From helping victims of domestic abuse to talking about life, films, and regrets... 35 questions with Somy Ali

1. The biggest myth about Somy Ali is…

That I went to India to become an actress.

2. The biggest myth about ’90s Bollywood is…
That they were an era of mediocre films, which is not true at all. They should watch Anth (lol).

3. The biggest myth about love is…
That it happens at first sight! There is no such thing and one who strongly believes in science rather than emotions knows that ‘love at first sight’ is absolute rubbish. It’s more like ‘lust’ at first sight.

4. The biggest life lesson from a breakup:
The only person you can rely on is yourself and anyone can turn on you in a millisecond. Expect nothing from anyone… not only while in an intimate relationship but in life in general. This will keep you from getting hurt. It’s also important to understand that everyone is out for themselves, there is nothing wrong with that. It’s a world of me first, me always, and I am no different. Life is built on symbiotic relationships.

5. If not an actor, you would be…
Exactly who I am now! A human rights activist.

6. How did you land up in Bollywood? Was it a childhood dream to become an actor?
Nope. To marry my teenage crush!

7. The fondest memory of your initial days in Bombay as a ‘struggling actor’:

I never struggled. In fact, I was laughed at for residing in Sea Rock hotel and having a driver drive me to Kishore Namit’s acting school. In two weeks of my being in India, I was signed for Buland, a film opposite Salman Khan.

8. How did you bag your first film?

Salman saw my portfolio pictures and called me to act as a leading lady opposite him in his home production.

That there are camps and everyone has their own entourage. Also, that the hero has the power to approve or disapprove who he wants as his leading lady.

9. What do you remember from your first day at shoot:
It was a song shot in Goa with Sanju [Sanjay Dutt] “Dil to khoya hai yahin pe kahin pe” and I was terribly nervous, but I recall how comforting and kind Sanju was to me. That really boosted my confidence.

10. One thing about Bollywood that really took you by surprise when you started working here:

That there are camps and everyone has their own entourage. Also, that the hero has the power to approve or disapprove who he wants as his leading lady.

11. Your favourite memory from a film shoot:
Shoots with Mithunda [Mithun Chakraborty] brings nothing but fond memories. He is one the most loving and kind person in addition to Suniel [Shetty] that I was fortunate enough to work with and learn from their wisdom.

12. Your fondest memories of a magazine shoot from the ’90s:
Shooting with Jayesh Sheth [fashion photographer] for some magazine with Bunty [Kumar Gaurav], Chintu ji [Rishi Kapoor] and Urmila [Matondkar] was a whole lot of fun. Chintu ji was always my favourite as we grew up watching him in Pakistan. I loved talking to him about various subjects during our shoot breaks. Not only was he one of the natural actors, but highly intellectual and a great conversationalist.

13. One fashion moment that you wish never to revisit ever!
Ughhhh so many! Pretty much several outfits until Manish Malhotra began styling me.

14. The ’90s had horror stories of casting couch and the likes, have you ever faced any such thing?

Yes, with two directors. This will never go away. It was around back then and is quite prevalent to date.

15. Also, how difficult was it to navigate the misogyny in Bollywood especially since the objectification of heroines was considered ‘normal’ back then?
I was a part of it and too naive to understand or take a stand against it. It is only now after 20 years that I comprehend I was objectified… and unfortunately not much has changed to date.

16. Why did you leave Bollywood?
I was never there to be a part of it, it was complete fluke.

17. Any plans to make a comeback in movies?

No.

18. What was the starting point of No More Tears [NMT], your NGO that helps victims of human trafficking and domestic violence?
In 2006, after I was done with my education, I was contemplating of starting an NGO, and then one day a woman who lived five houses down from me knocked on my door desperately seeking help due to being stuck in a ten-year-long abusive relationship. So, the mission laterally knocked on my door.

19. Lockdown can be a terrible time for victims of domestic abuse…what can one do to help?
Do NOT mind your own business. In fact, intervene, interject and take a stand if you suspect someone is being abused. Above all, begin a dialogue about domestic violence within your friend circle and family members. Break the stigma so that the victims are not ashamed of seeking help. Strike up a conversation on child abuse and rape. More than women, men should be striking up these conversations.

I never struggled. In fact, I was laughed at for residing in Sea Rock hotel and having a driver drive me to Kishore Namit’s acting school. In two weeks of my being in India, I was signed for Buland, a film opposite Salman.

20. The biggest myth about domestic violence:
That it only impacts certain ethnicities, cultures, and the biggest stereotype that it only happens in low income and uneducated families.

21. Have you ever had any personal experience of physical or emotional abuse?
Yes, from the age of 17 to 24 I was a victim of domestic violence — verbal, sexual and emotional, and this is why I gave birth to No More Tears.

22. Three Bollywood movies you have watched in recent times that you wish you were a part of:
The Lunch Box, Thappad and Pagglait.

23. Your favourite ’90s Bollywood song that you can still groove to:
Chand se Parda kijiye, my song!

24. Favourite lockdown activity:

When I am not working, I enjoy watching documentaries or old Hindi films like Angoor (1982) or Chupke Chupke (1975).

25. Three new actors you absolutely admire:
Taapsee Pannu, Sanya Malhotra and Alia Bhatt. All very natural and excellent at their craft. And Adarsh Gourav among the men. I don’t know many new male actors.

26. The most filmy thing you have done in real life:
Rescued victims.

27. One incident that you consider a turning point in your life:
Leaving Mumbai.

28. The most bizarre rumour you have heard/read about yourself so far:

That I am secretly married and a kid!

29. The last time you have watched one of your movies, and your reaction to it:

It was two years ago when I decided to watch Chup, where I worked with Om ji, and I found it ironic that on my way out, I was actually not as bad as I always thought myself to be.

30. Are the 40s the new 20s? Would you call this the best phase of your life?

No. I do not believe 40s are the new 20s. In fact, whoever came up with that was obviously going through a major midlife crisis! For me, 40s is definitely the best phase of my life as I am so much wiser than I was in my 20s. I still trust people easily and that part of me unfortunately, I can’t change no matter how hard I try, but the good thing is that I have learned to get rid of them as quickly once I know their true intentions.

Falling in love with a character without knowing the actual human being and sharing all personal things with people I assumed to be good-hearted trustworthy people.

31. If you were to join Bollywood today, what would you do differently?

I would never even entertain that thought.

32. Best thing about being a celebrity before the social media revolution and the worst:
I actually wish there was social media during my time in India, at least I would have factual evidence to all that I endured.

33. Your biggest regret so far?
Falling in love with a character without knowing the actual human being and sharing all personal things with people I assumed to be good-hearted trustworthy people.

34. Three things you want to do before you turn 50:
Publish my memoir, see Taj Mahal, and save 100,000 lives through NMT. We have saved 32,000 lives thus far.

35. How do you react to the tag that is still used for you… 'Salman Khan’s ex-girlfriend’? Do you think that relationship limited and defined your identity in Bollywood?

It makes me sick to still have that affiliation. I have worked my butt off with NMT, but it’s unfortunate that not only the masses, but even the educated can’t see past my association with him. I am happy to see progress in my country. With the likes of Kevin Spacey, Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein, and Bill Cosby being held accountable, I am hopeful that the same will happen in South Asia soon.

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