Anushka Sharma: "I'm more than a rat in a rat race."

The actor, now also a mother, speaks about striking a balance between her work and personal life.

Harper's Bazaar India

Over the last five years or so, much has changed for the 34-year-old actress. She married cricketer Virat Kohli. She took a break from movies (and deprived her countless fans of some truly unconventional, beautifully-portrayed roles). She gave birth to her daughter Vamika (“My first trimester was awful,” she had revealed in another interview, with an honesty that she has become synonymous with). She decided to step down from her role as co-founder of the production company, Clean Slate Filmz. And she signed on the cricket biopic, Chakda ’Xpress, based on the life of former India cricket captain Jhulan Goswami.

“I’ve changed quite a bit over the past few years,” she says, “changes I wanted, those I was seeking. I made certain decisions so that I could have a deeper understanding of myself..." Today, Anushka’s life is about pouring energy into the things she loves fiercely...her marriage, her daughter, and the kind of work that justifies the time she has to spend away from her child. Read on to learn more about how Anushka is here to embody her truth and live life on her own terms…

Nandini Bhalla: Let’s talk about work-life balance... Recently, you decided to step away from your production house Clean Slate Filmz as well, so you could focus on life…

Anushka Sharma: I knew I was making a sacrifice when I stepped back from a company that I had founded and helped build. I had a vision for it and I’m so glad it is where it is today. But it was a decision I was willing to take to lead a more balanced life and be at peace, mentally. Nothing matters if you’re not feeling good... I have always placed a lot of emphasis on my mental health, even before we started openly talking about mental health.

I remember saying to a very senior journalist, many years ago, that I didn’t want to do anything that won’t give me peace of mind. And he didn’t understand it at that time. But now, everybody gets it. I was much, much younger then; only five years into the industry. But I knew it was the right decision, even then.

Striking a work-life balance is certainly harder for women. I don’t think people understand the life and emotions of a working mother, because the world is so male-dominated. Heck, I’m a woman; even I didn’t understand it till I became a mother. Today, I have so much more respect and love for women, and such a strong sense of sisterhood. I’ve always spoken up for women, but to feel love and compassion for the cause makes it so much more powerful.

I think people don’t understand the guilt that a working mother goes through. I remember feeling guilty when I got back to training. Because of the pandemic, I wasn’t comfortable being on a set as I could have brought the virus home to my child. It was a risk I didn’t want to take. I also remember experiencing the anxiety of being away from my daughter because she wasn’t used to being away from me... It would really get to me.

I wish women received more support in their workplaces. While I know many men who are kind and empathetic towards women, the work culture itself can be so tough. I wish we collectively paid more attention to how nurturing a child is important for the world-at-large. And that is, probably, the complete opposite of our ‘go, go, go’ culture.

I was having a conversation with my pediatrician the other day, and we were talking about how there should be a one-year paid leave for women. That is the only way women can take care of their child, guilt-free...

My industry is all about, ‘run, run, run’—it’s a rat race, and you simply have to be part of it. But I’m more than a rat in a rat race. I want to enjoy my life. I enjoy acting in films, I enjoy being in a room full of creative people, discussing ideas, coming up with ways of doing a scene, and thinking about how the audience will react to it. It’s all so pleasurable; I never want to give it up. That is why I had to make a sacrifice. Production is a 24/7 job, which, of course, I enjoyed thoroughly. I know the vision I have for the company is the same as my brother’s, and I know that vision will be upheld. What we wanted to do—create clutter-free, content-forward shows and movies, and promoting new talents—we will continue to do.

I have to do things the way I like—I want to enjoy acting, motherhood, my partner, and my life. There’s more to life, and I want to have the time for it.”

NB: Many female leaders agree that the only way to achieve work-life balance is to sacrifice a few things, along with having a strong support system at home. What are your views on the matter?

AS: Can I tell you something? I know it might not sound quite right, but everything comes at a price. There are women who can do it all, but the beauty of this world, and of being a woman, is our choices. I feel empowered with the choices I’ve made, which is how I always want to feel. No one’s asking me to do it; this is my choice, to be able to be to do things a certain way. I don’t think I can be someone who can do multiple things at once, but there are women who can, and kudos to them. But that does not mean that anyone is lesser or more because of that.

NB: Now that you’re returning to acting after a break, what kinds of films do you hope to work in?

AS: I’ve always wanted to be a part of the best scripts that come to me—content-driven films—and I’ve always taken decisions based on that. I’ve always wanted to challenge myself with the roles I get. I’ve managed to do several, varied roles throughout my career, and I consider myself blessed that I get to select the type of work I want to do.

But now, even more so, the project has to justify the time I spend away from my child. Even earlier, when I worked on too many films in a year, I took a year-long break because I was ‘fried’. And then the pandemic happened, and I got pregnant, and my interval became even longer than anticipated. But I’ve always worked on fewer films, those for which I feel happy going to work and not just for the sake of it.

Maintaining a balance between work and life is very important to me. We’ve all felt that in the pandemic—there is definitely a lack of balance, but it is needed to be more productive. Burning out is no way to describe success. Hustling and burning the midnight oil might show your passion, but I doubt it comes within the healthy framework of things.

I’m not for that hustle culture. I’m for living with a more holistic approach—you enjoy your work, you enjoy your life. That’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to enjoy everything you do. There are many people who inspire me, who might not be earning a lot of money but are happy. They’re like, ‘We love what we do, we are happy, and that’s all we need from life’. And I think that’s a great way of looking at things. You can’t be an extremist, there has to be a balance. And that’s what I’m seeking, even more so now.

For instance, I had been part of the inception of Chakda ’Xpress. I was supposed to have worked on it earlier but the film got postponed because of the pandemic and then I got pregnant. When I finally began working on it, I was really nervous because I had just had a baby so I wasn’t as strong as before. And I hadn’t trained for 18 months, so I wasn’t in the best physical condition—earlier, I would have really pushed myself to do different exercises in the gym. But even though I wasn’t sure whether to take the project on or not, an inner voice kept telling me to do it. And that’s the kind of work I want to be a part of. I’ll always be open to doing projects that are interesting and content-forward.


NB: What is your approach towards social media?

AS: My social media posts are not synthetic or curated to look a certain way. I’ve changed quite a bit over the past few years... As I evolve and understand life better, my social media will portray the same. I create content myself and write own captions, and that’s because I want to be as authentic as I possibly can. It is very important to me to portray a very real and lived experience with people. If I share something on social media that has value, it can add value to somebody else’s life too. That is my primary aim, to make somebody feel good if they read my might help their day.

I don’t have a separate, private account to follow people and handles. Obviously, as an actor, you’ll find my photographs taken with good lighting and make-up on, or looking great on magazine covers, because that’s a part of my life. But, along with that, you’ll find other aspects of my life as without make-up on or just something goofy. I post whatever comes naturally to me.

NB: You are no stranger to the world of cricket, but has this film made you view the sport differently?

AS: Because of my husband, one might assume that I’m deeply associated with cricket, but that’s not true. It’s my husband’s profession, and I would simply go to see the matches, just like everybody else. I didn’t have a deep affinity for cricket, so for me, learning to play the game has been as new as it would be for anybody trying to master a new skill.

I picked up a cricket bat and ball for the first time while training for Chakda ’Xpress. And honestly, learning to bowl is one of the toughest skills there is! While I always understood what a high-pressure environment the sport is part of, I think my perspective on cricket has now evolved from the point of view of a sportswoman. That, I think, is a rather beautiful perspective, because it helped me understand the many struggles women have faced, especially when it comes to being treated with as much respect as their male colleagues. They’ve harboured an undeterred passion and given it their all, for decades, to keep the ball rolling for women’s cricket in our’s never been easy to do that.

And so, my respect has grown tenfold for female cricketers. In general, I think cricket is a beautiful and highly-technical sport. It’s not easy. People who watch the game think, ‘Oh, there’s a ball and you just have to hit it’. But there are a lot of mechanics involved which you get to understand as you learn to play the sport. I’m sure I’ll learn even more as I go along; I’ve got the entire year left.

Photographed By: Vaishnav Praveen

Styling By: Samar Rajput

Creative Direction By: Who Wore What When