After standing first in her year at the School of Social Work in Delhi, and receiving a job offer to work for a German NGO before even graduating, so impressed were they with her previous work for the UN and an NGO helping Muslim women in Delhi, Anu was ready to dedicate her life to helping others.But fate had other ideas.
India’s first supermodel Anu saw no use in making a living through her body, when it encased such a brilliant mind. So when she was spotted by a talent scout who insisted she must be a model, she initially ignored his offers. Only when he persisted did she agree to meet, quoting such an outlandish price as to put him off for good.
She did one advert for Godrej Marvel soap, and with a gasp India said: ‘Who’s that girl?’
Suddenly, in 1988 and within just six months of arriving in Bombay, Anu was one of the country’s most sought-after models, christened by Society Magazine ‘India’s first supermodel.’ Not bad for an unheard of woman with a master’s in social work.
But not everyone at home was so happy for her, this dark, mysterious enigma who roamed around without a parent or male guardian, lived alone, dressed how she wanted, ignored convention and played by no one’s rules but her own. But why worry about India, when the catwalk calls – in London, Paris, New York, Mexico, Norway and Germany.
The dusky Delhi girl was an international star, but this was only the beginning.
Inevitably, the calls from Bollywood producers began, each one offering Anu a ludicrous payday to play a sappy, traditional heroine or damsel in distress. A weak woman in need of saving? Not Anu.
However, when the chance arose to play Anu Vargese in Aashiqui, it proved too much to resist
(even if she tried to at first). But she did it for the right reasons: to show young girls a better way in the world, to give them a positive role model in a Bollywood system that provided so few, and to give an honest performance she was proud of.
Aashiqui was a huge hit, and Anu suddenly a megastar.
But fame isn’t always easy. Suddenly there was no privacy, endless stories from an insatiable media hungry for lurid gossip, rumours about her love life that put impossible pressure on her actual relationships, and producers darkening her door with offer after offer.
As Anu’s relationship crumbled and her personal life struggled under the weight of her new-found fame, she found a guardian angel in the form of a friend suggesting they book a ten-day course together in Vipassana meditation.
Anu found it tough initially, but is no quitter – after day 7, she felt a change. A new energy, as every cell in her body vibrated. This was the beginning of something important – quite how important, she had no idea at the time.
Upon her return to the city, Anu was launched straight back into Bollywood life, starring
in several films, international hit Cloud Door and launching MTV in India, going deeper
into the scene of stardom that was gradually eating her alive. Sick of probing questions
from desperately uninformed journalists and endless speculation about her romances,
Anu was ready for a change.
Despite major offers from L.A. Anu had had enough: she quit Bollywood. No one quits
Bollywood – or Hollywood – when they’re on top, she was told repeatedly. You’re being
stupid, crazy, you don’t know what you’re doing, they told her.
I don’t care, said Anu – and quit.
A stunning discovery
It is January 1996, and Anu has been invited, out of the blue, to attend a discussion with
a friend, on ‘What is yoga?’
What she discovers changes everything.
In a normal human being, body, mind and soul are disconnected and imbalanced – and we are usually unaware of this. They can only be reconciled through yoga, to get head, heart and hand working in harmony.
Anu knew that by having these forces united within herself, she would be unstoppable.
No longer an international star, but instead a universal being. International or universal?
An easy decision.
The talk finished with a chakra meditation that filled her entire body with light. The choice was made: Yoga, here I come.
This blog is based on Anu’s experience, as told in her book Anusual: Memoir of a Girl Who came back from the dead.