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Being A Strong Woman Is More About Being Visible Than Being Right All The Time: Chitrangda Singh

From her formative years to portraying complex characters on screen, the actor talks about her film, fashion and beauty philosophies.

Published On Mar 14, 2024 | Updated On Mar 14, 2024

She’s a classic; a picture-perfect embodiment of feminine glamour without even trying!

There could not have been a better fit than the effervescent Chitrangda Singh to be Zee Zest’s Cover Star for March 2024, a month where we celebrate women and their stories. Actor, writer, and producer, the absolute stunner switches between being the camera lens’ muse and a friend hanging out, dropping style tips with ease. Filling the magnificent ITC Grand Central Mumbai’s Presidential suite with her captivating energy, Chitrangda effortlessly embodies all the female archetypes featured in our latest editorial.

Starting her career in 2005 with Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2005), Chitrangda's filmography features hard hitters like Inkaar (2013), Bob Biswas (2021) and most recently, the mystery thriller Gaslight (2023). A natural progression from her modelling days, Chitrangda’s shift to acting may have had a few tell-tale signs in her early childhood. 

“There are home movies of me, all of two or three years old, dancing around. It was weird and funny because nobody in my family, including my mum, ever danced. My mum used to wonder where this came from? Which why she had me learn Kathak too (to hone my skills). But particularly acting, I don't think I ever thought of that, but I did think I had a dancer in me,” she reminisces.

On Chitrangda: Leather jacket and pants by Appapop, bralette and mesh top by Emblaze, Jewellery by ABHILASHA Jewelry Collection 

It might only take a fabulous leather outfit to transform Chitrangda into a rebel for a photograph, but what does it take to play one on screen? Especially when such characters can become the first ones to be “cancelled” for pushing the boundaries. “I think when you're playing a part, it is what you are. You don't have to be answerable to the audience. You have a responsibility to your part and your director,” she opines. Reflecting on her roles, Chitrangda picked her character Maya (Inkaar, 2013) as the most rebellious or modern character that she’s played. The fact that Maya fought with every bit of woman in her to stand up against the man she was in love with helped her tap into the most profound strength that you can find inside you to stand up to something. 

Chitrangda’s mantra for unapologetically being yourself is an asset that gives her a fresh outlook on the industry she’s chosen to be a part of. When she started out in the industry, and in some ways even today, gorgeous dusky girls didn’t seem to fit into the beauty standards of Bollywood. And while she may not bless cinemagoers with frequent on-screen appearances, it is her unique outlook on the industry trends that make her an interesting outlier among actors working today. 

But what made her this way? Raised in an army family, Chitrangda possesses a unique perspective that’s distinct from her industry counterparts. She believes that if you're not from the industry and you've grown up in different parts of the country with diverse backgrounds, especially in the army, which is markedly different from civilian life, it gives you a different outlook. It opens you up to meeting diverse people and shapes your perspective on prioritising and valuing different things. For instance, in her family, they were conscious about waking up early or admiring good swimmers in the community! She recalls growing up, engaging in competitions like who could dive from the top of the diving board. The lifestyle is vastly different, leading her to appreciate slightly different aspects than those in a big city.

The actor goes on to elaborate on what has kept her grounded in Bollywood, “I'd never lived in a big city till I did my college in Delhi. I'd never been to Bombay till I did my first film. So, for me, obviously things were different. It probably makes you rooted, value different things than just fame and success, probably of the kind that gets defined when you are in the film industry. There's a different definition to success,” she opines. 

On Chitrangda: Suit by Massimo Dutti, choker by Soni Sapphire 

If you have Chitrangda coming in for a shoot, you’ve got to put her in a pantsuit! The most popular form of power dressing, the actor oozes the 'Woman On Top’ energy in her separates. Hinting at power dressing briefs done by Chanel, Ralph Lauren and Tom Ford, she confesses to leaning towards androgynous additions and elements to the structure and style of the ensembles. “I don’t like the feminine versions of power dressing,” she reveals, admitting how much she enjoyed the particular segment for the cover shoot. 

Not just in wardrobe but Chitrangda has showcased exercising power in her work too. Talking about a particular instance that serendipitously ended up her taking up a writing gig for herself, she reveals, “The first time I ever wrote was for Inkaar and Sudhir Mishra, my director. I had many suggestions for a particular scene, so he said why don’t you just write it? I was just very happy that he kept it. And first time seeing what I wrote on paper translated on screen was exciting and it just kind of got me to want to write more” she reveals. 

Deep diving into her characters who’ve had to also be authentic and turn it up to a 10 on the emotional scale, Chitrangda confesses to borrowing a lot from her personal life to hone her craft. “I think personal experiences are huge fodder to the kind of stuff that I've done. Maybe I am a little intense kind of a person, emotionally. So, for me to draw that out is probably easier and understanding such women is slightly easier too. As actors, we also bring a lot of ‘us’ on set. And I'm very glad to have played these characters because I don't think such characters are written that often for women,” she says while talking about female characters who are so invested to their emotional responses to things without judgement, are neither purely good nor entirely evil; just a hint of grey to maintain authenticity of the human condition. 

On Chitrangda: Sheer organza saree by Kapardara, mangtika by Razwada Jewels via Rizwan Shaikh  

A female archetype that’s evolved the most in recent years is the matriarch of the family. The ‘Indian Bahu’, who makes a family and keeps it together. Talking about the representation of the same in the media, Chitrangda says, “It's changed enormously. Now, she has a voice. She's not demure or some voiceless being that’s servile and does what “the man” wants. And I think these are the traits that are now being admired. But at the same time, since it's a very traditional society, I feel like we, we like that traditionalism sometimes. And I feel being a strong woman doesn't mean you need to win all the time, you know? It's not about being right all the time, but about being visible. So, I think that kind of balance is where we're reaching, which is great.”

Decked out in a white saree and come to slay, Chitraganda is beauty personified. Picking her brain, I extracted some tips for the beauty lovers lurking in this story. Talking about her skincare approach, she states (quite controversially!) that she doesn't believe in facials or similar treatments unless opting for occasional clean-ups. According to her, the key to skin wellness is staying consistent with your daily routine. Keeping the skin clear, ample water intake, and regular workouts are crucial, as they can bring about transformative changes. Having experienced the benefits, she incorporates vegetable juices into her morning routine. She also started consuming ghee, considering it a beneficial fat. She confessed that for her, the morning regimen within the initial two hours of waking up significantly impacts her skin. “It’s about what you put in your body rather than what you’re putting on your skin,” she concludes.

On Chitrangda: Black Bow Gown by Khushbu Rathod Label via Ascend Communication 

By her own admission, she doesn’t quite follow trends, but in fact prefers everything classic when it comes to dressing up. “I think it's a lot of who I am,” she says, and her reputation of consistently serving timeless style surely precedes her and is an extension of her personality. It’s about being authentic to oneself, she says as she tries not to get influenced by trends, unless a particular theme asks for it. “Be yourself and then own it,” she adds while taking a pause to say goodbye to her styling team. “I think it's just who I am very distinctly. I love experimenting with looks because I feel like that kind of transforms me into a character, quite similar to what we’re doing today. The reason I got so excited with the mood board was because it’s like playing four different people or characters. As an actor that's what I enjoy in a photo shoot,” she confesses. 

With each look being shot, I found myself mouthing under my breath, “She’s so Mother”! As a member of the ‘girls and the gays’ club, Chitrangda is one of those women who exudes confidence that we’d like to emulate in our private lives. When coaxed, she quite rightfully discouraged the notion of finding role models in glamorous portrayals. She pointed out that there's much more complexity involved in such roles, and the individuals playing those parts may not reflect real-life personas. She encourages seeking inspiration from individuals you come across in everyday life and who exhibit real strength and resilience. 

So, what inspires her? “Real life stories, people experiences, and characters made from what they've lived is what interests me, and I think that is beautiful. The glamour we see online is endless, every single reel is gorgeous. It's unbelievable the amount of beauty on Instagram right now that I'm frankly immune to it now. It's hot, yet but what else? To truly find and be inspired by beauty we should go beyond that. Look inwards and look around you. That's what you should look for,” she concludes.


Zest Content Team: Srikant Malladi and Anannya Chatterjee                                                                          

Cover story: Sumona Bose

Photographer: Atul Kasbekar

Stylist: संजय कुमार दौहलिया (Shnoy)

Assistant stylist: ​Priyankaa Ahuja

Hair and makeup artist: MANIASHA

Location: The luxurious Presidential Suite at ITC Grand Central, Mumbai

Artist PR: Communiqué Film PR