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December 11, 2020

| 6 min read

Behind the Scenes with Shivani Bafna

Behind the Scenes with Shivani Bafna

What is your earliest memory of Bollywood?

I think it was when "Kaho Na Pyaar Hai" was released, that was the first Bollywood movie I watched. I remember just seeing Hritik Roshan dancing to "Ek Pal Ka Jeena" and standing in front of the TV and trying to mimic those same dance moves. After dinner, I would go up and change into my salwar suit and come back down and my parents would play music. I always made sure there's a camera recording me. So, I have so many childhood memories of just dancing to Bollywood music. But yeah, I think "Kaho Na Pyaar Hai" was the first distinct Bollywood memory I have.

From dancing to “Ek pal ka jeena” to now being a Bollywood host, Can you briefly recap your journey?

I always struggle with unpacking the story, because it's so layered. The brief story is I was born and raised in the US, and I'm a second-generation India-American. I always thought I wanted to go into the sciences and become a doctor, but I always had a passion for Bollywood. I used to follow all the Bollywood gossip, watch all the movies, I learned all the songs but I never thought that it was a career that I could actually pursue. I just thought that this was something from your dreams. Then I stumbled upon an internship at MissMalini when I was 18, which is a huge entertainment portal. After interning there, it kind of opened my eyes that there is a world beyond these conventional career paths of science, business, engineering, and lawyers. I think it just came down to a lack of exposure. And over time, I had a bunch of different internships and work experiences. And I'd be in the US, I'd still be working for companies in India and trying to grow my network. Ultimately, I ended up taking this huge plunge. And I moved to Bombay when I was 22, in 2018. And I pursued this career full time. It was just an incredible journey with so many highs and so many lows. I'm just so grateful for the experiences that I've had.

A preconceived notion everyone has about the modeling industry is that people don't get paid. What would you say about these notions?

I think it's wrong to defame an entire industry. So, I wouldn't say that every single agency or everyone in this industry is corrupt and unethical. That wouldn't be fair. But I do think there's a lot that happens behind the scenes, that isn't as glamorous as one as an 8-year-old or 10-year-old Shivani would see on screen. I think there’s a lot of politics, there's a lot of things that happen behind the scenes that aren't as picturesque or as fair or as equitable. But, I think that's where these conversations are important. I think it is necessary to highlight a lot of the stuff that happens behind the scenes because otherwise it never comes to light. I don't think that every single person in the industry is like this, but 100% I think my experience was telling of the fact that it's not always unicorns and roses.

What has the response been to your video? Have people reached out saying that they've had a similar experience?

I have been so fortunate that I've gotten an outpour of love of support, and I don't think I've got any negative feedback, which I was very pleasantly surprised by. I think, I always assumed people just want to see the nice, fun Bollywood stuff. But the fact that this kind of video got the response it did was extremely encouraging for me. I guess your other part of the question was, “What was the feedback like, and what did it take to release it?”, In terms of what it took to release it, I think it's easier said than done. I was able to release this video because I'd come back to the US. There are so many models that reached out to me, saying we're still in the same situation. But, if we were to speak out about it, like, we would definitely not get our payment, and it would impact our career trajectory. I really don't know if I would ever have the motivation or the strength to come out and film this because it was something that was way in the past, I really didn't want to talk about it, because I didn't know what the ramifications would be. So it's always not as easy for people in this industry when they're in this space to talk about it. I was able to because I was back here in the US.

How crucial has your network been when it comes to the modeling industry? Would you have any tips for people who are starting out in the industry?

I think mingling at parties till 3 am is so over glamorized in this space. I believe that networking is important, but I personally value real conversations, and people being able to appreciate you based on your work. So, in the early stages of your career, it's hard to consistently put yourself out there. I think showing up with pure intentions is important. People are so quick to sniff out someone's intention. When you see someone that's trying to do it for all the wrong reasons, I think people are really quick to pick up on that. I think it's important to hold your ground when you're talking to people and not come off like you have no idea what you're doing. I don't think you need to pretend to be someone that you're not when it comes down to networking, I think people invest in people that are doing good work that is communicating it well and just bring overall positive energy to the room. So, in the modeling space, I do think it's your work that speaks louder than your network.

Would you say networking is the same for Bollywood and modeling or do you think that there is a big differentiator?

I think Bollywood is still connection based. That will remain when you are able to hedge your bets on the thought that you are competing in the world against star kids, and then dating “X” people in the industry. If you want to be the side best friend, if you want to be the supporting cast role, it's possible. But you have to be really dedicated, at least 10 years, if you want the main Bollywood hero role. I think that was something that a lot of people came to Bombay dreaming about. And then after two years, five years, it changes. I think it's the people that really persevere and stick around and are dedicated to their craft post six or seven years, they then end up getting to their final goal. I think it depends on what your goal is in Bollywood, and what you're willing to do, or how many years you're willing to devote to it to get to the top level.

If you were to define Shivani Bafna as the brand, what would you say?

Shivani Bafna, the brand is synonymous with Shivani Bafna, the person at this point in time. It's my diary, navigating my personal and professional lives with a mix of Bollywood, fashion, lifestyle, mentorship, but overarchingly, I strive to encourage my community to take risks, pursue their passions, and live life with authenticity. I don't think it's a community where we only talk about one thing or there's only one facet of your life. I think it's multi-pronged, we all have so many different passions, we are all multifaceted. And, I think that's what I strive to talk about, that's what I celebrate, and that's what I hopefully encourage my community to do.

If you were to attribute some personal qualities or even professional qualities that you hold, What would those be?

In terms of qualities and attributes, I think there are a lot of smart and talented people. But, I truly believe it's the energy and communication you bring to a room that people ultimately believe in and invest in. I'm not the smartest person in the room, I might not know how to do a certain Excel function or create x formula, but I know I have the ability to communicate my thoughts. I think people believe in people more so than the actual technicalities. So I'd like to think it feels weird to boast about yourself but I think those are qualities that I value. It has definitely helped me in my journey.

Do you think there's a difference between your two personalities: on-screen & off-screen? Which one do you like more?

Honestly, there probably should be a bigger difference. But, as much as I share on camera, there's a lot that I don't share, because I do want to keep some things or some moments for just me. If I'd had to think, I think off screen Shivani is a little bit more emotional, probably more vulnerable, but also my parents and brother would say I'm much more argumentative and much more heated. Maybe that's not a side that you see on screen. I always share my perspectives and give my opinion, even when I'm not asked I give my unsolicited opinion. I love who I am, I love my off-screen Shivani. I think the most important relationship you have in this world is the one you have with yourself. Behind the camera, if you're not able to look in the mirror and be happy with what you see and be able to go to sleep at night knowing that, you're a good person, life becomes a lot more challenging. Though I don't think there's a big difference between on-screen and off-screen Shivani, Offscreen Shivani is 100 times more important.

What kind of an impact or influence are you trying to create right now?

It's silly for all of us to be pretending that we have these grand plans figured out because I think everyone is taking it day by day and figuring out what tomorrow's even gonna look like. The kind of impact that I want to have is, I want to continue paving a path that thousands of people can follow. A big inspiration for me has been knowing the fact that no single person I know has done what I want to do, or has walked this path that I want to pave. I don't have all the answers, I don't know in six months what I'm going to be working on or what the next project is. Nor does anyone if anyone tells you that they know they're lying. No one really knows. I hope I continue to pave that path. And I hope I continue to inspire people to take risks, to pursue their passions, and to step outside of their comfort zones.

If you could be the brand ambassador for a lifetime for one brand. Which one would it be?

It would have to be something food-related, because food makes me the happiest. I'm thinking I would love to be the brand ambassador for Chipotle, so I'd get a free chipotle burrito bowl, or maybe Boba -bubble tea.

Which is your favourite Bollywood film?

The cliched answer, "Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham", because I think it has all the facets from family to romance to culture to drama to everything. I also really enjoy the movie “Hum Tum”. That was the first movie that Shyam and I saw. I think it is a really cool film where you get to see a lot of phases of Rani and Saif's life and I love the romantic comedy aspect of it as well.I think there are a lot of Bollywood movies. If I started to derail your rapid-fire, I'd say "Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani" and "Dil Chahta Hai" are also nice.

If you were to do one of these things going forward would you like to be a host, an actor, or a model?

That's such a difficult answer. Can I say, a combination of all three? In any industry in which I continuously feel like I'm learning and I'm growing! I think the moment you reach saturation, that's the point where I need to pivot. So right now, I've been enjoying hosting, I like bringing people together. I like hearing people's stories. I like learning from their stories. So, maybe that's what I'd like to be tomorrow, but ask me in a week, and you'll get a different answer.

Who's your biggest critic?

The biggest critic would be my mom or Shyam. For example, This is a fun fact. I posted this “Chedkhaniyaan” video on my YouTube channel. My dad, mom, and Shyam were like what is this? “This is not good. How did you even pick that?” So if the contents are not good or if there's something that I've said they're like "yeh kya bol rahi hai?", they will say this to my face.

What is the one thing that current global reality has taught you?

To go with the flow to not overly take ourselves so seriously, we are a little speck of dust in this entire universe and there's no point making us ourselves to be anything bigger than that.

To catch the full candid podcast tune into Uninterrupted by clicking here!

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