I was looking forward to meeting Ananya Panday – not because she is touted to be one of the next big things in Bollywood or because she has become a talking point after her grand debut with Student Of The Year 2. But because I was way too impressed by her caption game on Instagram. I mean, going by those, she seemed super fun! Yes, she’s young, gorgeous and full of life. But more importantly, she is witty, vivacious and non-diplomatic. The PR machinery shadows over our stars so strongly and so often that they always have to be careful about what they say and how they behave in front of other people. However, Ananya came across as someone who’s quite chill and unfazed. So yes, I was excited about our rendezvous.
But thanks to the Mumbai rains, the interview had to be rescheduled for another time. And then I finally saw her after a delay of a few days. After greeting me and plonking herself on the chair opposite me, she went back to typing intently on her phone. When she realised I was looking at her, she apologised and revealed that she was trying to figure out the caption for her next social media post. I let her take a few more moments because let’s admit it, we’ve all been there at some point. She didn’t take too long and then began our freewheeling conversation.
And now, I can safely say that I was right about her. She indeed is quite hilarious. But I also discovered that she has a rather sensitive side to herself when she started talking about her brand new initiative, So + (So Positive). Also, even though she’s just one film old, Ananya has already been targeted by trolls. Fortunately, the youngster does know how to deal with the negativity coming her way and see the positives instead. That shows maturity. So yes, Ananya is witty and cool, and sensitive and mature too. You’ll realise it too as you read on…
How did come up with the idea of So+?
I have been thinking about this for a really long time but I didn’t know exactly how to go about it because I didn’t know what I could do with it. I feel like with social media bullying, it’s constantly happening in front of our faces but no one is saying anything or doing anything about it. And I was like ‘why isn’t anyone saying anything?’ I felt that there was a vacuum in this space. I have grown up in this digital world, I have been on social media for so much of my life, digitally and socially are the things I can relate to and I find comfort in that. I felt it’s an important thing and no one has spoken about it. It may seem like a small issue to people but I think it’s very, very important.
But there are many people who don’t even realise that they’re being bullied on social media…
Yaaa! A lot of people get confused between constructive criticism and bullying. They feel like ‘we’re just giving our opinion or having a debate’. I’m all for debates, raising your voice and having an opinion on social media, but you need to know there’s a way in which you can say things, you can say it nicely. If someone tells that I need to work on my dance, that’s something I can work on, but when someone says that my leg looks like a toothpick, I can’t change that. As teenagers and young kids, we’re figuring ourselves out, we’re going through so many body issues, so much stress and pressure with school and work, I think people need to realise that their words can really hurt and make a difference. They might just say something casually and go on with their lives but it could destroy the day, career and relationships of the people who they are saying it to.
Do you think people should call such bullies out instead of simply ignoring them?
I think it depends on person to person. I am the kind of person who believes in ignorance is bliss. I would choose not to respond, keep working and do my own thing. But with So+, I want to give people the various options that they want- either to block, report or legally take action or take some steps. The full point of my initiative is to not feed into what the bullies are saying, not to hate or hit back because that’s exactly what they want. They want attention, reaction and negativity because that’s what they feed off. I want people to give love back to those haters. They are the ones who need it the most.
Are you also going to try and reach out to the people from the two-tier and three-tier cities?
I am. The main thing is that it’s on social media, I feel like the digital space is the most important where it needs to be put out. But after this I do want to visit schools, colleges and cities, talk to people and hear out their experiences. During these times you just need someone to talk to and need someone to listen. In two-tier cities and different sects of society, if they just need someone to talk to, I’m all ears.
You’ve also spoken about being bullied in school for being ‘so skinny’.
I think body-shaming, in general, is not okay. You are dealing with so many issues. I eat a lot but I can’t put on weight. It’s my metabolism. I don’t think it is fair to judge or comment on someone based on things that are not in their control. I don’t think body-shaming is okay in any way. When it (bullying) used to happen in school, I would go and tell my mom. As teenagers, we tend to keep so much in and feel scared to tell our parents because maybe they won’t understand or they won’t accept it. But it’s very important to talk to someone you trust because keeping it in makes you the negative person and could lead you to become the bully yourself.
How much do the hate comments affect you?
I do look through my comments. I think I am relatively strong and I’ve inherited it from my dad. I don’t get that affected by hate comments. But people are different and some do get affected. There does come a point where, usually I’m unaffected, but some days it does affect me. Like if I took a bad shot on set and when I go in the van and read that ‘you’re a bad actor’ then you start believing it because when you’re so young, you’re formulating all your opinions about yourself based on what you read about you online. It does affect me sometimes but I’m relatively thick-skinned.
If you had to share a story about your life which has changed you, what would that be?
I think just becoming an actor has changed me because at such a young age when you have so much responsibility, and the responsibility of young girls looking up to you and wanting to hear what exactly you’re saying, and copy everything that you do. I feel it is so important for me right now to use my voice correctly and set a good example.
How do you always manage to be so positive?
I really try my best but I think I have learnt this from my dad.
How are you going to manage films and So+?
I think I spend so much time on social media anyway, so if I can just do that responsibly so that my mom can’t even complain because I’m actually doing important things.
So how much time do you spend on social media?
I don’t consciously devote time to social media. I think it’s a bad habit that when I’m not doing anything, I just sit, pick up my phone and I’m on Instagram. I think it’s a really bad habit but I don’t want to sound too preachy. I ‘m not going to be like ‘don’t be on your phone’ because I constantly am.
Are you conscious about the content you post on social media?
No, I’m not conscious at all. In a scary way, I’ve become less conscious. The more the followers are, the less conscious I’m becoming. I feel like people like seeing someone real and they like not having that fake, filtered page. They want to see someone who is just themselves. I don’t think that much. I just post as if it would just be my friends watching. I don’t want to set unrealistic expectations for young girls who are on my page.