It's been 10 years since Sushmita Sen acted in a Hindi film. On June 19th, we'll see her again in the Hotstar web show Aarya, created by Ram Madhvani. The years between have been eventful for her – she's battled a grave illness, raised her two daughters and found love. In an interview with Anupama Chopra, she talks about the time she's been away. Excerpts from the conversation
Anupama Chopra: In these 10 years, you said that the last five were especially traumatic. The first 5 was a choice you made, you wanted to raise your daughters. In these last 5 years, did you ever have a sort of a dark night of the soul? Did you ever have a moment when it just got so overwhelming that you felt like 'I'm never going to get out of it'?
Sushmita Sen: I had more than one such night. I had been to London to get my synacthen test and that was my only hope that maybe, just maybe, they've made a mistake in the diagnosis. And once the synacthen test came back, the result confirmed that I will be steroid-dependant for life and then I would start to look like a person I do not recognize anymore. It wasn't the vanity of it, it was that I was losing myself and there was nothing you could do about it. I broke down to a level where, for the first time in my life, I was okay with my children hearing me bawl. They saw a very shattered me. I posted something on Instagram that day and for some strange reason those comments started with – why are you sounding like this? This is not you. From there started the comments of, 'I lost my father, I was thinking my life is over and then you came and said this in this interview and I pulled myself up and I went back and did this'. And I was just like, what the hell am I doing sitting here sobbing my lungs out? There's so much of goodwill and people who believe in me and I don't believe in me right now? I soaked in all of this energy that came to me, washed my face and looked at myself in the mirror and said, 'we're going to get back. If this is the end, let it be an end that is dynamic. Let it not be rote-dhote, and sad!'
The doctor from Cleveland who finally confirmed that my adrenals had woken up and that I was no longer to be steroids told me, 'Sushmita! 35 years of me in this business of being a doctor, I have never had the privilege to tell somebody that their adrenals have woken up, it's just a one in a million cases!'. And I was sitting there so numb. I didn't think it would be this brilliant. I thought I was going to get through it one way or the other but that it would completely go… We become so jaded with so many things and then something like this shakes you up and makes you revisit the love you have for life. And then you come back with guns blazing and say 'come on, where's life? Bring it on.'
AC: Speaking of Instagram, your romance with Rohman has to be some modern fairy tale! You met on Instagram? But, how did you know from all the thousands of people who probably DM you, that he's the one?
SS: Because of this serendipity! I don't check my DMs because I was so technically challenged that I thought if I open a direct message that means I've allowed the person to start communicating with me. Of course, I learnt that's not the case later but, at that point, I was shouting at somebody in the house because they had just broken a glass. I had a touch screen phone in front of me, and I was just scrolling direct messages and while saying something to them I pressed and opened this message and there is a gentleman there, playing the guitar and saying the loveliest things. There was this very good looking, sweetheart of a man who just very honestly and very unaffectedly was telling me something. So I responded back to him and forgot about it. From there started a conversation because I actually believe niceness begets niceness. Initially he kept hiding his age for some reason. I would keep asking him, 'so how old are you? You look so young!' And he would just go – Ah, you guess! And then I realized how young he was and why he didn't want that to get in the way of this conversation. We did not really choose this, it was chosen for us, it was very destined.
AC: The defining image of you is that win at Miss Universe. For so many years, your beauty has been celebrated. When there's so much conversation about looks, what is like for an actor to get older? How do you process getting older in a business which is notoriously ageist?
SS: Brilliant question! You can't really process it. If you want to compete at Miss Universe, you have to be 5'8 and above. It's a prerequisite, right? This is a prerequisite that has been there over the years, and yet, as you get older you gain something that you never have in your twenties – experience. A level of handling your sense of maturity. You have more depth and substance. And now, if you have depth and substance, and with some wrinkles and some lines, I believe that it adds to your character.
I still would look at myself with some of my not so complimenting facial lines and say, 'Is there a way for us to remove it? Is there a way for us to take that out?' I'd still do that because I understand the prerequisites of the business. But having said that, if you were to take away my depth and substance and just give me great beauty and make me Miss Universe, I would not settle for that today.