Mother’s Day special: Madhu Sapre’s fairy-tale life in Italy

  • Supriya Sharma
  • Updated: May 10, 2016 01:59 IST
Selfies & more from Italy: Madhu and her daughter, Indira, at the beach in Riccione, Italy

Madhu Sapre is going to be very busy this week. She has to finalise a theme for a beach party (“Disney’s Frozen is quite popular, but I’m thinking maybe The Jungle Book?”), arrange decorations and props accordingly, decide on the cake, fix the menu (candyfloss and popcorn are musts, she’s been told) and make sure everything is perfect. Her daughter, Indira, turns four on May 10 and nothing less than the best will do.

“I am getting all her friends together for the party,” says Sapre, 44, her voice rising in excitement. “I’m hoping it is sunny on Tuesday and the kids can play on the beach.”

‘‘Indira speaks gibberish with a twang and pretends she is speaking Marathi. She does that in front of other kids to show she knows another language’’ (Roberto Ferri)

Sapre, one of India’s first supermodels and Miss India (1992), also represented India at the Miss Universe pageant (1992) where she was the 2nd runner-up. Today, she lives with her husband, Italian businessman Gian Maria Emendatori, and daughter, Indira, in Riccione, a small town on the east coast of Italy.

She met Emendatori through mutual friends while he was in India on a holiday. They got married in 2001, after which she moved to Riccione.

“It is a beautiful beach town with a population of about 30,000 – predominantly Italian,” says Sapre. “It has taken me all these years to make friends in the community and for them to get to know me.” Given the hectic life she had led in Mumbai, the change certainly was huge.

While she continued doing fashion shows and shoots off and on and even made her Bollywood debut with Kaizad Gustad’s eminently forgettable Boom (2003), Sapre took on the challenges of her new life with the enthusiasm of a military recruit.

In Italy, speak as the Italians do

“Like Indians, Italians love to talk,” says Sapre, who bought a copy of Learn Italian in Three Months to prepare for her new life. “And they talk fast. For days, weeks and months, I used to just watch people talk at lunches and dinners, not understanding a thing,” she says.

Her language queries were addressed to Emendatori and later Sapre went to her husband’s schoolteacher to clarify her doubts. “I can say confidently that I now speak Italian very well,” says the multi-lingual Maharastrian, who can also speak Hindi, a little Sanskrit and English. She taught herself English by reading classics and listening to the news after she became a model because “I couldn’t speak English and everyone made fun of my accent”.

Today, a mix of Italian and English is spoken at home. Indira, says Sapre, has heard her converse in Marathi with her mother during their visits to India, but she only understands some words. “Sometimes Indira speaks gibberish with a twang and pretends she is speaking Marathi,” laughs Sapre. “She does that in front of other kids to show she knows another language. So now I have to start teaching her Marathi seriously.”

‘‘As a parent, it’s important to discipline kids without breaking their spirit’’ (Roberto Ferri)

It’s a Girl

It was around 2005, Sapre says, that she started thinking of starting a family. It took six years for her to conceive. “We thought we wouldn’t be able to have a child, though we hadn’t found a reason why I wasn’t getting pregnant.”

Sapre is a stay-at-home parent by choice. Her husband travels a lot for work and she “didn’t want Indira to grow up with a nanny”. At times, she wishes her daughter could have a sibling. “If I could help it, I would have a house full of kids,” she says.

Sapre has managed to achieve what most parents can only dream of – to get her kid to eat everything. “I never ran after her to make her eat,” Sapre says. She credits this to making her kid follow a routine. “She has play time, sleep time, eating time, and knows what to expect from her day.”

Her parenting philosophy is to let the child be her own person. “At times, she tears pages from books and I let her do that. It is important to discipline children without breaking their spirit. I don’t want my child to be what I want her to be. I want her to be the best she is.”

Most importantly, Sapre wants Indira to have a simple upbringing like her own, which, she believes, helped her stay grounded as a supermodel. “I was close to my parents. I want her to have that.”

Madhu with her husband, Gian Maria Emendatori, and daughter on a holiday to St Moritz, Switzerland

La Bella Vita

Given their love for food, wine and a good laugh, Italians are like Punjabis, says Sapre. “They love life. My husband and his family have a vineyard apart from their gelato business. We throw parties every now and then. Thanks to them, I’ve learnt to appreciate good food.”

She has also become quite a pro in the kitchen. “I can cook all Italian sauces and some dishes,” Sapre says. “I got recipes from my mom-in-law and my husband’s grandmother.” Her in-laws in turn have developed a taste for Indian food. “My father-in-law and sister-in-law love chicken curry and keema.”

The family celebrating Indira’s third birthday in Hong Kong in May 2015

There is hardly any traffic in Riccione. It is a tourist hub in the summer, but even then the population grows to just over a lakh. When Sapre wakes up in the morning to make coffee for herself and ready Indira for school, she can see the sea from the balcony of her bedroom. But she says she still misses Mumbai. “I watched The Lunchbox yesterday, and I started crying,” she says. “The dabbawallas and the train rides... I was raised in Andheri and travelled in trains, ate street food. I miss all that. It is squeaky clean here, but when I visit Bombay, I make it a point to go eat vada pao and pani puri,” she says.

Shooting for the Brunch cover has made her all nostalgic, says Sapre. Does she miss the camera? Would she like to return to the life she left behind? “If I get a good opportunity, why not?” says Sapre. “You only live once.”

From HT Brunch, May 8, 2016

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