Kalpana Rao gave up a job in banking to start a boutique. Years later, she over came illness and depression brought about by her weight gain, and in a completely unexpected turn of events, became a model. That led her to a new career as an actor where she’s shared the screen with super stars like Rajnikant, Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan.

After she turned 55, this newly minted model and actor also decided to strike out on her own and start living independently in Mumbai.

She seizes not just the moment but every opportunity to make the most of life, and questions why women should hesitate to live life for themselves and not be bound by roles defined by society. 

You can the watch this Boomer talk about why YOLO is her motto or listen to the podcast.

Sandhya Mendonca talks with Kalpana Rao in ;Spotlight with Sandhya ‘ Transcribed by Shooq Alghamdi:

Sandhya : Our guest today has shared the screen with superstars like Rajinikhanth, Shahrukh Khan, and Salman Khan. She walked the ramp at the real women fashion show that we held for the under the rain three women’s cultural festival last November. You’re most likely to be seeing her on various ads, but she isn’t here today because of her glamour quotient. She’s here because she’s living proof that one should and can reinvent oneself. Meet Kalpana Rao, boutique owner turned model and Bollywood actor. Hi Kalpana, and welcome to the show.

Kalpana Hi Sandhya, Thanks so much for inviting me. I’ve heard such wonderful things about your show. So it’s an honor to be here.

Always a pleasure to reconnect with you Kalpana and talking about reconnecting, I’ve just been seeing the news that you recently won a role in the upcoming series nine months, that’s being put together by Sony TV. Congrats again, and tell us more about it, what kind of role is it? wWhat kind of serial is it? When are we likely to see it?

I can only tell you when you’re likely to see it because I’m not authorized to talk about the show right now. We have been requested by Sony TV to not discuss about it. So we are hoping to launch sometime in October,

It’s going to be a very  ‘expectant’ period. henever you share photos of your latest show or your latest assignment, I feel that smile of yours is contagious. here’s such sheer childlike glee in your expression, and I’m immediately prompted to respond to you. I can’t help but wonder, you know, is there ageism that you encounter in your new life, especially we live in a world where you’re supposed to be young and hot to be popular. what have been your experiences?

I have faced, I would say very little of ageism and very surprisingly I have faced it from women of my age or slightly older, but all the others, you know, when they come to room that I have recently come into the industry and what all I have been doing or what my journey is, they in fact say, Ooh, you know, maybe I should get you to speak with my mother, my grandmother, you know, that one should live one’s life. And that age is just a number, but as you know, so I face all of this rather I get all these appreciation from all the youngsters whom I meet, but the ladies who at my age and older, they are sadly more of the opinion that as you get older, You should only be staying at home to take care of your children’s home and look up to your husband. So I face ageism from my age ladies sadly.

That’s really unfortunate Kalpana, but we’re here to show otherwise, Right? And let’s just take a step back to the point, when you decided to wind up your business here in Bangalore and shift across to your current place, Mumbai, to become a full-time model and actor. Has it been difficult to start living alone at this point in your life?

Oh, I would say no. Initially I lived in a PG because I had the same opinion that I may not be able to live alone. So, and I also wanted to experience PG life because I had never experienced it ever in my entire life. But after a few months I realized that, I would be happier on my own. And, you know, there is a thought out that people, especially women who live alone, older women who live alone, they need to be little  wary this, that, and everything. But I’m very happy to say that I have come across people in both the buildings that I’ve lived in and they’re all very protective, very kind. So any help required they’re willing to give. So I think it is something which can very easily be done. And I think when you come from outside you come with these kind of fears, but by and large, Mumbai is a very friendly place. People are nice. How you are with them they will treat you accordingly. This is my understanding.

That’s nice to know. And can we just talk about this journey that you’ve had from self-loathing to self-love and how your concept of body image and well-being has all come together to put you in the happy space that you’re in currently,

I suffer from sciatica. This happened in 2008 and nine, and I was diagnosed most likely as a person who is never likely to get out of bed because my pain levels were very high. So I was guided by my spiritual guru in how to overcome that and to be able to move on. But what happened is because of being bedridden for a very long time, I became severely obese because I couldn’t do any activity beyond 10 and 15 minutes and was completely bedridden. Now I was already on the heavier side. And in that, then it became obese to such a severe extent that I started hating myself and I would wear very baggy clothes to try to cover up my size because I was actually embarrassed of it. Now, you know, the magazine really put that idea into your head that you need to be in a certain shape and that if you are out of shape, you are not good enough. So that also affected me. Plus when I looked in the mirror I didn’t like it, then the comments which I used to get from people and customers, and also all of it went together into putting me inside of a shell, but I was getting more and more with drawn. And when you are in that kind of stage, whatever you try to do, it doesn’t work. So it went on for a couple of years, but the change came when in 2014, I had gone for my daughter’s graduation to England. And then again, I had gone, you know, wearing voluminous clothing, trying to cover myself. And I saw women all around me wearing all different kinds of clothing in all shapes and sizes. And they were walking very confidently. So I just felt that, why can’t I carry it out? Why do I need to cover myself like this? I’m in a conversation with my daughter, I realized that what is my stumbling block is that I am not accepting myself as I am, because I’m not happy with myself, whatever I try. whether I diet, I work out, anything I do It is not going to work. So I needed to first accept myself and become happy with myself. Now all the years, I had read a lot of motivational books and blogs and other things and all, but none of it had any impact on me. After we came back to India, I said, why don’t I try putting all of that and something which I have understood into practice? So the first thing I did is I used to colour my hair, I stopped coloring my hair and I faced a lot of flack because when you’re coloring, the little, little gray which shows, people tell you that is looking bad, you should cover up, and this is not the age you know all those kind of things. I started getting.. Oh My God, you look like Ajji and this and that, I started getting very committed. I said, no, this is one part of accepting myself. And if I want to accept myself as I am, I have to accept my duties too. T

hen the other thing I did is I used to slouch terribly, a terrible sloucher had. I straightened myself up, you know, shoulders, back, chest out, what needs to be confident that that’s one of the things which really works. And another thing which I did is I did a lot of positive affirmation standing in front of the mirror because my low self-esteem has gone completely. I was lower than the lowest that you can ever think of. It was very bad. I used to think I was very ugly. That wasn’t good enough that nobody can ever love me, that I’m not worth it. You know, all the possible negatives in the world that a person can think about themselves I used to think about me. So I said the change would have to also come in that. So I remember I used to stand in front of the mirror, look into my eyes and tell myself that you’re beautiful and that you’re pure love lovable and all of that. And it was very difficult because since I didn’t believe in it, to look into my eyes in the mirror and say it was the most difficult thing under the sun, because mentally and inside of you, you believed the reverse and you were saying this.

So, you know, it is very difficult to look into your eyes. And, you know, you can look into anybody’s eyes and tell a lie, but you can never look into your own eyes and tell a lie. So it was actually very difficult doing it, but I said, no, this is a process. There is a reason why people have written a lot about these affirmations and looking into the mirror and saying it. there has to be something behind it. Why don’t I try it? What is the harm? And, I kept on saying it to myself. And I also used to have all of that playing in my mind, literally like a mantra. So as I was falling asleep, I would be saying that to myself, you know what I’m saying? It to myself, I’m saying it to the universe. And I didn’t realize that slowly a change had started coming over for me. I was not just standing straight, but I was standing confident and I started accepting my body size. If this is how I have become, I have become this, but that doesn’t change who I am. It is just body and changes can happen due to various reasons. So when I started doing this at the end of six months, I was a completely different woman than what I was prior to that.

Fantastic, fantastic.

And that actually came across to me when I called for my first ad to do. I was offered an ad. And prior to me being so confident about myself, I would have never accepted it because I never thought I was good enough for it. So that started off the journey. Now, the second part you asked is the weight loss and the happy state and all of that. Well, I did come into a lot of happy state, but I remember I came into more of a happy state actually when I started living on my own, I moved out of the PG and I started living on my own. You know, everybody’s scared me that it is very difficult and lonely to live alone. So I said 55 years of my life I have lived with people. Now I want to learn to live with myself because I need to discover myself. It’s my journey. I need to know who this person is. And I need to learn to be happy with this person whoever she is, however she is.

Every woman, especially every Indian woman, wants to break this myth of self-sacrificing wife and mother. you have successfully managed to do so and you’re living an independent and confident life. Can you tell us how you managed to do it? What were the self doubts and pressures that you overcame to lead a life of your choice?

A little while ago, somebody had asked me this. I told them that on the first flight, which I took out of Bengaluru to Mumbai when I was moving to Mumbai, the woman who boarded the flight was the mother, the wife, the one who got off the flight, was Kalpana Rao because I am me. Yes, I’m a woman. I’m a wife, I’m a mother. I have done what duties I needed to do for them. But my life is not only about doing everything for others. It is also for finding me. It is also for doing something in which I am going to be happy. rom the time that she’s a girl, a woman  is only t taught that you once you get married, you have to take care of your in-laws, you have to take care of your husband, you have to take care of all the other relatives, you have to take care of your children. Then your children will have children, you have to take care of them, you’ll have to take care of your old husband and you still have to take care of the house till the woman dies. She’s only expected to work, work, work, and work for others. She’s not expected to live for herself, but I was like, I think I need to not have the question of what is in my life. What if I take this step? And I am able to achieve what I want to achieve that yes, I am that somebody is, I am me. I am not known as only so, and so’s wife. So, and so’s mother, I am somebody else. I am a person.

You have this image of being a very bubbly character. you’re full of fun. And in some of the roles that you portray, tell me, which has been your favorite character.

I loved playing opposite Rajnikant. That was my debut role. And I am a strong person. So to play the strong character and an opportunity to play opposite him is what I think a very big high for me. And I was appreciated by the director and all, and later on, when the movie released, everybody had said, when you are in a Rajnikant movie, you may have shot a number of scenes but generally, the movie is about him, which is obvious. So the chance of your scenes being there is not very high. A lot of the scenes may have got cut. And I was really surprised and happy to find that I have a good amount of screen time, about 10 to 12 minutes of screen time I have.

A human rights commissioner. That was the role that you played.

I was a human rights commissioner, Yes.So a very strong lady who goes and tells Rajnikant that, you know what you’ve all done. It is all actually BS. I know what it is really, so this is a notice for you guys, so it was very difficult, standing in front of him and delivering because I’m supposed to look into his eyes and deliver and he is a big personality you all know he has a tremendous aura. Biggest thing is his eyes, Sandhya. Oh my God, he has such piercing eyes that it is very difficult to stare into his eyes and give the dialogue. And that is what I was supposed to do.

I must say I don’t remember paying attention to his eyes in the very brief encounter I had many years ago with Rajinikanth, but I want to know what’s next in Kalpana’s radar ? What have you got lined up?

Well, lined up right now is of course the serial Which I’m going to be part of and whatever comes my way, whatever role comes my way, I know I can do it. I haven’t set my sights on, I only want to do this and I only want to do that. I’m game. I’m open. Any kind of role, whatever I get, I’m willing to play.

I am sure you will pull off whatever the role that you get, or whatever opportunity you get, you will make the most of it. And I wish you all the best.