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June 02, 2016

Inside Vidushi and Nikhil Mehra’s Delhi Abode

Text by Arthy Muthanna Singh. Photographs by Ankush Maria

Charcoal sketches, framed artworks and baby pictures — an interesting mélange of elements make their home vibrant and cool

A super-sized ‘album’ of baby pictures lines an entire wall of the home of actress-designer couple Vidushi and Nikhil Mehra. And then the pet parakeets, fish and a frisky cocker Spaniel break your staring spell. This home completely revolves around the couple’s animal-adoring eight-year-old twins, quite adorable themselves.

As we chat at the dining table, I ask if the home had been very different before the children were born. “Yes, very!” replies Vidushi emphatically. “We didn’t have a door to our bathroom! The home was very open; no doors, no safety measures. Even our furniture has been changed. We’ve changed things three times over.” “That is also a creative process,” muses Nikhil. “Vidushi has a very keen eye….We change the colour every year. She keeps picking up accessories for the home.” “It is very practical now,” Vidushi admits. “The kitchen is always running. Food is constantly being made (gluten-free and organic). My son plays soccer inside the house so there is always the danger of something crashing and breaking…” “But we make it!” butts in Nikhil. “Our home is an ongoing dream. As we evolve, our space also keeps evolving.”

An old piano in the living room, left open, begs to be played. An antique clock squats atop hard-bound classics. Prittam Priyal Ochan is obviously a favourite — two large artworks of that artist catch the eye — striking, un-missable. A collection of charcoal sketches creates a perfect foil to all the colour. Three steps down, an old turntable and radio set serves as a table. Here, a wall with shelves replete with tomes all the way to the top beckons. Keats & Shelley, Catch 22, Atlas Shrugged, Mutiny on the Bounty…I spy many favourites; well-thumbed. Tennis trophies and framed family pictures take up the remaining spaces on the shelves. Another antique clock peeps out from in-between more books.

The kitchen is literally bang in the middle of the home, with the living room (on two levels), where the Mehras entertain, to one side of it and the bedrooms and dining room on the other. While the living room has many antique artefacts showcased casually around (football-breakable and otherwise), the part of the home on the other side, where the children probably spend most of their time, has a lot more functional furniture and accessories.

My last encounter with Nikhil had been about a decade ago at his studio in Noida, UP, with his brother, Shantanu, of Shantanu & Nikhil. Vidushi, I had only encountered on the large screen in Aisha. Friends working in theatre spoke highly of her over-15-year association with theatre in Delhi, in particular of her role as Mary Magdalene in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar at the age of 16. The pair had met through a common friend at a local bar in New Friends Colony in 2000, where Vidushi’s dungarees were what had caught Nikhil’s eye first! They found that they had common tastes in music — Led Zeppelin, Doors, Pink Floyd…. “We’ve never had a conversation on music since then!” Vidushi laughs.

Four and a half months later, they were married — after Nikhil asked her father for her hand when the two families had gone out to dinner! They live in the same building as Nikhil’s parents and Shantanu, on different floors, in a quiet-ish part of New Friends Colony. Yes, as Vidushi says, “Everything happened in New Friends Colony!”

Currently in rehearsals for a play by actor/theatre director Abhijit Dutt, Vidushi has remained with theatre (“It was always a big part of my life”) even while working as a banker for about ten years. Movies came later. While Nikhil ended up playing a tiny role in a film in which Vidushi was acting, (Fugly) — when she was uncomfortable over a kissing scene and her director Kabir Sadanand suggested that she ask her husband — he has not been tempted to go further down that route, in spite of offers. He is happier having his wife be his muse (“In a sense, I only make stuff for her. It makes it very easy for me to create.”) and just design, even though he had a theatre background. Invariably, when she has her auditions in their home, he ends up directing them. “He has always played a very pivotal role in my shift of career,” acknowledges Vidushi. “I miss the regular schedule sometimes, but I am very lucky to have this that I love. I get time with my kids. I can decide where I want to be, what I want to do; I am fortunate that way.”

Some of the fashion-conscious males one would see donning Shantanu & Nikhil outfits would be Ranveer Singh, Shahid Kapoor, Abhishek Bachchan, Suhel Seth, Vijay Mallya…. “We work on our clients and take the personality of the person into consideration. Men are more loyal to brands than to their girlfriends!” asserts Nikhil. “We don’t do weddings. We don’t do films either.” “Even though he was approached for many projects,” adds Vidushi. “It eats into his time.” Time, when he has it, is spent with the twins and Vidushi. Just back from a long holiday in Orissa, beach holidays are what the Mehra family loves — Goa being a favourite. While they would ideally like to design and set up a home there, which they do contemplate now and then, for now they are still exploring the state, food and locations.

Nikhil reveals that Vidushi has recently taken to karaoke with her friends and goes off to sing regularly, while he plays the acoustic guitar and they often have music sessions at their home. “His secret desire is to be in a band,” Vidushi says. Movie buffs, the two frequent theatres often. Before the children were born, four times a week was more the norm than the exception. Nikhil suddenly realises he has to rush for a meeting and takes off on his bike, dressed in a self-designed leather-on-silk jacket, and Vidushi rushes off to pick her children up from school.

It is only on the way out of this delightful, surprising home that I notice the wall opposite the one with baby pictures — covered with framed artworks by the twins, carefully set, all the same size. Vibrant and whimsical, it is much like what I had come to expect, writ all over this home. Vidushi was right — fashion and action are so closely connected; there’s almost an overlap. In this home, it works. And the chattering parakeets seem to agree!

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