It’s 7am on a weekday morning in Mumbai and the sun is just about up. With the aircon cranked up to beat the hot, humid air coming in from the sea, Shilpa Shetty Kundra, 39-year-old actor and mother, is shaking off slumber-induced lethargy to jump-start yet another day.
“Every morning I have three slices of ginger, a few leaves of tulsi [holy basil] and a small cube of jaggery [unrefined sugar] with a small glass of tepid water,” she says. “My mother introduced me to this when I was young and I’ve been having it ever since. It’s the perfect pick-me-up as it is not only a great detox but gives me the energy to battle the stresses of a hectic life.” And with an enviable 24-inch waist, in spite of childbirth and age, it obviously works.
But it’s a surprising revelation – mostly because the concoction is not one sold in pretty bottles for thousands of rupees, but is made of cheap ingredients available in every Indian household.
Considering that this woman is worth many millions, thanks to her business-savvy brain, she could’ve easily packed her closet with those pretty bottles or gone under the knife for a nip here and a tuck there.
Instead she’s taken the tough route – healthy diet, some exercise and a positive outlook. “I am a great believer in the power of yoga. To me it is more of a spiritual practice that has helped me stay calm and focused during the several ups and downs in my life. I practise it for an hour every morning before I get involved in the everyday rituals of running a house,” says the star, who first shot to fame starring opposite Shah Rukh Khan in Baazigar in 1993, and then went on to win the celebrity version of UK reality show Big Brother.
Her most recent film, 2014 thriller Dishkiyaoon, which she also produced, starred Harman Baweja and Ayesha Khanna and did average business at the box office. Not that Shilpa’s worried. Yoga and shower over, she has a quick breakfast of oatmeal prepared with water and a dash of milk and sugar – “I eat sugar, can you believe it? I don’t have any sweeteners” – before she races off to drop her two-year-old son Viaan to playschool, a 20-minute drive away from her swanky bungalow in Juhu, the suburb where the galaxy of Bollywood resides.
It’s a routine that Shilpa never breaks – however busy she is. And she’s busy. Apart from being a hands-on mother and wife to Raj Kundra, a successful businessman in his own right, Shilpa is co-owner of a chain of spas called IOSIS, has a share in IPL cricket team Rajasthan Royals, is a brand ambassador for several concepts and is a regular on national television – not just as a judge on talent shows but as a model as well. “There are few people busier than I am,” she claims, “but however hectic life may be, I believe one has to make time for oneself too,” she says. “Health is of prime importance, and staying happy and positive are the right messages you need to send your mind and body.”
There’s more. She is also busy putting the finishing touches to a yet-to-be-titled book on health and fitness. “I’m passionate about being healthy and looking after my body and wanted to share my thoughts and tips about that with the younger generation,” she says. The book is due to be released in September.
Apart from a lot of tried-and-tested recipes and tips to stay healthy, the award-winning actor says she has also included in the book many tips given to her by her mother Sunanda Shetty, a home-maker, “who is in her sixties and glows like a disco light. She is truly my inspiration in many ways”.
“She used to make traditional south Indian food, such as Kori Ghassi (a chicken dish) and Bangude Masala fry (fried mackerel) but the ingredients she used were all healthy and she had a way of making all dishes delicious.”
So, on the cusp of the big 4-o, how does she continue to win the battle against the bulge?
“Well I want to be at my fittest when I’m 50. That for me is a benchmark. Plus, when you have a mother who is as gorgeous as mine, there is a lot of pressure,” she laughs. “But seriously, for me, age is just a number. It’s about how fit and healthy you are and how good you feel about yourself. That’s what’s important.”
Shilpa, who was in Dubai recently to inaugurate the Gehna Jewellery Boutique in Deira, says that career women are not the only ones who should take care of their bodies and stay fit: “Home-makers need to stay healthy too.”
“But I think women forget about themselves once they have children [and let themselves go].”
Shilpa knows that only too well. Having put on 20kg during her pregnancy, she ballooned from a trim 60kg to 80kg. “I looked like a baby elephant,” says the 174cm tall actress. Pregnancy plus a high-fat traditional post-delivery diet that included ghee and full-cream milk, among other things, led to her weight gain.
However, unlike many other celeb mothers, Shilpa did not appear to be in a hurry to shed the kilos. “Losing weight for me was not about fitting into an outfit but about doing the right thing for my health and my baby’s,” she says. For a woman, feeling insecure about her looks post-pregnancy is normal, she continues. “And the pressure is greater for a celeb. But I was comfortable with those extra kilos because I felt my baby’s health is more important.”
However, she admits that the extra kilos were not easy on her. “I could not bend or sit down properly,” she says. “Simple chores were difficult to do.”
But four months later, the star slowly started getting fit – walking and cycling for 20 minutes a day. She also signed up with fitness trainer Vinod Channa – who has trained Bollywood stars such as Riteish Deshmukh, John Abraham and Sohail Khan, among others – and began weight training first for 10 minutes then for close to an hour every day. In 45 days, Shilpa dropped an incredible 18kg. “If I can do it, I’m sure any woman can,” she says.
“Weight gain during pregnancy is a normal process and you must take time to nurse your baby. I’d say that it’s possible to lose nearly 75 per cent of the baby weight just by following a proper diet. But my advice is: aim for that only after four months of having the baby.”
Shilpa, who is back to her pre-pregnancy weight of 60kg, has now created her own perfect diet for six days with one day off. “I stick to this regimen for six days of the week and on the seventh day, which happens to be the Sunday brunch, both Raj and I give in to all our food cravings,” she explains. “From biryani to sweets soaked in sugar syrup, like ras malai and rasgullas, we have it all. A bit of cheating should be allowed, otherwise what’s the point?” she asks. “But I don’t work out and eat right because I want to look good. That is the wrong way to do it. I do it because I want to feel good and cheating once in a while is part of it.”
Another integral part of this ‘feeling good’ regimen is half an hour of ‘me time’. “You have to take that half hour out in a day for yourself even if it means just going out and being with yourself. All you need to do is go for a walk or sit in a place and breathe right.
“That’s the first lesson of staying healthy – learning to breathe right,” she says. Shilpa suggests going for a short walk in the morning and just inhaling and exhaling deeply “from the bottom of your stomach. Do this and you will see the difference it makes to your mind and your body. Every time you exhale, imagine that you’re breathing out all the negativity from within you.” Shilpa does this most days as the perfect way to calm herself. “I live by the sea and very often, I go for a walk on the sand and breathe in deeply. It’s so invigorating.”
So is she going to be acting again any time soon now that she has her body – and mind – in perfect shape? “It hasn’t really crossed my mind,” she says. “I did receive a couple of scripts but I returned them. I don’t even want to be tempted and honestly, I’m so busy with the businesses and being a mother really is a full-time job. So I don’t miss acting that much at the moment. I’m doing my ads and that keeps me busy onscreen.
“Also, I know whenever I do get back [to being an actress], I know I will be good. Meanwhile, my mum and dad have always taught us to celebrate every day, celebrate the moment that we’re in. And honestly, I really like to celebrate myself and my achievements. For me all the rest is immaterial.”
Shilpa’s typical healthy day
After her herbal drink and hour of yoga, she has a quick breakfast of oatmeal and a fresh juice before heading off to drop her son at his school.
From there it’s off to her office to catch up on the various businesses, before heading home to her son’s school to pick him up at 2pm.
“For lunch I have something simple like brown rice with either chicken or fish curry with a vegetable curry or a dal. Yogurt made from skimmed milk is also mandatory.
“In the afternoon, I have a cup of tea. I normally don’t eat too much then but if I am hungry after a workout, I have an omelette or a couple of poached eggs.
“Dinner is with my husband Raj and son Viaan and we have it early – by 7.30 or 8pm. Dinner consists of a soup, salad and either grilled fish, chicken or vegetables. We’re also generally in bed by 11pm.
“I do have one cheat day a week – our Sunday brunches. On that day I eat everything I want to. Raj and I have chicken biryani and all the stuff we crave in the week, including desserts.”
Shilpa’s favourite desserts are the traditional Bengali sweets rasmalai and rasgullas. “Raj will even order a thin-crust pizza in the evening or we make bhajiyas [fritters] at home.
“It’s not like I live a drab life. We’re both epicureans and I suggest everyone should do that – eat all that they desire and crave once a week. But be reasonably strict during the other six days.”
Shilpa’s top 5 diet and well-being tips
1 Drink at least two-and-a-half litres of water a day. Try to drink as much warm water as you can.
2 Breathe right.
3 Stay positive and happy. These things work on your mind and when your mind is happy it automatically produces less cortisol. Most people who are unhappy end up binging and putting on weight. They have a huge problem losing weight. It’s all about mind over body.
4 Make sure you do some cardiovascular exercise to boost your metabolism four times a week – even if it means walking your dog in the evening or going up and down the stairs four or five times in your building.
5 Follow a good, well-balanced meal plan. I never say diet because I feel the word diet triggers too many preconceived notions.