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Pragya Jaiswal - Aza Fashions Magazine

Pragya Jaiswal

Bringing her A-Game

Her winning streak is such, you will be convinced she's got the Midas touch. In a candid one-on-one with Aza, the go-getter talks about the many accolades to her name, her spiritual inclination and how working with Salman Khan has been one of the best experiences of her life.
Photographs by Shivam Gupta; Styled by  Anshika Verma; Styling assistance by Tanisha Bhatia; Styling intern Isha Gupta; Makeup by Dimple Bathija; Hairstyling by Rami Halder; PR Consultant Communique; Creative Direction by Arthi Medithi; Words by Kajol Shah

Spring. That's the season I'd choose to describe Pragya Jaiswal if we were to play a game of 'If she was’. Like the season of blooms, Pragya's aura emanates promises of a bright day. Her Instagram feed is all I need to justify my analogy and all you need for a serotonin boost. After all, who wouldn't feel happy looking at an infectious smile like hers? Moving on from the obvious symbolism, Spring is also the season of growth, and Pragya's approach to everything that she puts her mind to veritably reflects a growth mindset. Today, the all-rounder whose career in the South film industry began in 2014 has the national award-winning film, Kanche in her kitty, for which she even won the Filmfare Award for Best Female Debut – South. Then there's Akhanda, a roaring success at the box office (Rs. 130 Cr + gross worldwide box office in its full run!). But did you know she was also an A+ student who went on to pursue a degree in Law before entering the South film industry? Well, we'll delve into that later.

It's not an ordinary Saturday; it's match day. And it's not an ordinary match; it's the Cricket World Cup match between India and Pakistan. Emotions are already running high on set, so when our muse arrives on time and greets everyone cheerfully, smiling from ear to ear, the excitement in the air is palpable. After her warm interaction with the team, I lead her to the changing room, and she gets right into the groove of things. She's wearing a white drawstring crop top with blue cargo pants and Birkenstock sandals. Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses and a messy (yet chic) updo complete her off-duty look. Just five minutes later, the glares are off, her face is clean and stripped of any product, and her open tresses are ready to be styled; the crew starts working their magic on her.
Pragya Jaiswal in Dolly J Outfit
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Designer, Dolly J;Necklace & Rings, ANAQA By Nishant Tulsia;

The Making of a Star

Pragya looks at my reflection in the wide mirror in front of us and asks me to take a seat next to her. During our brief interaction, I notice how expressive she is; her exaggerated gesticulation and impeccable elocution keeps me engaged throughout. The imaginary thought bubble over my head reads, 'She was meant to be an actor!'. But was that always the plan, I wonder out loud. To answer the question, she first gives a glimpse into what she was like as a student, “You know, I was that student in class whom other kids did not like because their parents would use me as an example. I would come first in class and even participate in a lot of extracurriculars. I went on to pursue a degree in law at Symbiosis Law School in Pune, only to later realize that it’s not what I wanted to do. So no, acting wasn't planned.“ Elaborating on the inception of her career in the entertainment industry, she tells me, “I started modelling on the side and decided that I wanted to transition into it full-time. Acting felt like the natural next step. While I was still modelling, I gave a few auditions, and that's how I landed a role in Virattu in 2014. I can't believe it's almost been a decade since my debut film! Although I've worked hard for it all, I feel that I've learned my way on the way and I'm so grateful for this journey. I don't think I would be this satisfied or happy in any other profession.“ Well, it’s safe to say that she was meant for greatness, one way or another.
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I was that student in class whom other kids did not like because their parents would use me as an example. I would come first in class and even participate in a lot of extracurriculars. I went on to pursue a degree in law at Symbiosis Law School in Pune, only to later realize that it’s not what I wanted to do.

Continuing the conversation about her foray into films, I ask our cover star, who was born and brought up in Jabalpur, if starting her career in Tollywood was a conscious decision. Pragya guzzles her Oat Milk Cappuccino from Starbucks, applies another coat of gloss to her lips and tells me, “When I was just starting out as an actor, my only aim was to secure a role in a project that had a great storyline and team - including the director, producer and co-actors. I'm very grateful that I found that opportunity in the South film industry. I feel today the appeal of Southern cinema is spread across India. Well, across the globe.“ I concur.
Pragya Jaiswal in Ariyana Couture Outfit
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Designer, Ariyana Couture;Necklace, Joolry;Rings, Joolry & ANAQA By Nishant Tulsian;Bangles, ANAQA By Nishant Tulsiani @anaqajewels

The ‘Kanche’ Girl

In 2016, Jaiswal won all major awards in the Best Female Debut category for her role as Seeta Devi in the action/drama film, Kanche. From Filmfare Awards South and CineMAA Awards, to Zee Telegu Apsara Awards and TV9 National Film Awards – she bagged them all! Considering the actress is known to keep her nose to the grindstone, how did she prepare for the role, I ask her. “While some may think mastering Tamil and Telugu languages would have been my priority, my focus has always been on the emotion of the character that I have to portray. I believe that's what's helped me give compelling performances that have resonated with the audience. Once I had fully absorbed the essence of the character I was playing, grasping the nuances of the language and diction came naturally to me.”
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I remember, even before the script (of Kanche) was narrated to me, I knew I was going to say yes because I believed in Krish’s vision.
Pragya Jaiswal in Mrunalini Rao Outfit
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Designer, Mrunalini Rao;Mang Tikka, Tribe Amrapali;Ring, Sanzany Jewels;Bangles, Tribe Amrapali & Studio Gulabi

A typical blockbuster South film includes action, drama and songs that make the audience erupt into cheers, but movies like Kanche prove that the cornerstone of a successful film in India is content – the kind that appeals to the sensibilities of the viewers. But did she anticipate such a huge triumph? “I remember, even before the script was narrated to me, I knew I was going to say yes because I believed in Krish’s vision. The movie is a unique period drama and love story set during World War II – significantly different from conventional South Indian masala films. We hadn't anticipated winning a national award for the film. It was an ambitious project and the numerous awards and accolades we received only validated our efforts. You know, I was even known as the 'Kanche’ girl for the longest time!” Pragya exclaims while flashing her million-dollar smile.

Spirituality & More

Pragya's slender frame makes its way out of the changing room, decked in a lustrous lilac skirt and top from Masumi Mewawalla's exclusive collection in collaboration with Aza. The music is amped up and ‘Unholy’ by Sam Smith is playing in the background. Ironically, this prompts me to ask Pragya about her spiritual beliefs. While patiently waiting for the lighting to be set up, she says, “I’ve always considered myself a spiritual person and it is my inclination towards these beliefs that made me explore Vipassana. Little did I know that it included ten hours of meditation each day; even the use of gadgets was strictly prohibited! Vipassana is not merely a silent retreat, it involves serious self-reflection and discipline. It wasn't something I was fully prepared for, but now, I look forward to such enriching experiences as they help me feel more centered.”

Our star is on the floor. A couple of shots have been clicked when Pragya’s team suggests a few changes to the look. “Shivam, sorry! Just give me a few minutes, my hair needs some fixing”, she politely excuses herself. What else helps her maintain this calm and cool composure? Her chestnut brown mane is being tended to when she shares, “It’s in my nature to be optimistic and disciplined in every aspect of my life. That’s how I was brought up. I have also ensured consistency in habits such as working out, meditating and journaling over the past few years. And it helps that I'm surrounded by very supportive and loving family and friends!” So what’s the disciplinarian’s guilty pleasure? I ask her, intrigued. She takes a minute to think before replying, “Okay, my greatest guilty pleasure would have to be spending hours on Instagram! I really want to curb my screen time, but the struggle is real.” As Gen-Z would say - ‘Big-time relate!’.
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Little did I know that it (Vipassana) included ten hours of meditation each day; even the use of gadgets was strictly prohibited! Vipassana is not merely a silent retreat, it involves serious self-reflection and discipline. It wasn't something I was fully prepared for, but now, I look forward to such enriching experiences as they help me feel more centered.”
Pragya Jaiswal in Masumi Mewawalla
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Designer, Masumi Mewawalla;Earrings, ANAQA By Nishant Tulsiani;Rings, Swarovski & Joolry;Bracelet, Joolry

Experiences of a Lifetime

We've transitioned to a more upbeat playlist at our muse's request. After listening to AP Dhillon songs back-to-back, the studio is now filled with catchy and familiar beats of old Bollywood songs – the one currently playing is Salman Khan's famed 'O O Jaane Jaana’. It's with this segue that I ask Pragya about her experience working with Salman Khan in the music video of 'Main Chala,’ sung by Guru Randhawa and Lulia Vantur. The romantic song, which garnered millions of views within minutes of release, features an ethereal Pragya in dreamy sarees, jhumkas and bindis. The stunner is on her way to the changing room after shooting the cover look (in just 15 minutes!), a dusty ivory shimmer lehenga by Dolly J, when she tells me, ''I was going to meet Salman sir for the first time, and obviously I was feeling quite nervous and worried that I wouldn't be able to perform well. However, I cannot believe how easy and comfortable it was when I finally met him! There was no air about being the superstar that he is. It felt like two colleagues, two equals working together on something. The combination of Shabina Khan's choreography and ideas, along with Salman sir's direction and the lovely backdrop of Mahableshwar culminated into this beautiful music video. It has to be one of the best experiences I've had in my career!“
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I cannot believe how easy and comfortable it was when I finally met him (Salman Khan)! There was no air about being the superstar that he is. It felt like two colleagues, two equals working together on something.

Talking about memorable achievements, the action-drama film, Akhanda is another feather in her hat, a resounding success at the box office that skyrocketed her fame. On working with bigwigs Boyapati Srinu and Nandamuri Balakrishna, Pragya says, “Boyapati sir is one of the top action films directors in the South; everything on his set is larger than life. And he displays such immense passion and conviction that you can't help but be inspired. As for NBK, he's a wonderful co-actor and a thorough gentleman! He's disciplined and hard working when it comes to work, but childlike and positive at the same time. The powerful combination of NBK and Boyapati Srinu, along with the exceptional movie plot was a recipe for success, and we had sensed its potential from the start. It was also my first time playing such a strong character. Overall, Akhanda was a great learning experience for me and a project that's very close to my heart.” On that note, we're ready to break for lunch, and Pragya's face lights up as the aromatic whiff of her Thai curry and rice from Mag Street Café wafts through the air.

Red Alert

With renewed energy, Pragya emerges from the changing room wearing a ravishing red Seema Gujral lehenga. A flurry of compliments come her way; 'Red is definitely your colour', says a team member after looking at the gorgeous shots. The beauty responds to it with a coy smile – a tacit nod of agreement. She looks at me and says, “I know people are obsessed with pastels these days, but a bold palette truly works for me. I even imagine myself wearing a beautiful red lehenga on my wedding day.“ Naturally, my next question is about her vision for her dream wedding. She chuckles and tells me, “I knew that was coming! Honestly, I want to have an intimate and dreamy wedding ceremony with only my closest people around. I'd prefer that over a big fat wedding any day. Oh, and I really want it to be a destination wedding!“
Pragya Jaiswal in Seema Gujral Outfit
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Designer, Seema Gujral;Necklace & Earrings, ANAQA By Nishant Tulsiani;Rings, Joolry & Vivinia by Vidhi Mehra;

Looking at how Pragya manages to give us a variation of poses despite being decked in a weighty lehenga, I ask her about the most challenging part of her work. “While I find it relatively manageable to convey emotions or perform in intense or lighthearted scenes, action sequences are the most demanding. For instance, in the Telugu film 'Nakshatram', I had to climb a massive wall using my hands and legs which required rigorous practice. For 'Achari America Yatra', we were shooting a sequence where a bike was being chased by goons, resulting in an almost fatal accident. A helmet fell on me, and I had bruises and cuts on my knee and shoulder. Such moments are more physically strenuous than the usual acting challenges.“ Sounds more like an occupational hazard, doesn't it? Kudos to her and all other artists who take up such challenges to create magic on screen.
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Honestly, I want to have an intimate and dreamy wedding ceremony with only my closest people around. I'd prefer that over a big fat wedding any day. Oh, and I really want it to be a destination wedding!

Bollywood Bestie

We're at the last leg of the shoot when I ask Pragya to tell us more about her camaraderie with Rakul Preet Singh. I notice a genuine smile on her face when she shares, “ Rakul and I first crossed paths at a beauty pageant almost a decade ago. However, we grew closer during the shoot of 'Jaya Janaki Nayaka'. We both even moved to Bombay and coincidentally ended up living in the same area, practically becoming neighbours. Now she's one of my closest friends, and I'm truly grateful for her! She's not only my support system but also a source of inspiration as she's incredibly hardworking and just a bundle of energy. We also share a tight-knit group of friends with similar interests.“
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Rakul and I first crossed paths at a beauty pageant almost a decade ago. However, we grew closer during the shoot of 'Jaya Janaki Nayaka'. We both even moved to Bombay and coincidentally ended up living in the same area, practically becoming neighbours.
Pragya Jaiswal in Gopi Vaid Outfit
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Designer, Gopi Vaid;Earrings, Sanzany Jewels;Ring, Curio Cottage;Bangles, Tribe Amrapali & Vasundhara Jewelry

Watch yourself Shine

Before bidding us adieu, Pragya cordially expresses her gratitude to the team: “I had a lot of fun shooting! Thank you so much everybody.“ As we wait for the elevator to reach our floor, I ask Pragya to share a piece of advice for aspiring actors. She promptly replies, “ The single piece of advice I'd like to offer to aspiring actors is to never give up. This industry is unpredictable and volatile. There are days when your work is incredibly rewarding and then there are days when you may feel demotivated. During these challenging times, you must pick yourself up, resist giving in to your doubts and fears, and then watch yourself shine.“ she signs off. It's safe to say we had two wins that day – one for team India and one for team Aza!

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