Poised To Fly
I walk into photographer Jatin Kampani’s studio to the sound of hearty laughter. I trace it to where our cover girl Esha Gupta is holding court as her make-up goes on. Through the evening we could pinpoint exactly where she was by the gales of laughter she unleashed. The bold-browed model made her debut opposite serial kisser Emraan Hashmi in Jannat 2 and was promptly inducted into the club. She quips, “I heard Emraan say that only films in which he hasn’t kissed anyone have flopped, so I said ‘anything for the film!’ But seriously, the most important thing there was being hygiene-conscious for your co-star.”
From certain angles, Esha looks extremely familiar and it takes me a while to place the resemblance. I remark on her similarity to Deepika Padukone and she nods. “A few people have said that I look like her in a couple of frames, and it’s a huge compliment, but I am sick of people telling me I look like someone else. I want to look like myself,” she says. “My mom gets all filmy and teary-eyed when we go out and someone recognises me and asks for a photo. If there are too many men around, I hold on tight to my dad’s hand.” Her closeness to her family is obvious, we touch upon them at various points in the conversation. Mealtimes and Sundays were sacrosanct in their Air Force family. Her sister, she explains, was like a second mother to her, but despite the caring, she was never spoilt. “My dad told me to try out living in Mumbai for a year and they were really shocked when I started buying them presents with the money I made. I bought my first car secondhand, and my father pointed out everything that didn’t work, but I didn’t care. I like that I’ve worked hard for everything I want.”
It comes as no surprise then that Esha is a careful spender, but she loves to indulge when it comes to shoes. “I have a closet-full, but I’m more of a flats person now than when I was a kid,” she says. “My mom was almost disgusted when I came back with a pair of plain black Tod’s from London – she didn’t think they were that great but I love them!” Her other big obsession is easy to see when she gestures to a large suitcase behind me, filled with underwear of all kinds. “I hate having the wrong innerwear for any occasion. I think visible lines are so tacky and I’ve been putting a lot of money into my lingerie collection – and this is only about half of it.”
The ‘as real as this gets’ impression strengthens as she talks about her love of cooking. Red wine risotto for her sister, pav bhaji for her mother and dosas for her father. “I also cooked fish for my father once, but I’m a vegetarian so I have no idea how it turned out – he seemed to like it enough to polish it off though. My ‘special someone’ loves my rajma chawal and dal chawal,” she says coyly, the only time she mentions her boyfriend. “My personal life is pretty quiet. I don’t like going out clubbing or standing around holding a glass of champagne. I do attend events, but we all have lives beyond that.”
The one person who she can depend on entirely, apart from family and friends, has to be celebrity manager extraordinaire Anirban Das Blah. “He insisted that I move to Mumbai and would keep assuring me that I was a good actress and ‘so Bollywood’. I asked him what that meant and told him I’d kill him if I didn’t get a film. Now he asks me if I still want to kill him! I know that he prioritises my professional growth. I call him my Ari Gold,” she says, referencing the bullish agent from Entourage.
Esha loves watching television and films and the conversation swings naturally to her favourite actors. “I love Kareena, Ranbir, Priyanka and Vidya. Rekha just burns up the screen. Their acting is just so brilliant. I don’t look to critics’ opinions, or the hair or make-up, I like watching a movie just for pure entertainment,” she says. As a former Miss India, I have to ask who her favourite pageant winner is, and pat comes the reply –Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, “She is just so beautiful.”
She also loves watching documentaries and writing, naturally, for the stunner is also a mass communications graduate from Manipal University. Kathak is a passion and she spends at least four hours a day in practice. She confesses to Justin Beiber’s As Long As You Love Me playing on loop in her head. “My nieces and I just love him! He’s a kid but just so talented. I love that he made it on his own. These are the people who inspire me and give me hope – Priyanka, Shah Rukh, people who came out and made their mark without a godfather in the business.”
Lest you think she’s all good, Esha tries to convince us that she has a naughty side. She has three tattoos, the first of which she got when she was 18. “I had just finished my schooling and I really wanted a tattoo, so I went along to a tattoo artist and picked it out. It means absolutely nothing,” she says of the tattoo of Hot Stuff, the little cartoon devil, on her right shoulder. “Or, it could symbolise the devil inside all of us,” she continues on a laugh. The second tattoo, on her wrist, is one of her parents’ initials, gotten when her mother was unwell. The most recent tattoo is a large design involving wings on her ribcage. “My mom wrote a shairi for me that goes ‘yeh kainchiyan khak rokegi mujhe udney se, ki main paron se nahin, honslon se udti hoon’ (you can’t stop me from flying by clipping my wings, for I fly not with wings, but with courage) – I love it but it is too long to engrave, because of the pain, so I looked around and found the Latin phrase alis volat propriis which means ‘she flies with her own wings’, and I had that tattooed with the wings,” she explains.
We carry on chatting, about her love of carbs, favourite restaurants, her lack of digital presence, her Tintins and Archies, and the family’s four dogs, and I am even more convinced of her sheer niceness. Friendly and funny, Esha is incredibly easy to talk to and my cheeks are aching after all the smiling she has induced. All too soon, the stylist drags her back to the shoot and she has to flit away, onward and upward.
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