In a sea of similar faces and opinions, actor Akansha Ranjan Kapoor stands out with her takes on everything from fashion to propriety and why the term ‘feminism’ should be rephrased as ‘common sense’... And her Instagram presence is evident proof: sun-kissed snapshots of her bare-faced skin, confessions of a fraught relationship with her body while growing up, flexing effortless style in athleisure and midriff-baring outfits, and a defiance of gender expectations... All while she’s been busy with the release of her second film—Monica, O My Darling—that has caught the attention of critics and cinema-goers alike. Akansha is well on her way to paving a special path for herself.
“I think everyone should know they are beautiful,” she tells Bazaar India, the 29-year-old’s ebullient confidence worn as a badge to be flaunted. And with good reason. Akansha has battled, and overcome, the negative self-image from her growing up years, and her evolved ideas on self-love are ones she wants to share with the world. In a candid conversation, Akansha continues, “I was always a chubby kid, so having to deal with that as a teenager was a bit rough. And that extended well into my 20s, when I was training to be an actor. Constantly failing to reach my ‘goal body weight’ resulted in me developing issues with the way I saw myself.”
Read this special conversation with Akansha Ranjan Kapoor, as she speaks about family, friendship, love, her passion for cinema, and more...
Harper’s Bazaar: What is your earliest memory of acting/cinema?
Akansha Ranjan Kapoor: “I’ve been acting ever since I can remember! I was in the school choirs, annual day plays, inter-school and inter-house competitions... I’d even direct plays and choreograph dances. I was raised in and around movie sets and movie stars, so I’ve always been mesmerised by them. As kids, when we would go to movie screenings and get a glimpse of the actors—Mahima Chaudhary or Raveena Tandon or Sanjay Dutt—we would be so, so fascinated! Acting was the natural, next step for me.”
HB: Your debut in Bollywood was with the movie Guilty (2020), where you essayed the role of a rape victim. What, according to you, is the role of cinema in drawing attention to social issues?
ARK: “I’ve been very aware of the fact that cinema plays a huge part in shaping minds and opinions—what we consume affects the way we think and the way we do things. After my role in Guilty, I received so many messages from women talking about how the movie and my character helped them confront their own circumstances. And in some cases, even gave them the courage to speak out. In our country, where cinema is highly consumed, the medium has the ability and power to bring to the surface various issues that are otherwise brushed under the carpet.”
HB: Your latest film Monica, O My Darling has been hailed as wildly entertaining. What drew you to the script?
ARK: “This is a neo-noir crime comedy that drew me in immediately. Vasan Bala is a director I deeply adore and respect, and my co-stars Huma Qureshi, Radhika Apte, and Rajkummar Rao are talents I look up to. And since it was to be released on an OTT platform (Netflix), that reaches millions, it was a no-brainer. After I read the script, I was excited to be a part of something that was inventive, along with the fact that the character I was offered was unique and could be super-memorable.”
HB: What was the most inspiring thing about working with your female co-stars in Monica, O My Darling?
ARK: “Working with Huma and Radhika was a blast...both these women are known for their acting prowess, and have created their own niche in the industry. And that is something I, too, would like to do one day. Radhika inspires me by the characters she chooses to perform, her views on acting, and the way she navigates the industry. Her singular focus on doing only good work without worrying about the insecurities that an actor can have in this business motivates me to look at my work with the same creative purity.”
HB: You are good friends with Alia (Bhatt)...do you ever turn to her for career advice?
ARK: “When I was just starting out in acting, I would go to Alia for career advice since I was clueless. But as time passed, I’ve learned the importance of making my own choices, and following my own instincts, as that’s the only way I can be honest to my work. That being said, not just Alia, I have a huge support system of people I go to when in doubt.”
HB: You have spoken in the past about having body issues while growing up. What is your relationship with your body today?
ARK: “My idea of beauty has evolved over the years. I was always a chubby kid, so having to deal with that as a teenager wasn’t easy. And that extended well into my 20s, when I was training to be an actor. Constantly failing to reach my ‘body weight goal’ resulted in me developing issues with the way I saw myself. It’s still a work in progress, but I keep reminding myself every day that I work out because I love my body, not hate it. Today, I eat healthy and train daily, and this lifestyle brings me true joy.
The good thing is that now, people (including myself) aren’t trying to conform to the stereotypical norms of beauty. People are owning who they are and what they find attractive. And I think it is perfectly okay to be who the hell you want to be—gain weight, lose weight, cut your hair, get fillers, do whatever it takes for you to feel more confident in your skin.”
HB: How do you define style?
ARK: “Style, to me, is anything you feel confident in. If you feel good in what you have on, you can pull anything off. My personal style is simple, but sexy. I’d rather be underdressed than overdressed, and I’m easy on silhouettes. And I hate florals. And anything that’s too bright. I gravitate towards monotones and dark colours.”
HB: You’ve also spoken about “information overload”... Tell us more about that.
ARK: “Social media has a major role to play in the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us. Which is why I try to avoid excess information. If something doesn’t directly affect my life, I don’t want to know about it. It’s just easier like that. Else, you can get stuck in a constant rut of comparisons and lose focus of your own journey. I try to just have fun with social media and not take all the other stuff so seriously.”
HB: How do you deal with trolls on the Internet?
ARK: “One can’t have an open profile without some haters on it. I don’t really care about what they say, to be honest, because if you clap back at even one of those trolls, they start apologising. It’s all for attention. And most of them don’t know what they’re talking about. If one has all the facts together and then makes a judgement, I would acknowledge it. But I’d consider it a disservice to myself if I paid attention to, or got affected by, all the noise, all the time.”
HB: What is the funniest thing you have read about yourself?
ARK: “Luckily, I’m very new to the industry, so I don’t think the crazy rumours have begun yet—the only thing I keep getting called is my brother-in-law’s (actor Aditya Seal) wife because people are always confusing my sister and my names and it is frustrating but also hilarious.”
HB: What are your views on relationships and the ‘perfect partner’?
ARK: “I’m seeing someone, and I’m happy. The first thing I’m attracted to is people who are nice to other people. I need someone who can make me laugh because I’m funny myself! And also someone who loves to travel, and shares my love for fitness. Also, I’m a tough cookie, so I need a partner who is patient and willing to understand my quirks.”
HB: Who are some of the most inspiring women in your life?
ARK: “I’ve grown up around strong women. And my mother (Anu Ranjan, President of The Indian Television Academy, founder of the NGO BETI, and co-publisher of GR8! Magazine) is one person I respect tremendously. She lived in Los Angeles all her life, and came to the city (Mumbai) without any knowledge of the businesses she runs today. However, she had the drive and courage, and knew she wanted to make a mark. She also managed to run our home, raise my sister (actor Anushka Ranjan) and me, without us ever feeling her absence, while chasing her own entrepreneurial dreams. Her passion, courage, and never-take-no-for-an answer attitude is something I’ve imbibed from her. Watching her journey, I understood that I have got to keep chasing my dreams and never fear failure.
HB: You also work with the NGO...do share what you do, and how it has helped you evolve your perspective on life.
ARK: “For BETI, we raise funds for the education, sanitation, and medical help of girls across the country. What really impacted me on a deep level was when we worked on the case of an acid attack victim who was asking the government for euthanasia. Learning her story, helping her get back on her feet, and seeing her eventually find love and start her own family reminded me why we began doing this in the first place. All of this has grounded me, and made me more empathetic towards the world.”
HB: Your sister, Anushka, is also an actor. Do you turn to her for advice?
ARK: “I turn to my sister for every single thing in my life! Even though we are poles apart in so many ways—from our height to our music choices, favourite foods, personal style, and even our social media game—we share our love for our family and friends, animals, and being the ‘funny ones’.”
HB: What gives you joy?
ARK: “I find joy in the simplest things—random gestures of kindness, going for a run, being on a film set, long drives, reading about animal rescue stories, my girlfriends, travelling, the rain...and finding out my favourite dessert can now be made sugar-free!”
HB: What makes you sad?
ARK: “I get upset when people are mean to others, or when they hurt animals. And break-ups...those hurt!”
HB: What are your hopes for the future?
ARK: “My hope for the coming year is to sign on lots of movies! And I’m looking forward to travelling with my girlfriends...”
Square photo: Abstract Print Collared Blouse with Exaggerated Sleeves and Printed Pinched Pencil Skirt, ₹23,000, Saaksha & Kinni. Earrings, price upon request, Misho.
Photographs by Madhu Akula, Creative Direction and Styling by Pranay Jaitly and Shounak Amonkar
Make-up: Krisann Figueiredo. Hair: Virja Mehta. Fashion Assistants: Shubham Jawanjal, Ankur Pathak and Chaitanya Balwant. Production: Studio Gaaba.