Thursday, September, 21,2023

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As Co-Founder of Driveway Devi, I had the privilege of sitting down with renowned actor Riya Sen and asking her a slew of questions that delved into her childhood and growing up years, the inheritance of a royal as well as artistic legacy, and her thoughts on mental health. Here are excerpts from that extremely candid and no-hold-barred interaction.

Riya, time travel with us, if you will, and share some insights into your childhood and growing up years. What were they like? Is anything specific that characterized that phase for you?
My childhood years were filled with art, culture and a constant array of very colourful people! I feel blessed to have been brought up in such an environment. I did face a lot of difficulties in school on both accounts of having grown up in a non-traditional manner, considering I started to act at a very young age which kept me away from studies at times, and having to deal with select faculty who would treat me differently (not positive) on account of my family background.

I did not face any significant problems in college. I was on my own in Mumbai at the time.

What was it like having a mother who was an icon in her own right but also an incredibly busy actor, and a working professional?
At home, we had guests over and parties all the time, practically every evening. My mother would travel a lot for her work and both my sister and I would miss her terribly. I would remain quite distracted from my school and then my shoot assignments at a young age would keep me away from my friends and family for considerable periods.

Through any negative phases, I worked on just grounding my feelings by talking to myself through whatever might be troubling me and reassuring myself that all situations are just temporary and that once we are on the other side of this negative phase, life is much better.

What are your views and perception on, and of divorce, especially from the perspective of children of acrimonious couples? Some say children need both parents; others contend it is better to have at least one happy parent, than two miserable ones.
I think that divorce is much harder on children than it is for the parents. Having said that, parents should split when a marriage is very unhappy as over time their predicament weighs very heavily on the children.

Eventually, children of divorce fare better than children who have to be subject to constant unhappiness and sorrow at home.

Could you share the precise circumstances of your foray into acting? Was it expected, suspected, premeditated, or none of the above?
Acting came to me completely by fluke and my actual first film was just at the age of about four where I played my own mother`s child! My family never expected or put any pressure on me to start acting. It somehow just happened and before I knew it, I was knee-deep in it!

Careful contemplation only came after (laughs!).

Speak to some challenges you faced upon debuting celluloid. After all, there was naturally immense pressure and scrutiny was there not?
Main challenge was that I was so young when I started shooting for music videos and movies. I`d be surrounded by much older people on set and I was extremely shy at the time. I`d be very nervous a lot of the time on set due to this. Also, long periods away from home and travelling to some very difficult locations proved to be very challenging as I started.

Comparison is part and parcel of life, arguably more so in the entertainment ‘business’ than in other spheres of work. Was this further compounded by having your sister also inhabit the same professional realm?
There has been a lot of comparison between my sister and me. We are two very different people and we never compete with each other. We acted together in a few films and enjoyed ourselves at the time. Quite often, we are mistaken for each other (laughs!).

We have always dealt with comparison by never paying much heed to it. As mentioned, we never compete and have carved out a different niche for ourselves in the industry.

Fame and celebrity can be a painful and erratic mistress. How have you coped with the various peaks and valleys of stardom? I`ve certainly gone through my share of extreme situations due to how certain movies have done or just losing opportunities at the last moment.

There is a lot of heartache that is not seen on screen!
I have always been very spiritual and practice yoga regularly. This has helped me a lot through tough situations. I also love to travel and take the opportunity to distance myself during this period and work on my hobbies or passions. This always revitalises me and helps me go after projects that present themselves to me soon after.

It is no secret that social media can be a boon or a bane and that celebrities ostensibly face a greater share of brickbats than others. How do you view social media?
I go through each comment on my social media posts and simply block the users who troll. It is out of our power to stop people from spreading extreme negativity just because they`re anonymous and unaccountable. Once they`re blocked, they`re even more inconsequential. It does not affect me anymore. I am always ever grateful to my followers who have always been very encouraging and showed me a lot of love.

Finally then Riya, as a Mental Wellness Initiatives Platform, Driveway Devi would love to know your views on Mental Health.
Mental health and physical health go together. I think it is extremely important to keep yourself fit and exercising, which has just as positive an impact on our minds as it does on our bodies. Having said that, it is so important to reach out to someone to talk to if you`re feeling depressed or overwhelmed. We have to do away with this stigma wherein we look at someone as weak if they`re not okay mentally. This is a grave mistake. We must encourage people through love and support to reach out to a professional for help if things get very bad. All situations are temporary and it`s never worth losing oneself due to the feeling that no options are available to us for support.

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