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Up close with Shilpa Shetty

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In a gazebo, amidst green lemonade and hearty laughter, Shilpa Shetty changes my mind. About her. Bollywood celebrities tend to evoke strong reactions in people. You might love someone; you might, just as easily, hate someone else. Shilpa Shetty, more often than not, surfs on the fringes of these popularity pie charts. On one level, she has never evoked much feeling. She was just always... around. Actually, she was mostly around controversy, but that is a norm rather than the exception in our film industry. There are two things about her, however, that set her apart. One, she is a survivor. Two, she’s always had a great body.

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A 17-year-old Shilpa was first seen in 1993 as a debutante running around a tree with Shah Rukh Khan in the blockbuster Baazigar. The 36-year-old Shilpa, sitting in her palatial bungalow on Juhu beach in a relaxed T-shirt and comfy pants, lets out a peal of laughter, 201cI wore a yellow, polka-dotted, frilly dress in Baazigar! Wait, it wasn2019t even a dress. It was a frock. And at that time I thought that dress was the coolest and that I was the cat2019s whiskers. I don2019t understand what I was thinking.201d Whatever reservations you might have about Shilpa pretty much disappear once you hear her laugh, and mostly at herself. Ask her what she2019s most or least proud of in her 18-year-long career in and around the film industry, and she promptly answers the second part of the question first. 201cWhat I2019m not proud of is some of my earlier work, and definitely some of the clothes I used to wear. I just switch off the TV when I see myself on it sometimes. I think I2019ve done pretty well for myself, considering the kind of work I did. I saw some of my old movies recently and I was like, 2018Oh my God, how did people tolerate me!2019


201cBut what I am proud of is the fact that I2019m totally self-made. I did not hail from a film background. I come from a non-Hindi speaking, Mangalorean business family and I did not enter the industry thinking that I2019d make a career out of it. The fact that I lasted so long is a huge compliment to someone like me.201dAlthough her character in Baazigar was bumped off midway through the film, it earned her a nomination for Filmfare Best Supporting Actress, and planted her in the public consciousness. She followed it up with some forgettable and a few noteworthy performances. It isn2019t a particularly sparkling career graph, but what no one can deny is that where other actresses have come and gone, Shilpa has somehow stuck around, wading through polka-dots, frizzy hair, sex-symbol tags, industry link-ups, round-the-tree jiving, comedies, dramas, multi-starrers, flops and hits. Till Big Brother happened.


201cI think I might have survived this long because I don2019t take myself so seriously,201d she laughs again. 201cAlso, I think what helped and what2019s important is for people to have respect for you. Somewhere with all my years of work, I know from the kind of reaction I get from people, that they do have some respect for me. Even if I was a sex symbol, I did it with dignity. That wasn2019t the image I wanted and I know when you have a glamorous persona, there is only that much you are expected to do. But I tried to break even that tag with films like Phir Milenge, Rishtey, Dus or Life In A2026 Metro. It was an uphill task for me, but I think I did pretty well for myself within the given parameters, or at least as well as I could do.201d Another surprise is hearing her talk about fame. 201cI2019m not going to be a hypocrite and say it2019s not one of the reasons you get addicted to this line of work. It is, or it definitely has been for me. It2019s such a beautiful feeling to be recognised by people you don2019t know. That totally is a high. I wanted to be recognised and I knew the only way to get that would be to do good work. That2019s what drove me always. I think any human being given the opportunity to be famous, would take it. To get famous doing something you love is just a double blessing. I don2019t understand these people who say 2018Oh, now that I2019m famous I can2019t have bhelpuri on the street.2019 I want to shake them and ask them, did they become actors because they wanted to be able to have bhelpuri on the


Shilpa the actress might like to poke fun at herself, but Shilpa the entrepreneur means business. Since winning Big Brother in 2007, she has become a household name even in the UK. Somewhere down the line, her family genes kicked in, and she diverted her attention to building herself as a health and fitness brand, propelled by the publicity garnered by her controversial yet ultimately triumphant stint on the international reality show. In the past couple of years, she2019s opened Iosis, a chain of medi salon-spas around Mumbai, made a yoga DVD, and most recently launched Shilpa2019s Gourmet Creations in London, a range of vegetarian, ready-to-eat meals. She says, 201cI2019m doing stuff that I always wanted to do in life, but earlier I didn2019t have that power. Maybe monetarily I was set, but in terms of the stature to make people believe in me, I didn2019t have that. Only recently, a lot of avenues opened up for me.201dShe2019s not vegetarian herself but her gourmet meals boast under-10 per cent fat, which brings us to the topic of her fitness. Good genes play a part but Shilpa is particular about what she eats. 201cIt2019s a myth that healthy food doesn2019t taste good. Another habit many people form in the effort to lose weight is to follow diets that make their body crave food most of the day. I think you just need to understand what your body wants and work around it and bring in long-term discipline. I have an evil sweet tooth. I don2019t indulge myself daily, but I don2019t deny myself either. I have