Kiara Advani: A Star On The Rise

The most searched personality on Google in India in 2023, Kiara Advani has gracefully and single-mindedly scaled the highs, winning not just professional acclaim but love, too.

By Nichola Marie

Farhan Akhtar’s Excel Entertainment recently welcomed Kiara Advani into the Don universe… and added another frisson of anticipation to the 3.0 version headlined by Ranveer Singh. The gorgeous and endearing Ms Advani has been effortlessly winning the adoration of tons of fans, powerful friends like Karan Johar, and a doting husband who’d give Barbie’s Ken stiff competition in the good looks department. All this, and film offers that are helping unpeel unexpected facets of her talent. Most would never have thought it — going by her dainty prettiness — but the action genre has apparently been on her mind for a while now. In an interview with ‘Filmfare’, the soon-to-be female lead in ‘Don 3’ shared that for her, the film was a “conscious decision”. “I wanted to change it up for myself, and this was one genre that I was longing to get myself into,” she said, adding, “As an actor, you are constantly stepping into different characters and making the world believe that that’s who you are. There will be a tough prep for the film, but I’ve got time to do that. I’m very excited, I’ve never done an action movie before. Now’s my time to get some action in!” 

Tougher Than She Looks

Would you believe it’s been 10 years since she made her acting debut in the comedy suspense drama film ‘Fugly’ (2014)? Revolving around a group of college friends who are framed by a policeman for a murder he himself has committed, the film wasn’t an auspicious start to a debutante’s career. Panned for being mediocre in all departments despite its good intentions, it sank without a trace. However, even in this underperformer, Kiara made a very favourable impression. “Very striking”, “Shows a lot of promise” and “A combination of looks and talent” was some of the feedback that came her way from the film critics. 

Yet, stomaching the fact that she wasn’t the overnight toast of the town was not easy. “I remember after ‘Fugly’ I went into a complete shell,” she confessed in a ‘Vogue’ interview. “I thought getting your first film was hard enough, that afterwards your phone would ring off the hook with offers… until I realised it wasn’t going to be like that.”

But after she had dried her eyes, she was back to hunting for her next gig. Her unlikely savior was to be Karan Johar, the man ironically accused of being the nawab of nepotism. Selected to play an urban woman discovering her sexual self in the film anthology ‘Lust Stories’ (2018), was just the salve she needed, even though the role was considered rather risque with its emphasis on a woman’s right to sexual pleasure. The part had already been declined by another actress but Kiara accepted it without batting an eye only because it would be directed by Johar himself. “To have someone who believes in you and your talent is deeply motivating,” she said of the director, whose 30-minute short helped her grab the limelight. It paid handsomely and she was declared “positively lovely”. 

The same year, she managed to tap a whole different cinema-going audience, making her Telugu cinema debut with the political thriller ‘Bharath Ane Nenu’, opposite South Indian superstar Mahesh Babu. Calling the film a “dream launch”, she pointed out that the kind of acceptance she received was something she had hoped for from her Hindi film debut. 

The following year, she enjoyed another “career-changing moment” with the Sandeep Vanga directorial ‘Kabir Singh’ (2019), though she also faced considerable criticism for her role which was seen as willingly participating in an abusive relationship. She would defend her character’s actions saying, “I have never played a character I didn’t like. If I don’t like my character, I better not be doing the movie. We need to accept that there are all sorts of people. We can’t cancel everyone,” she maintained, adding that the film had provoked discussion which was only a good thing. 

Finding Her Wings

Over the years, she has simply gone from strength to strength, cementing her position with each successive film, and simultaneously showing an amazing range of performance. If the comic caper ‘Good Newwz’ (2019) cast her as one half of a loud Punjabi couple embroiled in an IVF mix-up, audiences fell in love with her all over again in the Captain Vikram Batra-Dimple Cheema inspired war biopic ‘Shershaah’ (2021), which was followed by the horror comedy ‘Bhool Bhulaiya 2’ (2022) and a restrained performance in ‘Jugjugg Jeeyo’ (2022), revolving around a young couple on the brink of divorce. The romantic drama ‘Satyaprem Ki Katha’ (2023) saw her play a troubled married woman opposite Kartik Aaryan, delivering a “soulful, sensitive performance”. The bar is being constantly raised.

Clearly in a happy place, she admits, “Today, I have understood more about myself, which wasn’t the case earlier. I started when I was 21. I didn’t know who I was, who I wanted to be, what I wanted to say… I had a dream of becoming an actor, but I didn’t know what kind of stories I wanted to tell or what my voice was.” Though success has helped her gain clarity, playing unique characters was always on her wish list. Her goal, she reveals, is to reach out to a larger audience, to do films that families can go and watch. 

Coming up for her is the Telugu film ‘Game Changer’ directed by S Shankar, co-starring Ram Charan, the action sequel ‘War 2’ starring Hrithik Roshan, and of course ‘Don 3’. A critic had once commented, “Kiara Advani’s energy is capable of far more heavy lifting than it gets credit for.” That looks likely to change in the immediate future.

Secret Addiction

The 1991-born Kiara is a SoBo girl, growing up in Cuffe Parade and attending Mumbai’s prestigious Cathedral and John Connon School. However, there was one distinctly un-townie quality about her – her devotion to Hindi films. “I was a full Hindi film buff in a school where you were ‘cool’ only if you watched English films. Every time my friends called, I would flip to an English channel; when no one was looking, I was listening to every Govinda song ever and delivering dialogues from ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’ (2001) on repeat,” she has shared. 

Ditching the idea of studying abroad, she attended Mumbai’s Jai Hind College. Getting a degree was a hard condition set by her mother. “My mum struck a deal with me. She said, ‘You cannot drop out of college. Graduate, get a degree, then you can do whatever you want’.” Thrown among a varied set of youngsters from different parts of the country as well as socio-economic backgrounds, college also helped broaden her perspective. “It’s helped me in my career, with all the parts and characters I’ve had to play,” she points out. 

Training in acting from the acting schools of Anupam Kher and Roshan Taneja, she would get her break in the 2014 release, ‘Fugly’. Of course, by then she had also changed her name from the original Alia to Kiara, evidently on the advice of Salman Khan. Despite not receiving the response she expected from her debut film, she feels grateful for the start of her journey. “Even though there were things that didn’t work out, I am grateful for the support I got from people who gave me those chances and believed in me.”

Any wonder she is everyone’s favourite? 

Love, Actually

On 7 February this year, she rang in her first wedding anniversary with Sidharth Malhotra, with both posting identical pictures from a horse-riding session. They captioned it, “It’s not the journey or the destination, it’s the company that matters. Thank you for being the best partner on this crazy ride called life.”

While rumours of her dating Malhotra had emerged in 2020, she did not publicly speak about the relationship. In 2023, they married in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, in a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony, their wedding pictures reportedly becoming the most-liked Instagram post in India.
Recently speaking about her love story, she shared that the actor always felt like ‘home’ to her. “It is such a fulfilling home that I come from that to feel the same thing with someone else, I just knew that this is it.” Recalling how she fell in love with Malhotra, she said, “It was very organic. It just happened.” She also concluded, “I think I am good at balancing my personal and professional life. I am very all hearts. If I want to do something, I go for it.” …The secret to her success, in one crisp line.

Did you know?

  • Kiara supports a number of social causes, promoting the Quaker Feed A Child initiative of Smile Foundation as well as supporting The Quint’s initiative #SpreadTheLight.
  • A regular on lists such as ‘Most Desirable Woman’, ‘Top 10 Popular Stars of Bollywood Cinema’, and ‘30 Most Influential Young Indians’, she is also a constant on the lists of best dressed celebrities in the country. 
  • Awards she has won include Zee Cine Awards Telugu Best Find of the Year – female, Asiavision Awards Emerging Star of the Year, ETC Bollywood Business Awards Highest Grossing Actress, Indian Television Academy Awards Most Popular Actress – OTT, and Zee Cine Awards Best Performer of the Year – female. 

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