As you enter the narrow bylanes of Kala Ghoda, a South Mumbai neighbourhood replete with high-end designer stores, the minimalist signboard with ‘Anamika Khanna’ across it is hard to miss. Inside, quietly seated amid the customary chaos of a photo shoot, is the stately figure of Athiya Shetty, her poise evident. A popular muse among designers, she breezes through multiple costume changes for HELLO!, dressed in the vibrant creations of AK-OK, a new line helmed by Anamika and her twins, Viraj and Vishesh.
Athiya is completely at ease as she puts on a show for the lensman. So much so that one wonders why she isn’t in international campaigns or on the runway more often.
“I got asked about it while pursuing my film course at New York Film Academy,” she shares. “I was a 17-year-old from Mumbai and received multiple offers, but I knew even back then that it wouldn’t have brought me complete joy. Although, I must confess: I love working in front of the camera, be it to act or for fashion shoots.”
Athiya nails playing muse like a pro: her eyes courting the camera, her lips flashing a hint of a smile, her body in sync with her countenance. As she completely owns her looks, one can sense her appreciation for the outfits she sports.
“I’ve always loved Anamika Khanna as a designer. She’s an amazing person, and that translates into her creations. I love her latest collection not just in terms of design but even for its silhouettes. She makes every Indian woman look so good. Her outfits fit me like a glove, and I look so powerful in them.”
And it’s not just the muse; the designer, too, is just as besotted by her. Says Anamika: “I love Athiya’s energy. She exudes a relaxed vibe, which is in sync with AK-OK’s latest collection. She’s beautiful and confident and has the ability to own a look, which is what AK-OK stands for.”
The face of numerous brands and a fashion icon, Athiya says she looks up to her nani and mum as her idols.
“As cliché as it may sound, I emulate their style. My mum has been designing clothes for the past 30 years, and she always looked up to her mother. I love their simplicity and how they make any outfit look so artistic and well put together,” she gushes.
For this young star, fitness is a way of life. She may be genetically blessed with a slim frame, but she doesn’t take it for granted.
“Fitness has nothing to do with your weight or how slim you are. It’s a significant part of my regime. It’s a lifestyle I adopted from my father, watching him work out religiously. Even my grandparents are truly fitness conscious.”
“I’m also an outdoor person and enjoy being amidst nature,” adds Athiya, who heads to her farmhouse in Khandala when time permits, to spend the day simply watching television or hanging out with her dogs.
Being in close commune with nature has a soothing effect on most. Perhaps why this budding actor has a serene vibe about her. She puts our speculation to rest, confessing to having adopted a Zen-like state of mind over the years.
“Internally, I wouldn’t say I’m as relaxed as I look. But over the years, I’ve become a lot calmer, which was a progression of maturity. As you grow older, you get more comfortable with yourself. In the past two years, I spent more time with myself, which made me more self-aware. This sense of tranquillity now reflects even in my work.”
There’s a mellowness in this 30-year-old lady that’s uncommon in one so young. Athiya likes to go with the flow, and by her own admission, isn’t overly ambitious or a believer in chasing fame.
“I enjoy whatever comes my way,” says Athiya, who has five films to her name since her 2015 debut with Hero.
The movies that followed — Mubarakan and Motichoor Chaknachoor — may not have propelled her career to great heights, but Athiya is at peace with her progress. She also confesses to being exceptionally choosy, a trait she developed as a child.
“As a kid, I was very particular about giving everything my 150 percent; otherwise, I didn’t think there was a point to doing anything,” she shrugs. “And it’s not just about the big things. I apply the same approach to even the most basic aspects of my life.”
“When I began shooting for Hero, I was 21. At that stage, there’s a tendency to chase success. You have a plan in mind and goals to achieve. But as you evolve in life, you realise that it’s more about the journey than the destination.”
“This industry and my career taught me so much about myself as a person. It’s taken a lot of inner work for me to achieve this mental state of bliss. I’m neither extremely social, nor do I put myself out there for the world to see. I only open up with my team. But if it’s a new set up, it takes me time to get comfortable regardless.”
Reluctant to follow the tried-and-tested route of networking to build contacts and perhaps sign more films, Athiya has a more fatalistic approach to her career.
“What comes to you has a lot to do with destiny and some good luck. If it’s meant for me, it will come to me, and if it’s not in my power, it will not,” she says.
However, she’s honest enough to admit that she’s gone through her moments of desperation, times when she has longed to achieve something significant both in her personal and professional space.
“Desperation is a very real aspect of life. At some point of time or the other, we have all yearned for something. I don’t look at it negatively though. It’s a phase when you want something, and as time passes, you either realise that you don’t really need it, or are aware that it was not worth the struggle.”
“People have this misconception that industry kids know how things function in Bollywood. But everyone has their own journey, and it does not matter whose child you are. The highs and lows are a part and parcel of each and every actor’s life.”
Her innate wisdom also stems from having grown up with a 90s’ star for a father. Suniel and Mana Shetty always ensured a stable home environment for Athiya and her younger brother, Ahan.
“I learnt from my dad that no Friday film release should affect us as a family. I never knew the difference between a hit and a flop because my parents camouflaged a success or failure and always created a semblance of normalcy at home. We led a very protected life as children, rarely went to my father’s movie sets, and no film magazines were allowed at home.”
Given the influences in her life — Athiya is also best friends with Krishna Shroff, actor Jackie Shroff’s daughter and Tiger Shroff’s sister — it was as good as inevitable that Athiya would choose a career in acting. The seeds were sown in Class 11 when she took up theatre as a subject.
“That’s when I realised I love being on stage and the entire creative process involved. I always knew I wanted to do something creative.”
And while dad Suniel may have done everything possible to protect her from the harsh realities of the Hindi film industry, he was also apprehensive about how his princess would handle the highs and lows.
“But I don’t think he was apprehensive about me wanting to get into films. He simply advised me to stay balanced and not let success get to my head and failure to my heart. He had the same advice for Ahan.”
Now that her sibling also made his debut with Tadap, we wonder whether Athiya feels the need to protect him.
“Though I was nervous while watching his film and am extremely protective of him, we don’t advise each other. Our journeys are different. He’s younger to me but more mature.”
Athiya is now gearing up for an OTT release, details of which she isn’t at liberty to share. As we wind up our chat, we ask her to sum up her journey so far: “I don’t think I can rate it. I’ve made so many mistakes along the way, but I don’t have any regrets because it’s shaped me into the person I am. Had I not seen some of the hardship I have, I wouldn’t have been able to evolve the way I have.”
Photos: Rahul Jhangiani; Creative Director: Avantikka Kilachand; Fashion Editor: Sonam Poladia; Junior Stylist: Anushree Sardesai; Hair & Makeup: Namrata Soni; Wardrobe Courtesy: Ak-Ok
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s December 2022 issue. Get your copy of the latest issue right here!