‘Follow your passion’ is an oft-repeated career mantra. However, if there’s one person who seems to be following it to the T, it’s model, actor and now entrepreneur Malaika Arora.
Arora, who is known to be passionate about fashion, food and fitness, has entered each of these genres as an entrepreneur with her entities The Label Life, The Nude Bowl and Sarva Yoga, respectively.
We caught up with Arora to learn more about her role in each of these ventures, her early days in advertising, how she uses her social media reach, among others.
Your career has seen it all; you began as a VJ before entering the modelling world, and then appeared in advertisements. Could you share how your advertising career began and some memories from your first ad campaign?
Wow, I have to jog my memory now! My career spans over 28 years and it’s been a long journey that's been through its ups and downs as well. It began with MTV and soon, one thing led to another. Thereon, I moved to TV and then I dabbled a bit with ads, films and fashion. I have covered the entire gamut of things that one can do in the space.
For me, everything has its charm – whether I’m doing a fashion shoot, an ad film or hosting a reality show on television. The reach that television gives you is unbelievable.
While everything is very gratifying, my first love is modelling in front of a camera. Whether I’m doing a photoshoot or promoting a brand, it holds a special place in my life.
I’ve sold pretty much everything and have covered most of the categories. The first commercial shoot was for a fashion spread for The Times of India.
The ad film that probably changed things for me was MR Coffee. There have always been things in my life that I have considered turning points. Back then, the MR Coffee film was considered very controversial and it grabbed a lot of eyeballs for me. I consider this to be a huge turning point that probably paved the way for the rest of my career.
From then to now, how has advertising changed?
The concept of representing a brand or being a spokesperson hasn’t changed. Over the years the approach has changed – the financial approach, for instance. Back then, if someone approached me for a deal, I would meet the person once and if I liked the concept, I would sign. Now, we have our teams looking into things and there are so many more people involved.
Visibility and engagement have also changed drastically over the last few years. It’s so much more than just being a face on a hoarding or a magazine cover. Things have also become a lot more professional and everything is now corporatised.
During your career were there any brands/categories that you had turned down?
Alcohol and cigarettes are two categories that I have turned down because I have never believed in them and did not feel right about doing them. I have to feel good and connected to a brand and no amount of money will change that for me.
Anything you dislike about the advertising space? Are there any interesting anecdotes from any of the ad campaigns you have shot?
No, I absolutely love the advertising space. I have worked with so many people and I genuinely feel that the people I have had the pleasure of working with earlier were at the top of their game. Now, you have so many foreign professionals coming into the country. Earlier, it used to be a lot more contained and I have worked with the finest cameramen, DOPs, photographers or directors; I feel that they paved the way and gave the entire fashion and advertising scene the kind of reputation and fame it enjoys today.
I have had the privilege of working with the likes of Prahlad Kakkar, too. Each of them was a hard taskmaster and I think that’s what kids from this day and age require. The struggle was a lot earlier, but I guess with times things change. Every decade has a new approach.
Outside your acting career, you're known to be a fitness and fashion enthusiast. You've followed your passion and first launched a fashion brand ‘The Label Life’, followed by ‘Sarva’ and ‘Nude Bowl’. What's your role with each of them?
I genuinely believe that when opportunities come by, one should jump at them. Each of these opportunities came at a time when I was looking at doing something apart from what I was already doing.
I was looking to broaden my horizon; that’s pretty much how it started with The Label Life. Preeta Sukhtankar, who is the brain behind this brand approached me. The whole world was talking about start-ups at the time, and I thought it was cool for me to be a part of one too!
I had no idea what online shopping was because I wasn’t exposed to it. She came with the whole concept of wanting to have women from different backgrounds getting together and curating these lines. I didn’t have much of an idea at the time, but I joined as the style editor.
The Label Life has been through its ups and downs and has gone through terrible times, but we are staying afloat and have a great brand value and have a fantastic presence online.
Then once I made my way into fashion, I had fitness and food left on my plate. I’m really happy today I’m at a crossroads where I have all three of them under my belt.
Fitness has always been a part of my existence and I wanted to capitalise on it. I want people to be able to get the fitness and ideology that I have for a healthy mind and body. I got in touch with Sarvesh (Shashi) accidentally and that’s how I was part of Diva Yoga. I wanted to create studios and a space for women.
Unfortunately, the lockdown happened when we were expanding rapidly; the physical studios were becoming a problem to manage. We hung on to them for a bit but then everything had to change to the digital world overnight. Through my association with Diva Yoga, I came on board as co-founder with Sarva Yoga, then. I do believe in this world of fitness and Sarvesh and I gel when it comes to our way of working. Sarva is growing leaps and bounds every day in terms of the number of users and content. All of this has happened during the lockdown and it wasn’t easy, but it’s something we managed. We have different programmes that we have launched and it’s only growing.
The Nude Bowl takes care of my interest in the food category. I always wanted to have a restaurant, but over time I realised that having a physical restaurant is not the easiest thing to handle. There’s so much investment that goes into it and the last two years have taught us that anything can happen and having a physical place can be a huge hindrance. The cloud kitchen space has grown immensely and Rebel Foods is a pioneer in the space. We have the EatSure app where The Nude Bowl fits right in.
They came to me with the concept and we had several ideas. For me, food is about nutrition, but I am very particular about it being tasty and satisfying. I can’t have food that doesn’t uplift my spirit or not make me happy. I need happy, good food because that’s the environment I have grown up in. People may believe I don’t eat that kind of food, but I’ve grown up on great curries, rice, meat, fish and vegetables. I’m one of those people who hates eating on a plate and out of habit I have always eaten in a bowl. I think that concept of having to eat in a bowl comes from me and that’s pretty much the food we serve at The Nude Bowl.
You've got more than 13 million followers on Instagram. How do you approach the medium? Do you use it more for Label Life, Sarva and Nude Bowl specifically?
It’s such a visual medium and all our brands are so deeply entrenched in social media promotion, so yes, I promote these brands to my fans and followers.
But at the same time, I also give them a glimpse of my life and I like having that balance. I’m really happy that we have these platforms that give us the ability to reach out.
A couple of celebs we have spoken with in the past have told us that they don't want to be on social media because of the amount of negativity or trolling. What's your take on this?
It’s about how much you want to put out there. Tomorrow, you’ll do an ad on television and there will be people who like it or don’t like it. That could happen in any workplace you are at.
But the trolling on social media could be considered more in-your-face?
Yes, so social media can be a bane and a boon, but you have to use it to the best of your advantage. You have to be able to draw those lines and take the good with the bad. If there’s something that doesn’t fit in your scheme of things, then you don’t let it be part of your daily existence. There’s negativity out there and you can’t do anything about it and I’m responsible for the amount of negativity I want in my life. I stay away from all of it and turn a blind eye or deaf ear.
You've worked with several brands during your career; do you have any dream brands you would want to work with as a brand ambassador?
Right now, there are a lot of brands that I’m excited about. This is purely because they are in the space of promoting a wonderful lifestyle and we’ll have more news about them in the next couple of months.
You always want some dream brands to work with whether it’s a skincare brand, a clothing brand, a haircare brand, etc. By the grace of God, I have been associated with several brands during my career. Now, more than dream brands to associate with as an ambassador, I want to work with them from their inception and grow together. There’s a part of me that gets very kicked about working with brands from their early stages and would want to associate with them as an investor. That kind of unison to build a brand together is what I want to do.