HT Brunch Cover Story: Two times a family
Actor Arjun Rampal & his partner Gabriella Demetriades, on the unconventional dynamics and unadulterated love across all parts of their modern Indian family
Does love feel different a second time around? Is one wiser and readier for the ramifications of “the fall”? Or can one get into a partnership with the same unpreparedness with which one “fell into it” the first time?
These questions run through my mind as I prepare to interview India’s best-looking man, Arjun Rampal, and his stunning partner of four-and-a-half years, Gabriella Demetriades.
Arjun, 49, was previously married to former supermodel and wedding planner, Mehr Jesia; they have two daughters, Mahikaa, 20 and Myra, 17. An actor for almost two decades now, Arjun has given some memorable performances, and the praise seems to have amplified for his recent outings on OTT. But nothing quite matches the focus on his looks, so one wonders whether resembling a Greek God is always a blessing, or can sometimes be a bane.
His girlfriend, Gabriella, 35, comes from South Africa and is an established stylist and fashion designer, whose brand Deme by Gabriella has been seen on celebrities like Kareena Kapoor and Malaika Arora.
The two are parents to a bonny three-year-old boy called Arik. This is their first interview together, so the nervous excitement is palpable.
“Arjun’s right on track with his body,” Gabriella tells us as we try to break the ice before the interview. We’re discussing Arjun’s fittest-looking magazine cover for Men’s Heath India, a magazine I had edited. “He’s 80 per cent like he was in that picture already.”
“Yeah,” Arjun agrees, then teases his other half: “I saw some pictures of you too, babe. When are you getting there?”
Gabriella laughs in embarrassment, then regains her composure and says, “As you can see, we have competition at home. It’s ‘Who gets their 2000s bodies back first!’”
A foodie love story
Arjun and Gabriella: tell us about your love story. How did you meet? When did you know you were in love?
“Let’s just say it wasn’t love at first sight,” says Gabriella. “We don’t really have a crazy romantic story. Ours is just a very organic sort of friendship, and that is what it is right now, too.”
How long have you known Gabriella, Arjun? “I have known Gabriella from the time she moved to India [over a decade ago], but we were acquaintances at best,” the reticent Mr Rampal responds. “We had several friends in common and met at parties mostly. We started hanging out much later, and that’s when I realised that she is really cool, and that she is a wonderful cook, and I thought, man, this is something I really need in my life right now.”
Turns out, Gabriella found her way to Arjun’s heart through his six-pack abs. She laughs as she recalls the day. “I had cooked a very, very basic leg of lamb and some Greek pizza bread. It was a very traditional meal, the kind one would cook at home. But somehow, he was blown away, thinking I was a Michelin star chef.”
Gabby (as we now call her) continues her revelations: “Arjun is a big, big foodie. I think it takes a lot of discipline for him to look the way he does, because if it was up to just the two of us, we would be eating great meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Maybe the working out part comes naturally to us as well, but we definitely have to watch what we eat!”
Second time lucky
Arjun, tell us what it feels like falling in love again, we ask.
“It’s always nice to know that you can [still] fall in love. You know what I mean?” Arjun pontificates. “Also, you can’t really control who you love, right? That’s why you call it falling in love. You just fall, and something magical happens and makes you feel alive again. I think that’s how I felt.
“Gabriella is a very easy person and we have a lot of common interests: our love for the outdoors, we both enjoy working out, travelling, we both love food. She’s a reader and I like to read as well. So a lot of things fell into place for of us.”
And Gabriella, how easy or difficult is it accepting a partner with two grown -up daughters?
The designer thinks before she answers. “He made that process very easy, as did the nature of his daughters,” she says. “They are both very well-brought-up and accepted me with arms wide open. I knew that they already have their parents and that I was coming in as a third party, so I needed to make sure that I didn’t do anything that was not in my space to do.”
“Today, Gabriella is more like an elder sister to the girls,” Arjun chips in.
Gabriella continues: “Mahikaa, Myra and I just became great buddies. It’s all been very natural. Luckily, there was no tension at all.”
You know, Gabby, Mahikaa and Myra have beat you to being on the cover of HT Brunch with Arjun, we say.
“I remember that cover,” says Gabriella. “Arjun and I had just started seeing each other then; it was about four years ago. I remember him going for the shoot with them, and the girls were so excited. And I’m amazed to see how they’ve blossomed since then. Mahikaa is all set to walk down the fashion week runway soon. It’s beautiful to see them become themselves.”
The little prince
Conversation now turns to their three-year-old son, Arik. “I think Arik is the most special gift our family has ever received,” says Arjun. “He binds everything together. Arik is such a special boy, and I’m not saying that because he is my child. There is something very sacred and blessed about him.”
Gabriella nods: “He has got a really sweet kind of nature. he brings it on light and easy.”
“And he’s got a terrific personality,” Arjun adds.
Is Arjun a different father to Arik than he was to Mahikaa and Myra? “You’ll have to ask the girls,” says Arjun. “But I think I’m similar in many ways because as I see Arik growing up, I suddenly have flashes of Mahikaa and Myra in him. The experience is different because I was very young when I had the girls. Also, as soon as Arik was born, we went into lockdown, which allowed me to spend a tremendous amount of time with him. I may have changed Mahikaa and Myra’s nappies, but not on a regular basis. This time, I really enjoyed doing it.”
Mahikaa and Myra adore Arik, Arjun tells us. “The three of them have such a great relationship. It’s always Mahu didi and Myru didi for Arik, non-stop!”
Does this give Arjun a sense of relief?
“I don’t feel relief,” says Arjun, choosing his words carefully. “I feel blessed that something like this can happen. Initially, it is a bit awkward. You never thought you’d be in a situation like this so you don’t know how you’ll deal with it. But, like Gabriella said, you realise what good upbringing really is. Love stands for unconditional understanding, and my daughters showed me that. And I’m glad Mehr allowed that to happen.”
Talk shifts from the personal to the professional and Arjun says he’s enjoying the praise his OTT outings are getting him. “It’s a fantastic time to be an actor because there is so much opportunity to explore. The millennial audiences have a different concept of what they want to watch. Therefore, the stuff that’s being written, stories of our own from India which a lot of people are now bringing out in a more contemporary manner, or revisiting on a larger scale, all that is beginning to happen.”
On her part, Gabriella is thankful for the acceptance she has received. “We launched our first capsule of Indian wear in February, and it did really well. I’m so glad the country has accepted me and my brand. We have our swimwear launched already and are looking at an athleisure collection soon.”
Given that Arjun has had such an insight into the fashion industry, how much does he help, we ask. “Arjun has a great eye, and is interested without being overbearing,” says Gabriella. “He’ll give me great feedback when I need it, and not say anything when I don’t need to hear it.”
Is it a challenge or an advantage being partnered with a famous guy like Arjun? “I don’t think it’s either,” says Gabriella. “My brand was already eight years old when Arjun and I got together. Of course, some of his fans may have started following my work because of him. But no one has told me that we’re buying your clothes because we are Arjun Rampal fans!”
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From HT Brunch, September 17, 2022
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