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The Heritage Issue
Starring Divya Khosla Kumar
She's a talented actor, a successful director, an award-winning philanthropist, and a highly-followed fashion icon. She's also upholding the legacy of the T-Series empire as Bhushan Kumar's better half. In this exclusive shoot at the star's beautiful home, Aza gets a glimpse into the life of the wonder woman that is Divya Khosla Kumar.
Photographs by Amit Khanna; Styled by Sukriti Grover; Styling Assistant Vani Gupta, Nehan Ansari & Nidhi Jain; HMU by Shraddha Mishra; PR Consultant Communique Film PR; Creative Direction by Arthi Medithi; Words by Sreemita Bhattacharya
Every person should have a song or soundtrack that describes them, illustrating their essence of being: a piece of music for the aura they emit, something that narrates tales of the bonds they create, the nature of magic they yield. The song I would attribute to Divya Khosla Kumar is Niraj Chag's Bangles from the London-based music composer's album, Along the Dusty Road. Originally an old Punjabi ballad - immortalised by musical legends in India (the Wadali Brothers) and Pakistan (Noor Jehan) - Ve Sone Deya Kangana is a melodic soliloquy noting a young girl's journey from being a daughter to a bride and a wife. I choose this composition for the mild-mannered Divya not just in observation of the chapters in her life that have been in public view. Nor is it an ode to her gentle elegance. The song aptly captures the sentimental yet playful soul that she is. It encapsulates the spirit of the dreamer who moved from her hometown Delhi to Mumbai to become an actor, only to take on multiple roles and establish a powerful identity of her own. Today she's a Dadasaheb Phalke Award-winning philanthropist, a successful director and noteworthy producer in the Hindi film industry. A fashion icon and leader with 6.5 million followers on Instagram, she wears international brands and Indian labels with equal élan. She's the co-owner of the Tennis Premier League team Delhi Binny's Brigade. And she's upholding the legacy of the illustrious T-Series empire as the entertainment giant's chairman, Bhushan Kumar's wife. She's also a doting mother to 11-year-old Ruhaan. A go-getter with a firm attachment to her roots and values, Divya Khosla Kumar is the obvious choice to play muse for our Aza's Heritage Issue.
I have the opportunity to observe Divya at close quarters, in her own space, as she has graciously invited Aza to shoot our October Cover Story at her gorgeous Lokhandwala abode. The first thing I notice as I step barefoot into the expanse of one of her numerous living rooms, which features cool marble flooring and warm wooden accents, is the soothing floral scent that permeates the air. An assortment of fresh blooms strategically placed near the balcony breathes life into the room as a stunning gem-cut crystal chandelier reflects prismatic light throughout the space. Divya has generously given our crew two huge spaces to set up and shoot. The second living room is equally plush, reflecting Divya's refined taste - think luxurious leather sofas with Fendi cushions artfully scattered around the space, a contemporary crystal chandelier, an antique Buddha, Ganesha figurines and unique candelabras. A massive box-style low table in the centre of the room offers a glimpse into the heart of this home as two hardcover photo albums showcase Ruhaan's naam-karan ceremony and his 10th birthday celebration. Gracing the space between these albums is a Dolce & Gabbana style mag and two paperbacks - Ramanand Sagar Ke Jeevan Ki Akath Kahani and An Epic Life Ramanand Sagar: From Barsaat to Ramayan. We are almost done setting up the lights and the canvas backdrop for the shoot when Divya walks into the room, clutching the skirt of a blush pink Angad Singh lehenga set. While putting on heels for the outfit, she notices the centre table of the main living room drowning under a sea of accessories and jewellery pieces. "So much jewellery!" she chuckles before moving into the space where our set is ready for her to shoot. There's a distinct glow on her face, perhaps from having announced the sequel to her directorial debut, Yaariyan. I congratulate her before the shoot commences, also because she will play the female lead in the movie. Divya has the biggest smile on her face as she says, "Yes, I'm a part of Yaariyan 2. I'm hoping and praying the second instalment receives similar success like Yaariyan. The first part had me behind the camera, but this time around I will be facing it, so I'm really nervous yet excited for this project!"
Growing up, I always aspired to become an actress. I was modelling by the time I was in college and, eventually, I got my first break in cinema. But, in the back of my mind, I knew I could do more to express my creativity. I guess that's what drove me to take up direction.
Dreams & Aspirations
Divya has traversed a long way from Falguni Pathak's Aiyo Rama (2000) and Abhijeet's Kabhi Yaadon Mein Aaun (2003) to the diva in Guru Randhawa and Yo Yo Honey Singh's recent hit single, Designer. On being asked about it, she says, "Actually, it's been a roller coaster ride in all aspects of my life. But I've learnt new things along the way. Most importantly, life has taught me to take everything in my stride. I'd say my constant thirst for knowledge has helped me successfully move between acting, direction, and production. Growing up, I always aspired to become an actress. I was modelling by the time I was in college and, eventually, I got my first break in cinema with Anil Sharma's Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Saathiyo (2004). But, in the back of my mind, I knew I could do more to express my creativity. I knew I had more to offer. I guess that's what drove me to take up direction."
However, it was far from a cakewalk for Divya to finally get T-Series to produce Yaariyan. Apparently, Bhushan Kumar only agreed to produce the film after Divya had proved her mettle directing a few music videos! So, behind the camera or in front of it - which role offers you greater creative satisfaction? I ask Divya. She smiles shyly as she shares, "To be honest, I love the on-set life - it's my happy place. But I enjoy acting as well as direction. Both these roles come with their unique set of challenges and responsibilities. As a solution-driven person, I thrive on such challenges." Perhaps this is the tenacity that led to the success of her second directorial, Sanam Re.
There's one thing that I'd like to mention as both a pro and a con of being a part of the T-Series empire - there's a tremendous amount of responsibility. While these expectations help me make careful and conscious choices, they also fill me with nerves.
Legacy & Responsibility
While Divya is away getting ready for the second look - a stunning Ariyana Couture patola print anarkali set - I take in more of the Kumar residence. A handful of life-sized family photographs - together as well as individual - adorn the walls in ornate frames. An imposing white marble staircase with curved glass balustrades and steel railings connects the different floors of the residence. There's something about the house that reinforces a great sense of accountability. I pull up a chair next to Divya as she rests between the shots to ask her the pros and cons of being a part of the T-Series empire. The ever-soft-spoken Divya candidly replies, "There's one thing that I'd like to mention as both a pro and a con - there's a tremendous amount of responsibility. While these expectations help me make careful and conscious choices, they also fill me with nerves. Especially when it comes to the kind of movies I make and the work I do." Does she feel people are intimidated by her position in the industry because of her association to such an illustrious family? "Honestly, I'm not aware if people are intimidated by me. What I can say is that carving a career path for myself hasn't been easy because I'm a part of the T-Series family. Like anyone else chasing their dreams, I have had to prove myself with every project that I have been a part of. Whatever I am today is a result of a tremendous amount of unflinching hard work."
Honestly, I'm not aware if people are intimidated by me. What I can say is that carving a career path for myself hasn't been easy because I'm a part of the T-Series family. Like anyone else chasing their dreams, I have had to prove myself with every project that I have been a part of.
Designer, Ariyana Couture;Neckpiece, Bangle, Hand harness, RaAbta by Rahul;Headband, Curio Cottage;Rings, Urban Thesaurus & Anayah Jewellery
Love & Romance
I glance at a huge, framed portrait of Bhushan and Divya from their wedding reception before continuing my efforts to make the introvert talk. This time, about Bhushan Kumar - the husband, the friend, and the father. Donning a stunning Mayyur Girotra lehenga, the actor breaks out in chuckles before she says, "Well, Bhushan is a very sensitive person when it comes to his loved ones. He has always been my pillar of strength, constantly supporting me in all my ventures. Ruhaan and Bhushan share a strong bond and it's a truly wholesome sight to see their interactions with each other."
I didn't watch many films growing up. But since I've always loved the quintessential Bollywood brand of romance, those films served as my inspiration. Yes, I'm a die-hard romantic. Bhushan and I have our moments - both of us are romantic in our own ways!
If Divya's directorial projects are anything to go by, she's an absolute romantic. Is Bhushan Kumar as romantic as you, I enquire. With a secretive smile Divya says, "I didn't watch many films growing up. But since I've always loved the quintessential Bollywood brand of romance, those films served as my inspiration. Yes, I'm a die-hard romantic. Bhushan and I have our moments - both of us are romantic in our own ways!"
Music & Direction
With the conversation veering to her films, I ask Divya if it was mind-numbing working on her first directorial venture right when she had become a new mom. In fact, before venturing into filmmaking, she took courses in editing, cinematography, direction, and production. To top it all, besides penning the script of Yaariyan, she choreographed 5 songs in it! Divya explains, "Instead of mind-numbing, I'd say it was a great learning experience for me. I'm a quick learner and I constantly strive to enhance my skillset. Ever since I've been a part of this industry, I've only wanted to learn about anything and everything about filmmaking. But I have so much more to learn!"
I feel music is one of the key things that you remember a movie by. For decades now, T-Series has been giving this industry and our audience one hit song after another. So yes,music selection for our projects is a significant activity.
On a similar note, given the musical legacy of T-Series, is there a greater focus on selection of soundtracks for her projects? Songs from her films, like Baarish, Sunny Sunny and Sanam Re are still popular, almost a decade later. Divya contemplates for a bit before saying, "I feel music is one of the key things that you remember a movie by. For decades now, T-Series has been giving this industry and our audience one hit song after another. So yes, music selection for our projects is a significant activity. But having said that, the crew of each film has been actively involved in handpicking soundtracks for the projects, which has added symmetry to the overall vibe of the movies."
Designer, Osaa by Adarsh;Neckpiece, Rubans Jewellery;Bangles, Riana by Shikha Jindal;Earrings, RaAbta by Rahul;Rings, Minerali, Riana by Shikha Jindal, Aquamarine Jewellery & Anayah Jewellery
Fashion & Style
A gracious host with the friendliest staff, Divya has arranged a sumptuous lunch spread for our crew. Post lunch, the shoot continues, and Divya wastes no time in changing into the fourth look, a trendy purple Sana Barreja lehenga with cut-out detailing on the blouse. On the style front, the actor-director's fashion sensibilities have changed vastly over the years. I inquire what fashion means to her now and how she perceives heritage. "Fashion to me is all about self-expression. While I enjoy experimenting with colours, I tend to gravitate towards outfits that reflect my personality. I'm a firm advocate of promoting everything that India has to offer. Our ethnic heritage is a melange of various cultures and artistry, which reflects in our textiles too."
Fashion to me is all about self-expression. While I enjoy experimenting with colours, I tend to gravitate towards outfits that reflect my personality. I'm a firm advocate of promoting everything that India has to offer.
Having been a constant at fashion weeks as a showstopper on the runway for a multitude of designers, did the fashionista in her revel at the opportunity to portray a supermodel in the music video, Designer? Divya is quick to reply, "Yes, I was thrilled when director Mihir Gulati told me about the song and explained my role in it. Since I have a history in modelling, I had no trouble acing the walk and everything the character required. It was so exciting to be a part of the styling process. The outfits were all couture. But there was this one gold metal look that left me with bruises on my arms and legs. The material of that outfit prevented me from sitting between the shots and it was a seven-hour shoot! At the end of the day though, it was all worth it!"
Designer, Sana Barreja;Neckpieces, Meraki By HarshiniVjayJethani & Minerali;Bangles, Kohar by Kanika & Urban Thesaurus;Rings, Anayah Jewellery & mymotifs
Philanthropy & Leadership
Not many might be aware that Divya is also the co-owner of the Tennis Premier League (TPL) team Delhi Binny's Brigade. She confides in me that her willingness to associate with the sporting event was largely due to her need to give back to society. "I'm constantly trying to get involved in initiatives that benefit the greater good of people. TPL not only promotes tennis as a sport and encourages India's young talents, it also supports the participation of our wheelchair players, which I think is fantastic."
I'm extremely particular about spending quality time with Ruhaan. He's the light of my life and my inspiration. He has a vibrant personality, so there's never a dull moment with him around
Cinema, music, sports and fashion: Divya contributes to not one but four vital sectors in the country. With so much going on, how does she manage to balance work and motherhood? With a fond smile, Divya shares, "I'm extremely particular about spending quality time with Ruhaan. He's the light of my life and my inspiration. He has a vibrant personality, so there's never a dull moment with him around. About balancing it all, I can't imagine that's easy for anyone, but I try my best!" Oh, and when she's not working or being an adoring mom, she's sweating it out in the gym to keep fit. "I alternate between yoga, kickboxing, freehand exercises, weight training, a gym regimen, and dancing. I love dancing because it improves posture and tones the body. My favourite workout though is ab crunches."
The sun is setting below the horizon and we're in the process of packing up all the shoot equipment, but Divya's workday is not over yet as her manager beckons her to join a Zoom meeting. Divya directs her staff to offer us refreshments and tenderly hugs us before hurrying into one of the many rooms in the house to get on the call and be the inspiring boss lady she is. In one of her social media posts, Divya had once given the caption: "Make your dreams happen. Magic is real." Looking at her succeed on purpose, I believe that caption to be true. But while some would liken Divya Khosla Kumar's story to a fairytale, I choose to call it a narrative on clarity and perseverance.