July 2015: For Parineeti Chopra, being fit is waking up fresh in the morning. Once carrying 90 kg on her petite 5’6” frame, she discusses her weight-loss journey, and newfound love for fitness and health as she flaunts her toned new bod.
"Body con at its best! Body con at its best!" she yells excitedly as she emerges from the dressing room in what is her fourth change of the shoot. The dress is bright red, perfectly offsetting her creamy complexion, and figure hugging to show off her new fit frame. Her body language is confident and casual; she’s smiley, friendly and chatty, her language peppered with casual expletives… every bit as “real” as co-star Arjun Kapoor says she is.
She’s in jeggings and an aquamarine tee, her hair in a high pony when she sits opposite me for our chat. Some things have changed for Parineeti in the year since we interviewed her last. For one, she's gone from being a person who wasn’t into labels and designerwear to someone who has grown to appreciate them. “Saying I will only wear this brand or that, to be ‘branded’ at all times doesn't come naturally to me. But I’m a sucker for quality, I literally stretch clothes to test them, and you can see the difference in cut and quality with good brands.” Having said that, her staple clothing is still gunjis and shorts, and loose shapeless t-shirts. And she’s still not going to spend three lakhs on a dress—the investment-banker-turned-actress says she “would rather pay an EMI or buy something more substantial!”
The biggest change though, is that she’s acquired a new, if belated, interest in fitness.
The Unlikely Actress
Despite cousin Priyanka’s movie-star status, Parineeti was “never influenced”, and, growing up in Ambala, Haryana, only ever wanted to be an investment banker. Upon her return to India after graduating from Manchester Business School in the 2009 recession, she landed a job in the marketing department of Yash Raj Films. Here, she fell in love with acting, decided to give it a shot, signed a three-film deal with the YRF banner… and the rest, as they say, is history. Six films later, here she is.
Being an actor sure feels good, and she loves performing, being in front of the camera. But there are many things that come with it that she doesn't enjoy so much—the lack of private life, too much scrutiny, too many cooks in your life. “There are so many elements, from the team of people to the fans, that contribute to you as an actor and as a brand—those can be slightly high pressure.” She admits to having no idea about the behind-the-scenes aspects of the business when she first faced the camera.
Kapoor reminisces about their film, Habib Faisal’s 2012 hit Ishaqzaade, which was his first and her first in a lead role. Despite a tumultuous start, they became and stayed friends. “I don’t think that equation can change, especially with your first co-star. Because, for what it’s worth, they know all your insecurities, strengths, weaknesses, flaws and issues because you've faced the camera together at such a vulnerable time in your life.”
Had she known earlier in life that she wanted to be an actress, she would have been more prepared for this journey, she says. “Even if you’re making an omelette, there are more failures if you don’t know what you’re doing.” She’s learnt everything on the job, growing in the eye of the camera. It, and audiences at large, has also been privy to her weight-loss journey.
Motivation from Without
She’s pleasantly plump in Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl (2011), but seems to have gotten steadily fitter since. “I was always a lazy person, never a sportswoman, and it led me to be obese in university,” Parineeti discloses. Even when she was 90 kg, she never considered herself unfit or fat. “Most people who are unhealthy or unfit don't consider themselves so. The brain switches off. I would eat like it's no ones business; I had no stamina, no health, the worst skin, the worst hair… I was one podgy person!”
Motivation to lose weight came in fits and starts. Her weight dropped owing to her busy lifestyle when she got to Mumbai, and the compliments that began coming her way drove her to join the gym. Since she doesn’t like the gym, that didn’t last, and she yo-yoed. Being offered her first film got her inspired again: “‘Okay, now I’m an actress, I’ve got to do this,’ I said to myself.”
But it never really came as a calling from inside.
Until the start of this year, that is. Like her love for acting, there wasn’t an ‘Aha!’ moment when she acquired the fitness bug, they both came through “slow catharses”.
It started with wanting to become thin: she wasn’t fitting in to her jeans, didn’t like the way she was looking in pictures and was always trying to camouflage her fat. “But now it’s beyond the aesthetics. I have to feel healthy, fit and energetic no matter what I may look like.”
As she gets bored easily and has “spent 26 years without any exercise”, she’s taking it slow and doing what she enjoys. She does one-on-one hour-and-a-half classes with a trainer 15-20 days in the month, alternating between martial arts like kalaripayattu, yoga, weights, the gym and dancing. “It’s informal; she comes to where I am—either home, the YRF gym or a dance hall—and we will do whatever we feel like that day.” It helps that she’s had the time to focus on her fitness this year, while perusing scripts and meeting directors before zeroing in on her next projects.
“Fitness simply means having no fatigue when I wake up in the morning. If I don’t wake up fresh, I know something’s wrong—it may be that I’m unfit or I’ve eaten wrong the previous day or I’ve not worked out.”
While she’s not on a conventional diet, she follows a food plan based on allergy and intolerance tests conducted abroad. She doesn’t reveal details, but explains it as such: “I’ve been told that there are these foods that don’t agree with me. I’m allowed to eat everything else whenever I want.” There are no set rules: just lots of water and no eating after 7 PM. “I eat biryani casually because rice is apparently good for me.”
I ask Kapoor, who met her only a few days ago, what he thinks of her newborn interest in fitness, and he insists it must have been there all along. “Once you become an actor you do take care of your body, if only subconsciously. I just think she's become more aware of the finer details of how to take care of it and her health. With time and age you have to become increasingly conscious of your body because that's your most important tool.”
The diet and exercise is working, she believes. (Kapoor and I agree.) “I feel so much better! I love the changes in my body. My skin, hair, nails all feel great.” Will this newfound passion last? “Oh yeah,” Parineeti says emphatically. “Once it comes from within, it stays. Your body feels so good that you know you can’t let this go.”
An edited version of this interview was the cover story of Women’s Health in July 2015.