“My actors went on a strike against me. I was quite strict and hadn’t announced lunch break,” giggles young director Divya Khosla Kumar recalling an incident on the sets of her debut film, 2013’s youth flick Yaariyan. Looking at the petite model-actress-turned-director’s demure persona it’s hard to imagine her as the whip-cracking filmmaker but looks can be deceptive. Beneath the ‘little girl’ demeanour lies an earnest young woman, eager to carve an identity of her own, away from her husband’s shadow. Quite a challenging task considering she is married to one of the industry’s most powerful men, T-Series owner Bhushan Kumar. But Divya is anything but the ‘typical’ Bollywood star wife.
Take a look at her career trajectory. She started off as a model, working with none other than Salman Khan in a music video. A film with Amitabh Bachchan and Ajay Devgn (Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Sathiyon) followed and then came the big jump into matrimony. She could have been one of the many industry wives, leading the jet-setting lifestyle but instead, Divya chose the harder way out – first educating herself in cinematography, editing and other skills and then directing music videos and finally a feature film. Yaariyan was a surprise hit but if you thought it was easy to convince her husband Bhushan to bankroll the project, think again. As she says, she had to work hard and prove her worth. Divya certainly bust certain myths we had about Bollywood wives when we met her recently. We were as surprised by her candour as we were impressed by her drive and warmth. Read on…
So what made you decide to walk the ramp in Dubai?
I think there is a fashionista in every woman, isn’t it? Dressing up is so much fun. Of course it doesn’t define who you are but there is a definite bond between women and clothes. I walk the ramp occasionally as I did for India International Jewellery Week recently. So when I got this opportunity, I decided to give it a shot.
Do you miss modelling?
Not at all. I have grown so much over the years! If you modelled every day, life would be so monotonous and stagnant. I enjoyed modelling but got bored in a couple of years. I moved to Mumbai at 20 without knowing a soul in the city. But gradually I did TV commercials, a movie and music videos before getting married. Yet, I didn’t want to stop learning.
You started off with a music video with Salman Khan. What memories do you have of that shoot?
I remember it vividly. Vaibhavi Merchant approached me for the video; the shoot was spread over two days. I think it was the only video Salman acted in. I formed a bond with Salman even then which I maintain to this day. He has a great relationship with T-Series too. He even promoted Yaariyan on Bigg Boss and tweeted about the promo.
Why did you give up your acting career? For marriage?
When I debuted in 2004, the industry wasn’t so open to outsiders. I wanted to struggle and carve a niche for myself but in the right way, keeping my morals intact (laughs).
You are married to one of the most powerful names in Bollywood, yet you are not a part of the star wives club. Was it a conscious decision to not be the typical Bollywood wife?
Yes, I think it would have been a very boring life if I just attended lunches, gossiped about who’s going around with who and then spread that gossip around! Some women enjoy it, but it’s not for me. I have never even joined a kitty group, I know I would not fit in. You require a different mind-set for all that. Thankfully my time is consumed by my work and my son.
What is it like being married to Bhushan Kumar? Was that challenging in your path to be a director?
I believe people try to pull down every successful person, especially if it’s a woman. People really need to grow up and see me working! Yaariyan was a hit but they believe my husband is rich toh aise hi hua hoga. But I got this film after eight years of my marriage, after directing 20 music videos (including that of my sister-in-law Tulsi Kumar). He wouldn’t want the banner started by his father (the late Gulshan Kumar) to go down because of the reckless behaviour of his wife, would he? Only after he was convinced that I would do justice to the project did he greenlight it. He was in the shoes of a producer as well as a husband.
So who won – the producer or the husband?
On the sets we weren’t playing husband-wife at all, we just shared a producer-director relationship (laughs).
Is he a generous producer?
No! I was given Rs 11 crore to make the film but I completed it within Rs 10 crore. It was perhaps the only T-Series film that got made without a single goof-up on the sets (laughs). I am now helming my next project, about human relationships.
What if you have a good story but Bhushan refuses to produces it?
Well, I have been approached by other banners. But I said no to them (smiles).
But let’s face it… having a banner like T-Series backing you makes a huge difference compared to the struggles an independent filmmaker has to go through…
At the end of the day, you have to prove yourself. Bhushan won’t give me money if I didn’t work hard or deliver a hit at the box office. Bhushan has a great business mind, he thinks from his mind and not his heart which is his strength. As a producer, you have to be business minded only then will the project reach the audience and be a commercial success.
You are one of the most powerful couples in the industry but we hardly see two out and about…
Bhushan is a workaholic and before we got married, he wasn’t media savvy. It was me who convinced him to be more open to the media. He works endlessly (laughs).
Don’t you complain about it?
I know how the industry functions so I am quite understanding even if he doesn’t come for dinner throughout the week. You need to give that space, the lifestyle is such today. The relationship between a husband and wife comes with its own set of challenges be it in any field.
Do you think relationships call for a lot of compromises especially in this industry?
Of course. Every relationship is like that, you need to work constantly to keep the spark alive.
Who are your best friends in the industry?
That’s a difficult one! I don’t know who can give you an honest opinion in Bollywood. You can have friends…but for honest advice, you can’t turn to outsiders.