Once famous for her debut in Mahesh Bhatt’s film, Anu Aggarwal vanished from Bollywood for over 15 years. She has now returned to the city after a near-death experience and is putting the two lives that she has lived, all together in a book…
‘Two things that came out of Aashiqui — the music and Anu Aggarwal’
Officially, I came back to life two months ago. There is something that woke me up and I thought to myself, ‘Hey... I need to communicate.’ I thank all those people who have seen me through this near death experience, as I call my accident, which happened in 1999.
It was not just the movie (Aashiqui, 1990), which was a blockbuster. Only two things came out of the film: the film’s music and Anu Aggarwal. I’m thankful for all the adulation. It’s overwhelming.
‘Life was blank’
I don’t remember what happened in 1999 actually. I have developed a complete block on what actually happened. I don’t have a memory. I’m sure it’s there somewhere, resting in some latent part of my brain. I was driving a car... and I crashed it. I had each and every limb, bone and joint broken in my body. I don’t know whether there was someone else in the car, but I believe there was. I have to go by hearsay, which is not something I particularly want to believe. Beyond that everything is a blank.
‘My life started the day I woke up from the coma’
I was comatose for 29 days. My life started from the day I woke up half paralysed, which is when I didn’t even know what the meaning of paralysis was. I existed outside my body. I had many, so called, spiritually amazing experiences throughout that time. And I saw the other side, where death is finality and mortality, normal... where the death angel rules.
‘I cat walked around the hospital half paralysed’
It began with a doctor at the Breach Candy hospital, who was looking after me in the ICU. He saw the condition I was in. He said nine out of ten people who came to that hospital like that, didn’t make it through.
After three years, these same doctors saw me trying to catwalk around Breach Candy hospital when my face was entirely paralysed and twisted to one side. All the doctors would just stare at me in wonderment over how I was trying to walk even when my feet were not moving.
‘I didn’t know Anu Aggarwal, I am not Anu Aggarwal’
I didn’t know the meaning of words and languages when I woke up... I didn’t know English; though it came to me faster than Hindi did. I had lost everything. It was like landing up on another planet altogether. I had no knowledge of history, geography or culture. I remembered nothing; there was complete loss of memory. I didn’t know Anu Aggarwal. I’m not Anu Aggarwal. What does she look like?
‘Boyfriends, drugs and rock and roll’
My book is biographical. I wouldn’t say it’s a biographical essay. It’s basically this life of mine, which began in 1999. So it could have certain memories from my childhood, a certain time of me as a film star, boyfriends, drugs and rock and roll…. It has glimpses. It’s really just a story.
The other life is, I wouldn’t say imagined, but it is Anu’s character. She tells me what is happening in her life. She’s another character in the book. It’s got prose, poetry, pictures, paintings, diaries and lots more.
‘I’m not here, I don’t exist’
I disappeared from Bollywood much before the accident. Then I decided to say no to all publications, interviews and everything that came with it. I’m not here! I do not exist. That was in 1993.
In 1994, I completed all the films I had. In 1995 I started my travel overseas, and then I disappeared. In 1997, I went into Yoga. I liked that life, that discipline and that anonymity. Which really means no ambition, no greed, no dishonesty and no hate.
‘Bollywood opened its bathrobe for me’
With movies and the little status I had in that industry, I think its universe had opened its bathrobe for me. I saw everything that there really is to see. I could have chosen to be a star forever, expected some films to do as well as Aashiqui did, which is a normal thing with movie stars. Or I could leave.
I know people who joined Bollywood when I was around, I don’t want to name anybody, but they’re still there. It’s been 16 years. I’m so glad I can walk the road today. That’s one reason why I didn’t want to talk. It took me a long time to build this freedom, and it was tough... really really tough.
‘Mahesh Bhatt pressurised me into doing Aashiqui’
Movies were never a dream. Being a star was never a dream. Mahesh Bhatt looked at me and said, “You are a star,” and I said, “Where? In the galaxy?” And he said, “You should act in movies.” And I said, “Movies? What Hindi movies? I don’t even watch them.”
Seven months later he called me and said, I’ve written a script for you. I said, “Me? You don’t even know me, what have you written.” And he said, “If you don’t do it, I won’t make it. The name of the film is Aashiqui.”
‘So life just happened to me, I didn’t make it happen’
I was here on a holiday and suddenly the talent scout guy saw me at Churchgate station. That’s how my first modelling job happened. Then acting happened. So life just happened to me, I didn’t make it happen.
I have learnt that you have to let life happen to you and never oppose it. That’s the greatest, most peace-giving realisation. People think they make their lives…. They don’t do anything.
‘People went crazy — girls, boys, young people, older people, gays... everybody’
There were people outside my doorstep all the time (after Aashiqui); I walked out to notes saying, “Anu, I love you.” There were always pieces of paper in the corridors. People went crazy — girls, boys, young people, older people, gay people... everybody.
For me, who wasn’t ever here for that, I was not looking forward to all this. I wanted to do social work. I studied social work. I was working with the UN, that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
‘I was the girl who smoked Marlboro lights in public, wore skirts and was blatantly honest’
Those were sleazy times in the film industry. There were the paan chewing and spitting, gold-chains-tinkling-all-over-the-place guys. A friend once told me that I was around during the revolution. She told me that I came at the exact time when the change was just about to happen. Apparently I even made it happen. She said, “You were the only girl who wore short skirts, smoked Marlboro lights in public, never had anyone in the industry to back her, was completely intellectual and blatantly honest.”
You don’t know what happened to me because of that honesty. A magazine once took one line out of a long interview and made it headlines. It was some statement I made about not being a virgin. Today if they ask me, I will say I am a virgin. After the accident it took me years to understand what sex was, to even realise that I was a woman. So, yeah... if at 22 I made a statement saying I’m not a virgin, at 39 I can say, I am a virgin.
‘I feel 11 years old today’
I am not in touch with anyone from the industry or any of my older friends. I think I am a lot younger now, though mentally I’ve gained the wisdom of sages, but I feel eleven years old today.
I am also considering publishers who are interested in the book. I want it to be marketed well. There are different publishers from Australia, New York, UK, so I have to figure out things. On the other hand, I am doing whatever little I can, with the knowledge that I have acquired over the last few years, healing work... I have also started counselling. Life is really amazing; it’s more than I would have ever expected.
‘Name anyone in the industry at that point who was exciting’
I never had boyfriends in the movie business. No one excited me. Name any one person in my time that was exciting? After I became a huge success, there was no one to match what I had achieved; it became very hard for me to relate to men my age. And yes, it did get lonely. You’re given these labels like... sexy... bohemian... swings both ways... things like that.
There was a lot of misrepresentation. If I found a man in my life, I would have gotten married, I didn’t. I’m single. It’s lovely.
‘Excessive fame and the mother f****r’ is a chapter in my book’
I am not bitter. Life was wonderful. But other things that were not so wonderful happened... stalkers. It wasn’t showbiz, it was stardom. ‘Excessive fame and the mother f****r’ is a chapter in my book.
All kinds of strange energies start coming to you. I was a single girl handling everything alone. I was tired. Then at 2 am in the morning, people would call me and say, I am watching you, I am in the building next to you… I’m coming over to see you... I love you. And they would send dirty mails.
— Transcribed by Serena Menon