal hyper-constructed metallic sari and hair that’s inspired by Chinese orientalism - about what 2019 holds for her. She talks of coming back to the Indian cinema-scape after a one-and-a-half-year hiatus during which she was focused on writing her album. “I was so blessed with my opportunities in film and so engrossed in it that I couldn’t find a balance, then. I think it will definitely be more balanced now”, she says when I ask about juggling an acting career with music.
I cannot let her go without asking her about her experience shooting with Aza, and she says, “It was genuinely such a fun experience and so much up my alley in terms of style that I did give it that extra bit of love.”
One day of walking in her shoes - her leather boots - to be more precise, and you know that Shruti Haasan is a force to reckon with. She’s not a flash of lightning that’s going to disappear from the melody market. If anything, our little time today was a telling indicator that she’s a brazen artist who’s going to infiltrate the music scene, one note at a time.
Art Direction : Prashish More
Photography : Arjun Mark
Styling : Sanjana Batra