The couple, who tied the knot in 2017, had their first child Vamika in 2021
It is celebration time in Sushmita Sen’s household. Her brother Rajeev Sen and wife Charu Asopa welcomed their first baby on November 1, turning the former Miss Universe-turned-actress into a gushing buaa (aunt).
Her own birthday is coming up on November 19. And with her 2020 debut web series, Aarya (Disney+ Hotstar) being nominated for International Emmys 2021 in the Best Drama Series category, alongside Chile’s El Presidente, Israel’s Tehran and British show There She Goes, it is indeed a special time in her life.
The actress who had earlier spoken about her Addison’s disease diagnosis in 2014 and her subsequent recovery from it admits due to health reasons she will be travelling during the November 22 Emmy announcement.
But she has left explicit instructions with Amita Madhvani (producer of Aarya) to “stand on a chair and yell and shout and scream,” during the award ceremony. “For us being on that platform and being nominated, one of four from around the world, is a huge accomplishment,” she exults.
On Aarya’s International Emmy nom
“It’s a big one for India. This nomination is as good as a victory for me already. It’s reached out to so many people and a bigger audience is looking at it since the show is now available on Hulu.
"I’ve had audiences from around the world write to me on social media asking how they can watch it. I’m so glad the fan base is extending and now with the (Emmy) nomination, the viewership has increased. It’s a huge win for India and I’m really proud of everyone involved.”
Small screen jitters
Bollywood has been obsessed with 35mm format for a long time, but in recent times quality content and novel storytelling techniques have drawn a slew of talented performers to the small screen.
As someone who enjoyed the whole razzmatazz of Bollywood cinema, Sushmita admits she was initially hesitant to tread this path.
“If I had those qualms (about turning to the small screen), I had it when web series first entered Indian markets a few years ago.”
She is candid enough to confess that though she is an avid watcher of web series, “I didn’t want people watching me from their living rooms.”
“What happened is as a hungry actor who’d been waiting to get good content to work with, suddenly the shift happened.
“You work in a sphere where you are not working with the pressures of just a Friday release; but an overall reach with content that you can appreciate.
"And I always joke, my films would go to the theatre and bomb and then they’d get released on satellite and become hits! People would watch them over and over again! I was like in any case I’m a satellite hit, might as well give them a lot (with her signature throaty laughter).”
Today she says her thought process is very simple. “I’d go where the content takes me and it doesn’t matter which platform it is. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy films, of course, I do. But it has to be again content driven, if it isn’t, then it isn’t something I’d make a priority.”
Why she chose to mark her return with Aarya
Sushmita is known to be extremely selective when it comes to her work. The former beauty queen made her Bollywood debut with Dastak in 1996 and went on to do award-winning roles in movies like Biwi No. 1 and Filhaal.
She subsequently earned the tag of being choosy about her roles though her presence was felt at Bollywood functions.
“Aarya is what I was waiting for all that time,” she avers. “There are people in this field who say, ‘she’s not interested in working, we keep sending her scripts we love but it is not good enough for her.’
They were like, she really doesn’t want to work, and then there was the other lot, which appreciates the fact that you don’t want to churn out works like you’d in a factory. You want to wait for something that’s author packed, something that has the correct platform, director, production house, script and cast.
“And I got that in Aarya. Within the first 5 minutes of my meeting with Ram (Madhvani, director and creator of the series) I said, yes. My team who’d gone for the meeting with me were like, ‘you think you are a bit too enthusiastic in saying yes in the first 5 minutes???’ I was like, call it instinct, I knew this was it, this is what I had been waiting for. And I was so right.”
Women who inspire Sushmita
At the age of 18, when a winsome Bengali lass strode up confidently on stage with a twinkle in her eyes and a million watt smile on her face, there was no mistaking here was a woman who’d make her mark in the world. She went on to be the first Indian to be crowned Miss Universe in 1994.
While her Bollywood stint may have left fans wanting more, her unconventional lifestyle was the envy of her peers. In 2000 when she adopted Renee, many eyebrows were raised, but she was unperturbed. In 2010 she welcomed another daughter, Alisah.
While admitting it has been quite a journey, Sushmita is clear to put things in perspective. “The grass is always greener on the other side. You always look at a woman with a family and you think, wow, it must be such a beautiful support system.
"I have so many variables to look after - now you concur, she is so independent, she takes her own calls etc. I want women to know that given a choice, whichever extends the maximum freedom to you as an individual, is the right way to be, because without that you really can’t grow.
"It is wonderful that I have had that in my life — the ability to take my calls and being responsible for those calls and to make beautiful mistakes, learn from them and then to do incredible stuff with that learning. It’s been quite a process — right from having a really strong mother to inspire me from a very young age to my aunts who have immensely inspired me. There is such strength I take from them.
“I take inspiration from my children — the kind of strength both these girls (Renee, Alisah) carry within them is inspiring. I’m a woman who is inspired by both a paanwala and a president. I’ve always been open to being inspired. There are a lot of women out there who inspire me.
“I met Mother Teresa when I was 18 years old, before she passed away and I learnt through her that love is a very strong and powerful driving force. If it is unconditional — and that is very difficult — we stand to gain at the end of it.
"We can love and belong to anyone if we choose to, and hence biology didn’t play a great part in my motherhood. I learnt that from Mother Teresa.
“I met Angelina Jolie many years ago in Malaysaia, and I was always intrigued by this woman who has come through bright times and dark times and shines through it all. Even in person I sensed that very strongly. So I followed her journey.
"I’ve been a huge Madonna fan, not for her music necessarily… but because she is such a rebel all through. These are women who are extremely unique individuals. Their choices have been very individualistic and they all live in celebration of life.
“I am really inspired by Malala Yousafzai and I’m so thrilled that my younger daughter is studying about her. These are people who are game changers, these are people who have understood that for unconditional love, the ability to give without putting conditions down to gain something from it is important.”
Is Aarya more popular than Sushmita?
Ever since it dropped in June 2020, Aarya, a saga of love, betrayal, loyalty, revenge and addiction centred around a business family in Jaipur, Rajasthan, has enthralled both viewers and critics alike.
A remake of the Dutch series Penoza, the crime-thriller stars Sen as Aarya Sareen, a loving and dutiful wife and daughter of a wealthy family, who unwittingly gets into the crosshairs of the local drug cartel following the tragic death of her husband Tej (Chandrachur Singh).
The series boasts an ensemble cast including Jayant Kripalani as the seemingly mild-mannered family patriarch and Namit Das as Sareen’s cocaine-sniffing business partner, alongside Sikander Kher and Manish Choudhary, but it is Sushmita who anchors the show with her alluring mix of vulnerability and strength.
Aarya has her own fan base with many on social media stalking the actress eager to find out about Season 2 which is expected to release soon.
Sen admits that Aarya (the character) has taken on an identity that has in many instances overpowered her own reality.
“Aarya’s got a very solid fan club and I’m so glad that at times Aarya’s fan club is far more passionate than Sushmita’s fan club! They have been waiting to be a part of her journey again, to welcome her back into their lives.
"It is such a special feeling and I thank the audiences with all my heart because this is why we do what we do. We do this to become an integral part of a day in your life that changes your life for the better. It inspires you, makes you happy and makes you belong and all of this happens because the audience has accepted Aarya the way they have. So, thank you for that, from the bottom of my heart.”
The couple, who tied the knot in 2017, had their first child Vamika in 2021
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