“I always knew I didn’t want to do one thing in my life,” says Vasuki Punj, asserting her mantra for living, seated in the artfully decorated living room of the plush central Delhi home she shares with her husband, businessman Mickey Punj.
It’s been a long day of shooting, yet Vasuki, with her long and lean frame, effortless beauty, bouncy curls and charming manner, is the very picture of poise. Over the next hour, she lays bare the nitty- gritties of her interesting life and the many roles she’s played thus far — as a model, former Miss India, lawyer and co-founder of legal tech firm Rainmaker, actor in movies and web series, as well as entrepreneur and co-founder of popular gelato brand Frozen Fun.
“I started modelling when I was in college. I thought it was fun for a while, but I got over it quickly, so I went on to pursue my master’s,” she says, beginning to explain her opening statement. “When I participated in the Miss India pageant, I was in between jobs for about six months, and it seemed like a great opportunity. I won the title and went to Brazil to represent India, but after that, I returned to New York to practise law. This went on for over a decade, and after a while, it became more of the same thing.”
“In 2017, an opportunity came my way, which made me branch out into acting. A friend was making his directorial debut and asked me to act in it. I had no acting experience but ended up having a blast and got bit by the acting bug. So I went to the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York to study acting,” she shares with candour. After returning to India, Vasuki indulged her newfound passion by acting in films like Dhokha and Runway 34 and web series like Crash Course and Thinkistan. Even while establishing her acting career, she simultaneously embarked on a passion project by launching Goa’s famous gelateria, Cream Choc, around the country in the new avatar of Frozen Fun.
“During the pandemic, I spent a lot of time in Goa and was introduced to this amazing gelato brand. I had been looking for good business opportunities because I’m not very linear. The FMCG sector had seen a boom at the time, so it made sense for me to pursue Cream Choc,” she explains. “Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy! The owner, Davide Passarella, was a tough nut to crack! He was reluctant because I think he hadn’t found the right partner till then. I was the first person who had approached him with a collaborative ‘I love the product, what can we do together?’ stance, and he appreciated that.”
Frozen Fun started operations in Delhi earlier this year and quickly garnered a dedicated clientele. In the coming year, the brand will expand to cities like Chandigarh, Jaipur and Bombay.
Vasuki’s entrepreneurial spirit co-exists seamlessly with her creative personality, perhaps owing to her solid grounding early in life. She grew up in Hyderabad, attained her bachelor’s in law at Symbiosis International University, Pune, and her master’s in law at New York University on a scholarship, after which she made NYC her home for several years.
“Some people find the life there too hectic, but I thrive in places like that,” she declares. In fact, Vasuki was based in New York when she began a long-distance relationship with her husband Mickey. They met at a party in Hyderabad when she was in town for a vacation and had a memorable conversation that led to them exchanging numbers. When she returned to New York, Mickey assiduously pursued Vasuki by calling her every day, effectively sweeping her off her feet despite their age gap of over 20 years.
“We spoke on the phone for an entire year before we met again. It seems unlikely, but we fell in love with each other over the phone,” she says.
The long-distance relationship continued for the next few years, even after they were engaged.
“We were engaged for five years! Mickey proposed a year and half into our relationship. Even though he was very sure from the beginning that he wanted to marry me, I was on the fence. I wasn’t hung up on getting married at all because I like being by myself. Mickey is the only man I feel I could’ve married because of the innate respect he’s given me and the headspace I come from. I believe love can’t be the only deciding factor for marriage — you have to be on the same page about life decisions.”
Another reason for their long engagement was Vasuki’s parents’ disapproval of their relationship due to their vastly differing ages. She shares that for many years, her father refused to acknowledge her relationship with Mickey, even though he was fully aware of it. Finally, one day, it was her father who noted that he had seen her at her happiest when she was with Mickey and gave his blessing to their union.
Even all these years later, Vasuki credits Mickey as being her biggest support system the same way he describes her as his rock. When she was hesitant about taking a sabbatical from law to act, it was Mickey who encouraged her to follow her dream with this sage advice: “If people like you, who have the luxury to pursue their dreams, don’t pursue them, it’s a slap in the face of those who want to pursue theirs but can’t because of financial or other constraints.” This was the shift in perspective Vasuki needed.
Apart from the support they provide each other, Vasuki and Mickey have many shared interests, especially their love of travel. A favoured annual vacation is to Courchevel in France to ski, an activity both enjoy tremendously. Vasuki is an adventure junkie and thrives on experiences like Nitrox scuba diving, trekking in the Himalayas and wildlife safaris. Her other interests include exploring the architectural heritage of places, a love of animals and a talent for pole dancing — a skill she learnt while in New York.
Her packed schedule means she’s constantly on the move. She explains: “The pandemic proved to be kind of a blessing because it centred me. Until then, I hadn’t been in one city for more than two weeks for over 11 years! It was also the first time Mickey and I got to spend time together as a couple. Even after we were married in 2018, initially, I lived in Mumbai because my firm Rainmaker is based there.”
As we wrap up our chat over bowls of delicious gelato, one begins to understand the fulcrum of Vasuki’s effervescent personality — it’s her self-confidence, go-getter attitude and sheer passion for living life to the fullest. So when she ends the conversation with the adage, “I’ve lived life the way I wanted to,” you know she’s assuredly speaking the truth.
Photos: Abhishek Khandelwal; Creative Direction & Styling: Amber Tikari; Hair & Makeup: Gaurav Goswami
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s January 2023 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!