Mira Kulkarni on life, its lessons, and all things beauty

Bazaar India speaks with the founder of Forest Essentials and the author of 'Essentially Mira'.

Harper's Bazaar India

We are sitting in the greenhouse of Mira Kulkarni’s home in Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—the same home the founder and managing director of Ayurvedic skincare brand Forest Essentials speaks about on many occasions in her autobiography, Essentially Mira. It’s a riveting read, packed with anecdotes and twists that leave you rooting for the protagonist. But most of all, it’s the story of a woman who rises to the occasion and makes the most of her life.

image: The cover of her autobiography, Essentially Mira

On this winter’s day, Kulkarni is seated elegantly on the sofa, her face glowing and barely any lines at the age of 67. One almost begins to search her face for the stories she has written about in her book, but you can’t read much... “Today, I feel a sense of stability, of being grounded at home. It has been here forever...there’s a kind of sense of peace and continuity.”

image: Founder and Managing Director of Forest Essentials, Mira Kulkarni

Along with safety and balance, there is also a reason for excitement and celebration. 2022 was a golden year, of sorts, as the brand put up its first, standalone store in London—“a natural progression because we’ve covered India fairly extensively”. In fact, when she began searching for a space in 2021, despite warnings of an impending recession, Kulkarni continued with her characteristic determination that has made her, and the brand, what they are today.

The new space in Covent Garden, London—which opened last year before Christmas to an eager NRI audience—came to them almost “providentially”. Providence, or destiny, is a theme that recurs in her book as well. And I’m curious to know more... Kulkarni opens up about her faith in a higher power, and how she believes that certain things are meant to be: “That’s how my whole life has been...a series of the most amazing coincidences.”

image: One of Forest Essentials’ initial stores in Mumbai

“I’m a very spiritual person, in a certain sense,” Kulkarni continues. “And I believe there’s an inevitability to life. So, when I think something is destined to be, I try not to fight it...whether it’s good or bad. You just have to accept some things,” she says with a wise smile.

Kulkarni married at 20 and moved from Delhi to Chennai, returned with two little children to look after, and started a small batch of soaps which eventually gave way to the company Forest Essentials is today...the narrative is almost like a movie.

“I was completely unaware and unexposed when I was 20. So, when I look back, I realise that there was so much more one could have done. And that’s what I would say to myself: that you can do so much. But you’re not. And it’s not happening because you’re in this little pond, and you don’t know what to do... By the time you realise that you are capable of doing things, so much of your life would have passed by...”

We turn from the topic of philosophy to Ayurvedic beauty, and Mira is proud of the new version of her hero product—the Transformative Soundarya Cream—that has been updated for night use with 24k gold, bakuchiol, hyaluronic acid, and polyglutamic acid. “The earlier Soundarya Cream is a day cream, while this is specifically for night. It’s extremely rich, without SPF, and the serum for it is hand-poured into each jar,” she explains. But its not just the ingredients—I am told that there are specific rituals that go into its making, and Kulkarni explains that the water for the cream is kept open under the moonlight to absorb its powers. And while the cream is being prepared, special chants are recited so that it absorbs the good vibrations. “These are fascinating things from ancient’s one step beyond putting in the best ingredients.”

While the brand carefully follows ancient Ayurvedic recipes, there is a certain confidence with which they innovate as well. “As a science, a part of Ayurveda is rigid. But it is also flexible, which is very interesting. That, to me, shows how this ancient science can actually help in a modern, temporary environment.”

image: The ancient technique of Enfleurage used in perfumery to capture the essence of the delicate flowers

Kulkarni’s own fresh and line-free skin is something to speak of, and (as expected) her skincare routine is simple—she uses ubtans for cleansing, a day cream, and the new Soundarya cream at night. “And while watching TV or reading a book, I massage emulsified ghee (the brand’s Tejasvi Brightening Emulsion) into my’s not a five-minute fix; you really need to massage it in, once a week.”

Which spurs me to ask about the mistakes people make with skincare. Kulkarni reveals a gem, “People should start taking care of their skin much earlier. Because, by the time you get to a certain age, it becomes far more difficult to correct the skin and then, you can’t go back. A lot of people don’t start early enough...I think the age of 12 or 13 is just right. In fact, there’s a term in Ayurveda called yuvati, which is when a girl becomes 13, she transits into womanhood...that is the time to start looking after the skin.”

We turn towards a glimpse into the future, and Kulkarni shares plan to further expand, especially to GCC countries. And there is work on another product underway. Which brings us to the ultimate question of work-life balance... “I’m not the right person to ask that—when I do something that is of interest to me, it’s not work...I love my work; it relaxes me.”