Reading Sidhartha Mallya's new memoir on mental health was a revelation for me. Leafing through it, it struck me how little we know about celebrity kids beyond the headlines. I was also pleasantly surprised by how he has approached even the controversial aspects of his life with such care and compassion.
If I'm Honest is sincere, insightful, and big-hearted. It is the story of the growing up of one boy. But through him, it talks about several issues we are all grappling with " loneliness, sense of belonging, addiction, therapy, abandonment, media glare, and the hustle culture. The book is an extension of Sidhartha's 'ConSIDer This' " a series of short videos on mental health awareness that he put out on his Instagram last year. But it goes much farther and deeper.
Here, the 34-year-old talks about it all " the baggage that comes with being born a Mallya, how the divorce of his parents has affected him, what he's learned from his father's long-drawn battle with the Indian government, and his interest in Hindi acting projects. Edited excerpts from an exclusive interaction below:
Your book is refreshingly personal, candid, and honest. What was the most difficult aspect of writing it?
Talking about things has never been an issue for me. To write this book, I went into a lot of depth and was really honest about everything. However, reliving it all over again was quite challenging. But I always knew " as I said at the beginning of the book " that if I could make even one person feel less alone or help someone in any way, shape, or form, then I would consider the book a success. I always had this in the back of my mind " that no matter however much it hurts to write it right now, it's got the opportunity to help a lot of people. Knowing that made the process easier.
It is crucial for anyone working on their mental well-being to find the right therapist. From your experience, what do you think should a person keep in mind when seeking therapy?
You need to know what you're comfortable with. You're only going to get out of therapy as much as you're willing to put in. If you find someone you feel comfortable opening up to, you're likely to get more help from them.
As I write in the book, I've always been more comfortable around women. Ladies have always brought out the best in me. So when it came to choosing a therapist, I knew that I was more likely to open up to a female therapist than a male. But everyone is different. It's all about the connection. So if you can, try it out with a few therapists until you find the one you gel with the most.
The most important advice you'd give to anyone living with a person who has OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)?
Don't laugh at them. I know a lot of their compulsions and the behavior can look really weird at times and it can frustrate you to see someone do something 25 times. OCD can be really tough to deal with. But try to be compassionate and know that they are not doing it because they want to. They are doing it because they feel they have to, otherwise, things would fall apart.
In the book, you say it's been over three years since you last had alcohol. Have you never been tempted to cave in? How do you resist such impulses?
I haven't. I was never an addict. I was never dependent on alcohol. Secondly, I've always had great willpower. Once I put my mind to something, I'm very good at sticking to it. But do I occasionally miss it, like having a glass of wine on a hot day with a couple of friends if they're having it? Of course. However, when you put yourself at the centre of your well-being, it becomes a lot easier to make decisions.
Alcohol had stopped having a positive effect on me. Knowing that my well-being was at stake made it easier to say no. A lot of the time people have a hard time saying no to people is because they still haven't put their own needs at the centre of their lives.
Romantic relationships also have a significant impact on a person's mental well-being. But you've steered clear of talking about it in If I'm Honest. Has it been a conscious choice?
No, only because I consciously chose to talk in the book about the things which have directly mentally impacted me. None of those relationships left any mental scars on me. That's the reason I didn't mention them. Not because I consciously decided to leave them out. In fact, I talk about what I look for in girls and relationships " family, stability, and such things. It's directly linked to the loneliness and abandonment that I felt because of growing up as an only child from divorce.
One thing you'd want to say to every single parent raising a young child and to children who are growing up with one parent absent?
When parents go through a divorce, it's only natural for them to think about their child's well-being first. However, sometimes in that process, the parent misses out on looking after themselves. While the divorce is traumatic for a child, it's also traumatic for the person who is getting divorced. To parents, I'd say" Of course, be there for your children. But be there for yourself as well.
It's easier said than done, but for children who are growing up without one parent, I want to say"don't let it make you feel invalidated in any way; don't let it affect your self-worth. Don't question your self-worth because of what someone else did. To try to hold on to guilt and shame because of that won't serve you.
In an age that celebrates and rewards hustlers, you talk about the importance of switching off. But despite knowing its value, a lot of us struggle with it. What helps you ensure a smooth shut down after a busy day?
It's hard. It's an ongoing battle for me. But you need to know that sometimes, it is not about doing, doing, doing; it's about being. It's about awareness. I meditate a lot. I run. I like to spend a little time with myself before I sleep. No TV, no phone, nothing. Just reflecting on the day and then going to sleep. That's my time. It can be something as simple as that.
You seem to be deeply apologetic about being born into wealth. Though inherently personal, your experience is not singular. A lot of people are shamed for their privilege. What helped you get rid of your sense of guilt?
Acceptance. You need to accept that you can't change where you came from. Why, then, shy away from it? It's there still but I can't do anything about it. So why fight something that I have no control over?
Early in the book, you give reasons why you did not give Bollywood a go when you were here in India. It's been several years since then. Are you open to acting in Hindi movies now?
I think I'd be more suited for something on an OTT platform than a traditional Bollywood film. I'm always open to opportunities. I would love the chance. If I'm a good fit for a role, then why not?
What has been your biggest learning from your dad's legal battle with the government of India?
When something is public like this is, everyone feels they have the right to an opinion, which they do. But if you are going to form an opinion, you should do your due diligence first, then be open to having your opinion changed, and finally, engage in intellectual discourse with people who have different opinions. That's the way conversation should be. But in the world of social media today where you can get your opinion across with just the click of a button, that process of diligence goes completely out of the window. If you try to have a conversation with anyone, they are like, "It's this way. Nothing else exists. It's this way and only this way." That can be really frustrating at times.
It's being said that this book is an attempt at an image makeover. How do you take to such criticism?
It's been said by one person in one interview. Given the platform that person was from, it was understandable why they would ask that question. It was the kind of platform that would rather add some masala to things than talk about the book.
What upset me the most was that they had an opportunity to really talk about mental health. The book is a piece of art and all art is subjective. You are going to like it or hate it, which I'm totally OK with. But do not dislike my book because you dislike someone I happen to be related to. So when someone says it's a PR stunt, I want to ask, a PR stunt for who?
If I wanted a PR stunt, I would have talked about the fantastic things I've seen in my life, the glitz, and the glamour.
Clearly, they hadn't read the book. If this is a PR stunt, then I should be given an award for it because why would someone put themselves through this kind of mental anguish for a PR stunt? I'm trying to do something good here to help people. Why can't we just respect it for that and move on?
People in India know little about you apart from the media splashes you made while you were here. You've had quite a journey since then. If you were to re-introduce yourself to the people here, what would you say?
I always say my spirit animal is a hummingbird. I just want to play and spread joy as much as I can. I'd say I am an actor. I've been in films, I have got a degree in acting from one of the world's finest drama schools. People have an idea in their mind that you're an actor only if you are in The Avengers. That's not how it works. I am an artist. I think everything comes in the realm of art"acting, writing a book, or doing mental health videos on YouTube. I like creating meaningful content that can help people. This book, it's just that.
If I'm Honest is published by Westland Books.
When not reading books or watching films, Sneha Bengani writes about them. She tweets at @benganiwrites.