NEELAM (7)-1660209251492
Neelam Kothari Soni, Bollywood star of yesteryears and jewellery designer enters the world of interior design Image Credit: Supplied

After a brief hiatus from her mainstream acting career, the multi-faceted actress Neelam Kothari Soni made a comeback with the popular reality show Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives on Netflix during the pandemic. During the same time, she extended her design aesthetic and ventured into the world of interior design joining hands with renowned architect Behzad Kharas to be part of LINK BNK.

Designing is clearly something Neelam holds very close to her heart and if her designs are any indcation, she puts her heart and soul into any project that she works on.

Her first residential project, for instance, took almost two years to finish. A sprawling apartment in One Avighna, a lavish block in one of Mumbai’s upscale neighbourhoods, it is a stylish marriage between luxury and contemporary design. This project will feature in the second season of The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives where Neelam will be introduced as an interior designer.

Designed for a family of three generations, each room at One Avighna reflects the personality of the occupants. ‘This home had to capture the culture and style of three generations of a family,’ says Neelam in an exclusive interview with Friday. ‘The client wanted a home which was modern yet opulent while the younger generation wanted something contemporary and rustic. Managing these contrasting styles was the biggest challenge.’

The way she achieved this was by having ‘some commonality in materials’.

While metal and Art Deco patterns were used in some areas, chandeliers and ceiling wallpapers were included in the master bedroom to create the uber sense of luxury, she says.

The living and dining areas are the highlight of this home, the latter boasting a customized metal screen giving a sense of space and privacy. ‘The apartment overlooks the Arabian Sea on one side and the race course on another. With about 3,800sq.ft and about 1,200 sq.ft of exterior decks and balconies, it has four bedrooms and an additional multipurpose room that could act as a guest bedroom.’

‘We wanted the house to be a melange of contemporary and art nouveau. This is evident from the use of curved lines including arches and arched panels in the living area. Right from the furniture to rugs, they all have a distinct art nouveau pattern with a play of geometry and softened edges. Pastels and some striking bold colours balance the colour palette and bring the space alive.’

Neelam Kothari Soni & Behzad Kharas-1660209243143
Neelam Kothari Soni with renowned architect Behzad Kharas Image Credit: Supplied

Creative calling

Design has always been in Neelam’s blood. If over three decades she delivered over 40 films, many of them superhits, she also simultaneously took up her family’s jewellery business creating her brand ‘Neelam Jewels’.

Now as an interior designer she has honed her skills further and is enjoying her new role in the field of art.

‘My personal taste in jewellery, style, and decor has always been based on the idea that ‘less is more’. I mostly like spaces that are minimalistic but also have a piece that stands out or have a certain element of pop. In the case of interiors, it could be a chandelier, an interesting table, or a fantastic art piece that catches the eye. My personal ethos is to be simple and elegant. If you see from my jewellery to my interior designs creating elegance is something that I look for. However, that said, a home is a reflection of the client and even quirky designs can look elegant.’

Working with local artisans, understanding new products, seeing new styles and design online helps her stay abreast with the trends.

Transition to interiors

Although she made a mark as an actor and jewellery designer, it was a daunting move for Neelam to embark upon the unexplored world of interiors and space design. ‘Behzad and I have known each other for many years and every time I would meet him, he would tell me why you don’t try interior design, it is a lovely space to be in,’ she says recalling her entry intothe world of interior designing.

Initially, she kept ‘avoiding the idea’ but then eventually decided to give it a try with one project and see how it goes. ‘Little did I know that I would end up loving the entire process of designing, watching a space come alive, and putting fabrics and textures together. It was an extremely enriching and fulfilling process.’

While Behzad handles the detailing and technical aspects, Neelam looks after styling and aesthetics. ‘It becomes a great partnership where I have someone strong to fall back on and guide me.’

For Neelam, there wasn’t a set mantra for success and her transition to an entirely new space was born out of passion. ‘You’ve got to be passionate and love whatever you do. Once you take something up you have to give it your hundred per cent.’

Working with glam pals

For those who came in late, Neelam made her debut in Bollywood in 1984 at the age of 16 in Jawaani. When she wasn’t shooting for movies, she used the time to train under her father and became a jewellery designer and a businesswoman.

Over three decades in the jewellery business, she created a niche clientele of industrialists, royal families and A-listers from the film industry. In 2020, when the world came to an uncertain halt due to the pandemic, the first season of Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives streamed online bringing Neelam into people’s living rooms.

‘Season 2 is due for release in September or October 2022 and it is going to be a lot of fun,’ she says. ‘Season 2 is all the more special to me as it captures my journey into interior design with my first project. My personal rapport with Seema [Khan], Maheep [Kapoor], and Bhavana [Pandey] is fantastic because they have been my friends for the last 25 years and I couldn’t have asked more than to be working with them.’

What’s the real-life role she enjoys more – an actor, a jewellery designer, or an interior designer?

‘I enjoy jewellery designing the most because that’s my true calling and passion. Acting is what I love but it can get extremely stressful at times. In the world of interiors I would like to call myself a newcomer. It is challenging and exciting at the same time. Design has always been something I loved and trying this new aspect of design was a journey that challenged and pushed me to creatively grow. But I have had some strong supporters all along.’

Woman of substance

Despite a busy work schedule, Neelam relies on her family and inner circle of friends for support and inspiration. She is married to actor Samir Soni and has a teenage daughter Ahana.

How does she maintain a work-life balance?

‘These are professions that I love and luckily, I have a very supportive family and husband who sort of gives me my space and my time. Juggling between so many things and being a mother is hard, which is also part of the reason I was shying away from getting into interior design. But both Sameer and I try to balance things in a way that one of us is always there with Ahana. I have so many things going on so my plate is always full, but I try to look at it positively and make the most out of my time.’

She makes it clear that being a working mom, wife, mother, and daughter can be challenging. ‘But it’s something I have chosen. I think for a woman to be successful and out there and for her to follow her dreams she should have a partner and family who allows her to do that and have a good support system at home. After which everything sort of falls into place.’

Projects in pipeline

Neelam and Behzad are jointly working ona few projects in India, and hoping to expand shortly in other countries as well.

‘We are about to finish a residence project for a Dubai-based client in Mumbai’s World Towers. Most projects have a universal design language. We help HNIs refine their own ideas and infuse our creativity thereby helping them elevate their lifestyle and way of living,’ she says.

Her on screen life too is getting busy. ‘I have many interesting projects lined up, one of them being a project on Amazon Prime. I can’t disclose the details,’ she says with her signature impish smile.