The Notion of Beauty….
Beauty is… Symmetry
Three words that define Beauty: Inner, Emotional, Confidence
Has the notion of Beauty changed today compared to the traditional emphasis of Beauty being just the physical aspect of a person?
Beauty is ever evolving and I can see that, as cultures grow and blend and societies break out of limit cycles, our definition of beauty widens. We can classify beauty as much more than just a pretty face when we understand that beauty is freedom. Beauty is choice. The way a woman embraces her flaws, is another definition of beauty. Accepting of oneself is a beautiful thing. Beauty is a feeling, an inner emotional response to what one values. Every day I witness beautiful things, whether it’s a teacher helping a child learn, or watching my son waters the house plants; there is beauty everywhere. In short, today, beauty is a verb, not a noun.
Your top five Beauty secrets: Sleep, Sex, Hydration, Exercise, Good Food.
Your one Beauty indulgence: Deep tissue massages.
Who, historically speaking do you feel is the most beautiful person the world has ever known and why?
In my humble opinion, Beauty lay with someone like a Sophia Loren. She is as beautiful today as she was 40 years ago for one simple reason: she embraces the woman she is. For example, she doesn’t apologize for having to wear glasses because her eyes are bad, she just does it…with flair, elegance, and style. The net result of those sums = sex appeal. Beauty is a feeling that comes across when a confident woman owns every ounce and every inch of her being. Sophia Loren owns herself in that way…as does Tina Turner. A woman, who fundamentally understands that giving life and love is most beautiful and that for me, defines the most beautiful woman.
Who is the most beautiful person in the world for you today?
My son Romen.
What is the most beautiful experience you have ever had and why?
The particular shag that created Romen, and then the moment we first met Romen!
If you had one wish to change something in the world to make it a more beautiful place, what would it be and why?
If women ruled the world, it would be a far better place. Contemplate this: Women by nature nourish and give life. They have patience and deep understanding of what is really going on. Their innate skill lies at the foundations of humanity. We are also able to multitask, which means that more resolve would come faster if women ruled the world!
MULTI-FACETED CAREER. . .
You’ve been on the cover of numerous magazines including ELLE , COSMOPOLITAN, GQ, MAXIM, FHM. How were you able to establish yourself to such great heights in the west when models of South Asian heritage were not even on the mainstream radar?
Pure luck really. The go-go 90’s were good to everyone, especially a pretty model (then represented) by Elite (Model Management) in New York. I happened because I was born at just the right time.
Describe the moment when you realized that you were a successful model and the way it made you feel knowing that you had achieved this in such a competitive industry?
For a New York girl, the first time you run into yourself on a magazine cover found at a newsstand, you melt inside. Actually it feels like being hit with a ton of bricks. It feels like you’ve ‘made it’. It was my dream when I was a little girl.
You’re still a working model. Tell me about what you’ve been up to lately.
I’ve been working a lot. I am not turning down the jobs I used to book when I was 18. I still stand around a crew of people in my underwear all day long. …and if you want to see, go to Target and look carefully at the little pictures on the bra tags.
There are numerous international models like you, who are the new breed of models—wives and mothers and are still working in the industry with long time careers. Point in case, Kate Moss, Stephanie Seymour and Ujjwala Raut. This has not always been the case as models were typically unmarried, with no children and their careers were short lived. Why do you feel that there is a change in the industry where in recent years, it has become acceptable to have a life outside of being a model without it compromising your competitive edge?
There are many mothers working many different types of jobs in the world, and working many more than just one job…Over the course of the past century, women’s freedom of speech and expression has become more acceptable and understood. We understand more today what it means to be a working woman. Being a mother, wife, and career-woman are each jobs in themselves, to juggle them all successfully is truly a remarkable task indeed. As such, women jugglers should never be ignored or underestimated or under appreciated by men. Any woman that is able to ‘balance the act’ deserves respect and recognition.
There is still a stigma associated with South Asian girls who aspire for careers in modelling. What advice do you have for those who are struggling with this decision which in many cases means going against their parents’ wishes?
I say listen to your parents, but follow your dreams. Women should always pursue a career in what they love because it will help us to act naturally. When a woman is acting natural, it attracts love and success.
You studied Film and Television at New York University and recently forayed into the movie business, bagging your first feature in Bollywood in Karan Johar’s hit movie, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006). How did that come about?
He called me. I for sure didn’t call him, because if I had, he’d probably have not returned my calls. ‘Go where you’re invited and you’ll never be turned away in confusion’ is the line I use to guide my career.
Why did you decide to take the role?
What girl wouldn’t take the role of playing Abhishek Bachchan’s wife in a Karan Johar film?
Your second film is Teen Patti (2009) with Amitabh Bachchan due for release this summer. Tell me about your role.
This film is quite a unique one due to the fact that the writer, director, and producer are all women. This is a very very rare thing in Bollywood. Leena Yadav is the writer and director. Her previous film (Shabt with Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan) was her break-out movie. The producer, Ambika Hinduja, is a vibrant woman with so much change to affect. The entire crew was feminine in spirit and conduct. I could single handedly count the number of men there were on set. Women were running the show. This team of women, creating films is special because it’s done from a certain perspective: a woman’s. With that said, my character was a ton of fun to work on. She’s essentially a desirable woman who loves to throw parties and meet men. I really enjoyed her.
Unlike KANK, in this movie you had to learn some Hindi dialogue. How did you prepare yourself for this?
Practice, practice, practice! I worked with friends and voice recorders. I started to really get the hang of it!
Not many actresses can say that they have acted besides Bollywood royalty but you can, having done films with both Big and Small B (Amitabh and Abhishek). What was that like?
I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to have gotten to know this famous family. They are lovely human beings that I’ve enjoyed working with immensely. I recently bumped into Abhishek in Mumbai. He came over and said hello. I noticed that he seemed to have a much calmer energy since I’d seen him last. He also had a killer hair-cut. …and Amitabh reminds me of a teddy bear. He is a gentle man in the truest sense. To have met him personally is to have seen this in his eyes. He holds such presence. It’s like time stands still when he’s near. He’s an accomplished, successful man who has managed to make billions of people very happy. He walks into a room and everyone goes hush as they scurry quietly just so that they can catch a shy glimpse at ‘god’. His eyes are vibrant and so alive! He nails the scene in one take and never more than two. He speaks with his eyes, which are careful to never say too much. This always makes a woman want to know more…always.
The global film industry is going through a huge transition right now with long term alliances between Hollywood and Bollywood being carved in stone. Point in case, Mumbai based Reliance BIG Entertainment owned by Anil Ambani and Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks collaboration to churn out a whopping sixteen films. What do you, as an industry insider think the future holds for such mergers?
I think that anything is possible now. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. For example, clearly, there is an interest for Disney to have access to 500 million children under the age of 21.
Indian actresses such as Freida Pinto and Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan are also on Hollywood’s radar in a big way so clearly the doors have opened for a permanent crossover of talent. Yet you, as a Western actress have decided to go the opposite way by going to Bollywood to solidify your acting career. Why?
When I get a phone call to work in a film, my ego has a difficult time resisting. As long as the story line interests me, and the character makes sense to me — even if I don’t know how to speak Hindi — I jump into it head first. But, why Bollywood? Why not? I wish I could tell you that this was some brilliant, premeditated chess move, but it’s not. It’s my particular journey.
Do you have any Hollywood aspirations or projects in the works?
My aspirations are all surrounding music, which has Hollywood, London, and Indian involvement. The internet is amazing isn’t it? How so? I see my music releasing on cell phones and in nightclubs. Maybe I’ll launch a track in ANOKHI?! …who knows.
You wrote all the songs on the CD. Where did you draw your inspiration from?
Yes I did. I’m not sure I could imagine…espousing someone else’s sense-of-life. My inspiration comes through my life experience. I have written journals and have had many thoughts that I’ve kept only for me and by me for a long time. So now that I’m shouting, why not throw a beat on top of it? As such, I’m able to share my stories with my son or whomever wishes to listen. I enjoy music because I’m able to share vibes that jive…sounds that I dig the most. The music is a global blend of East plus West, and a keepsake.
Any noteworthy collaborations?
I have a track called “Diamonds ’n Bollywood.” It features Amitabh Bachchan.
Who is the music dedicated to and why?
It’s dedicated to all lovers of peace in the world. The lyrics are words to understand and live by. My music is a way of sharing my thoughts about stuff. I really can’t wait to share!
HOBBIES. . .
You love to paint. You said in MAXIM magazine in 2001, that “I cover my body in paint and bounce off or roll over the canvas. You never know how it’s going to turn out. Sometimes it’s, like, what the hell is that? And other times it’s, wow, that’s kind of cool.” What’s the magic behind using your body as the paint brush?
It simply feels good. Sometimes really good!
Photography is something you also hold close to your heart as you document the milestones in your life through photographs. What do you get out of this experience?
It’s simply the capturing of a moment. Still images of moments that are worth remembering are images worth capturing. The ability to preserve our visual memories will make growing older far less stressful.
Every time I get into the flow of creativity, it’s always cathartic — freeing my spirit of energy and feeling release. Expression is the fuel that ignites my being. Sounds corny I know…but this is how I feel.
It’s clear that all of these outlets are a way for you to experience, appreciate and revel in the various stages of your life. Is this also a cathartic experience for you. If so, how?
OUTREACH. . .
You were invited to address the World Economic Forum and India Conclave alongside Queen Rania of Jordan a few years ago. What was this experience like?
Speaking at the World Economic Forum on 21st Century Women’s issues was a very cool thing for me. When I told my dad that I was going to do it, he almost dropped the phone! I also did a talk on the migration of fashion. The India Today Conclave is this amazing event put on by Aroon Puri and his family. I spoke with Karan Johar about movies. But Rania was an unforgettable moment. To hear her speak so eloquently about why we were all there (to bring understanding and new ideas to government officials on how we can work to fill the “hope-gap” that currently exists between people and their governments) has made a lasting impression indeed. I was honoured to have shared my perspective about how we can feel meaning through giving back. Also, I remember what she was wearing so vividly. She looked absolutely stunning in her royal green silk dress. She is a class act all the way for sure.
In what ways are you actively involved in outreach programs or initiatives of humanitarianism?
There are many programs that I support. A few of my favourites are Pratham.org which focuses on primary education and literacy in India and they’re succeeding beautifully. Another is the American India Foundation (which) affects social and economic change in India, and then there is The Art of Living — is a way of life that I have implemented. I like the way that this form of yoga nurtures truth and peace on behalf of the spirit of mankind.
On your recent trip to India, you took your son to see some of the not so glamourous parts of Mumbai. Why did you feel the need to expose him to this?
Romen is a very lucky and privileged boy. We’re all privileged for that matter. Instilling recognition of this is a challenge that I face as his mom. But recently, I noticed something funny: when the underprivileged Slumdog Millionaire child actors went to Los Angeles, they made a side trip to Disneyland. And when my over-privileged son visited Mumbai, he made a side trip to Dharavi. Romen was able to spend some meaningful time with children who smile with the same set of teeth, but who had no shoes or clothes like he. I wanted him to understand and be reminded that differences between him and less fortunate kids exist. He grew up big time! He’s a different boy from this trip. I don’t have to nag him so much to finish his dinner. He appreciates things more.
The tremendous success of Slumdog Millionaire (2008) has opened the world’s eyes to some harsh realities that exist for the under privileged children in Mumbai. This has come with criticism that Mumbai’s plight should not have been paraded in this way. What are your thoughts having witnessed this and also exposed your son to it?
Slumdog Millionaire epitomized art. Art is always someone else’s expression of their own sense-of-life. Therefore, any attacks on the film are silly. People have been fighting over art since the dawn of time.
What do you hope that this exposure will do for the real ‘Slumdogs’?
I think that the West’s exposure to a film representing a true depiction of what some aspects of Mumbai is really like might help tourism and philanthropy a bit. But I don’t expect much meaningful change at all coming from it. The film however, I believe will ignite artistic exchange between India and the West more than ever before. Unfortunately, I don’t see Slumdog Millionaire affecting much change. It was a very entertaining film that really showcased Danny Boyle along with fostering nice conversation for a few hours afterward…and I was thrilled it got the nod from The Academy. Like Hitchcock used to say: “It’s only a moooooooovie.”
FAMILY. . .
You got married relatively young — in your early twenties when your career as an international model was at an enviable high. Why the decision to get married so young.
I was successfully seduced with Tip #19 from by book How To Seduce (and Marry) the Woman of Your Dreams. I didn’t decide…I was taken.
What’s ANOKHI about your husband that made the decision to spend the rest of your life with him a must?
I believe that a child’s temperament is a litmus test for the energy emanating from the bond between a mother and father. If you know Romen Alexandre, my son, then you know that my husband and I gel. Not to mention, our commitment to truth-telling between us has built a deep sense of trust and security over time.
You recently had a near death experience involving a horrific car accident. Tell me about this?
We avoided a head-on collision at a high rate of speed but took out a traffic light post instead. The only problem with that was that the post was made of cement. My son and I were luckily all right, thanks to air bags and seat belts. It was my husband however, who got it the worst with an open compound fracture to his leg. A week later, he suffered a pulmonary embolism, where a piece of clot broke from his leg and passed through his heart. This statistically should have killed him for sure. He somehow survived.
How did you cope with the terrifying possibility of losing your husband, Chris?
I didn’t listen to what I was being told. It wasn’t a possibility in my mind that I’d lose him because I had dedicated my energy, power and love to keep him stable and alive.
How has this experience affected your life moving forward?
It’s brought my entire family closer together. I value every moment and I don’t sweat the small stuff.
I am more knowledgeable, and thus more powerful — I understand what matters in life. I have witnessed suffering and uncertainty and made choices to get through them. I am a stronger and better person because of it all. I believe that there is so much life has to celebrate!
What measures do you take to keep the fire alive after almost a decade of marriage?
Staying one step ahead of his sexual fantasies is one way that works like a charm.
The first time we met five years ago, you were pregnant. Your son, Romen is now five years old. What has motherhood brought to your already full life?
A sense of accomplishment, laughter, and stress!
How has being a mother changed your perspective on life?
It’s put a lot into a much clearer perspective. Time becomes more valuable, as do the people you allow into your life. My child learns through example from me and others. I definitely am cautious with whom I allow into our family circle.
PERSONAL. . .
Who is Saira Mohan today?
First and foremost, I’m my kid’s mom. And I’m also someone who finds the time necessary for me to feel more in touch with my spirit, my soul, and my sex. I believe very much in mind-body awareness and I take the time to treat myself to massages, yoga, working out, lunches with friends, trips and dinners with my hubby, pedicures, and romps in the sack. Saira Mohan takes life one day at a time, savouring every moment along the way. I keep myself stimulated. I do things that others wouldn’t expect from me. I like to push the edge by creating work that makes me feel that I’m giving back to the world.
What would you like people to know about you?
That I’m a very private person.
Tell me something about yourself that people wouldn’t know.
I like to eat raw lemons – yummy! yum!
Is there anything about your life you would change? If so, what is it and why?
I am happy with my life and everything in it. I feel that through (life’s) the not-so-great moments, I’ve become stronger. I wouldn’t want to change anything…at least not yet anyway.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I’d like to be remembered for being a loving wife and caring mother.
What is the motto you live by?
It’s all how you look at it!
First published in The Beauty Issue, Spring 2009, www.AnokhiMagazine.com.
Photography by David Hou
Beauty Editor: Denise Wild
Art Director: Ajay Lad
Makeup: Shobana Lakkavally
Hair: Nirisha Ravaliya
Editorial Intern: Amanda Li
Wardrobe by Indiva www.indivaretail.com
Photo i: Saira is wearing Monisha Jaising for INDIVA $599 CDN; Bangles by INDIVA $39 CDN each.
Photos v, vi and vii: Saira is wearing Tarun Tahiliani for INDIVA $599 CDN
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