COVER STORY: Khushalii Kumar on embracing her big bollywood dreams

Khushalii Kumar continues to explore different realms of creativity, from being a designer to appearing in numerous music videos produced by her legacy home brand T-series to now making her film debut. Dhokha: Round D Corner sees her big Bollywood dreams coming true. With talented co-stars like Aparshakti Khurana and R Madhavan on board, she’s truly gung-ho about the film and can’t wait for it to get released. In an exclusive interview with Filmfare, she spills the beans on her ambitions and dreams as well as the bond she shares with siblings Bhushan Kumar and Tulsi Kumar.

Dhokha: Round D Corner is an intriguing name; why is it written as “D” instead of “the”?

You’ll have to wait until the film is released 
to get the answer.

Khushalii Khushalii Khushalii

Kookie Gulati has done films like The Big Bull—how was the experience of being directed by him?

He’s so well sorted and completely clear about exactly what he wants, and he’s also written a beautiful script. My brother had told me clearly that they had a script for which they were looking for a new face. So, you meet the director because it’s a completely performance-oriented film and he needs to be convinced whether you fit into the character or not. And so he saw my work. I had also done a short film earlier. He saw that and then auditioned me. And the best part is, when 
I saw the teaser, I got to know he used my voice in it for narration because he felt it had a mysterious quality.

What prompted you to make your debut with such an unusual story?

For me, the story and the characters must be exciting. And as an actor, I felt there was so much I could do with this character, which piqued my interest. And I realised that it wasn’t easy for me to understand Saanchi and how she behaved. It was extremely difficult, but I believe I prefer to do difficult things. 

It’s not a typical rom-com but is said to be a dark drama?

It is not at all dark. It’s a suspenseful thriller. It’s more exciting for me to experience something that isn’t me. I mean, that’s what I like to do. I’m more interested in other people. Like you know about that character, there’s so much to learn about her. And doing a rom-com or something along those lines as my debut, I mean, I’d love to do that as well. I’m not going to say it’s something 

I don’t want to do. But this is what piqued my interest the most.

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Tell us a little about your character in the film, any challenges you faced, and what were the easier parts for you.

All of my challenges were initial, that is, before I reached the set. I sat with the director several times, always trying to understand Saanchi, my character. And then, of course, you’re acting alongside talents like R. Madhavan, Aparshakti, and Darshan, who have so much experience. For me, just standing over there and saying my lines was a big deal. Matching up with them and standing in the same frame was a huge challenge. But the moment I became Saanchi, everything became a part of me. I remember that on my first day itself I was shooting with Maddy. And he’s fantastic because he knows how to get his co-actors to relax. And the first day I met him on the set, it was as if I was Saanchi and he was my husband, Yatharth, and then everything went smoothly.

Khushalii Khushalii Khushalii

We found this photo of Madhavan and you from the film Dahi Cheeni, which was supposed to be your debut…?

Jeena Mushkil was a short film I had acted in. It was only shown at film festivals, and I received a best critics’ actress award for it as well. So Maddy saw my work, and he liked it. And there was this script, Dahi Cheeni, but somehow that project did not turn out the way it was supposed to. In the middle of all that, Kookie sir’s story came in, which Maddy sir really, really liked. So the entire switch happened.

You’ve done music videos before; how different is it for you to act in a film?

It is entirely different. Because it’s more of a performance-oriented, character-driven process. Saanchi is dressed in a saree throughout the film. So I began my readings and preparations in a saree. Music videos are an entertaining ride. You’re on a high because you’re always having fun and dancing. Films take you on an emotional roller coaster. Intense scenes can be emotionally draining 

at times.

You are a girl of many talents. You are a fashion designer too—what is that experience like?

I’ve always wanted to be an actor since I was a child. So I’ve also worked on a religious film with my father. Papa was the only one who supported me in this, but after his tragic death, we shifted to Delhi. My mother was terrified of me or any of us appearing in front of the camera. Because she was afraid of fame and popularity, she persuaded me to pursue a career in design at the time. So that’s how my career as a fashion designer began. And I used to skip NIFT and go to an acting class at the same time. Which my mother later discovered. I’d still call fashion my hobby. And now I feel it was more of a best friend, with each of my garments having a story to tell. I started showing them in Paris and New York. And a creative aide pointed out that each of your outfits tells a story. It’s a work of art with a lot of thought put into it. So you know, when you get recognised in a place like that, and even when Shakira wore my dress, that was something that kept me alive and my dream alive. So all of this encouraged me; it gave me a way to keep myself motivated and going; that, yes, I will do what I want one day. And I would say that fashion has been my best friend and has kept me alive.

Khushalii Khushalii Khushalii

You’ve designed for international superstars such as Justin Bieber and Shakira—how did you get access to them?

I began doing it by performing my first show in Paris, then in New York. And over there, you get to know all these buyers, and you’re retailing in nearly a hundred stores all over the world through these shows. Stylists of Hollywood stars visit these shows. Shakira’s and Justin Bieber’s personal stylists, as well as their main publicists visited the show. So they all come over there, visit you, and then they click pictures and send them to their celebrity friends. Shakira loved my dress that I had sent to Paris. I just couldn’t believe it. I remember I did not sleep the entire night. I still get goosebumps thinking about it because I was so excited and thrilled.

Khushalii Khushalii Khushalii

Do you also take part in running your family business?

My mother, you see, is the one who handles everything from Delhi. Many people are unaware of this. My mother is in charge of our main headquarters in Delhi. My mother handles all of the finances, the backend, and the management of the large T-Series family. I’ve always been drawn to things that involve creativity. If you’re wondering whether I was involved in the day-to-day operations of the T-Series, the answer is no. Yes, I am always available as an emotional support for my brother and mother, but I am not involved in their business decisions.

Share some memories of your father.

Every moment spent with my father is invaluable. I recall attending shoots of his bhajans and always sitting with the crowd in the front. Papa came to see me perform as Cinderella in a school play for the first time, and I still cherish it. Another great memory was going to Vaishnodevi and Haridwar with him on a regular basis. He accomplished so much in such a short period of time. Whether it was acting, charity, or building such a massive empire when it was cassettes and CDs and the manufacturing of those. There was a large T-Series family with over 5000 employees at the time. He used to look after everyone and everything all of the time. There used to be people in Mumbai who would cage birds and sell them on the street. So if he chanced upon them, he’d buy all the birds and open the cages, setting them free. And then if he found the vendors the next day as well, he’d buy again from them and free the birds. “I have a factory in Noida; come and work there,” he used to tell them. “These birds are meant to fly and enjoy their freedom. They should not be locked up.” This is just one example, but there were many more. As a result, every moment I’ve spent with my papa has been extremely special and memorable.

Khushalii Khushalii Khushalii

How is your relationship with your sister, Tulsi Kumar? Do you both have similar musical tastes?

We do have similar tastes in fashion, but in music hamara tastes itna nahi milta hai, we are unique. Though I enjoy listening to her. All my playlists include Tulsi’s songs. I share a great bond with her and with my mother. We’re both close to each other and to our mother.

What was it like to grow up in the shadow of a tragedy?

After Papa died, everything changed overnight. Tulsi, Mom, and I moved to Delhi. Despite the fact that he hadn’t even finished college, my elder brother Bhushan had to stay in Mumbai and take care of business. He was in his first year of college, and there was so much work and pressure that the initial period of bonding, fun, and masti between brothers and sisters faded. In the past, I recall us always playing games together. Then Papa died, and he was put under work pressure. He’d only get home around 12:30–1.30 a.m. And then he’d leave at such an early hour. As a result, distance began to creep in. We made sure to take family vacations, and we have continued to do so even now. And now we’ve all got our things going and don’t get that much time to spend together. Tulsi has her recordings, I’ve got my acting, Bhai always has a list of releases lined up. But the bond will always remain, no matter what.

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He is well-known for his collection of exotic cars. Do you have a fetish for anything?

For clothing, I’d say. I do have an interest in fashion and style. It doesn’t have to be high-end brands; in fact, I enjoy going to flea markets abroad and buying things from them. So, for me, it’s anything that looks interesting and catches my attention.

Do you feel pressure or expectations because you are a legacy child?

I don’t because, as you can see, I like to follow my Papa’s lead in everything. Of course, you have a large legacy to carry, but I believe you can never do anything under pressure. Papa never took any pressure, so it’s just like, stay happy, stay positive, love people. Whatever you are, whatever you earn, always give it to the people who are a little less fortunate. So do that, and continue to spread love, happiness, and smiles. That, I believe, is my real legacy, and I will always adhere to it.