IT IS a sunny afternoon and Shreedevi Chowdary, looking every inch the queen in a beautiful yellow sari, is hosting Eastern Eye at the very regal Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad.
The converted palace located on top of a hill is one of the most beautiful hotels in India and transports guests back to a regal time with all its original finery and splendour. Before commencing the interview, the businesswoman, philanthropist and fashion designerturned-actress orders some five-star dishes in Falaknuma Palace’s famous restaurant Adaa.
Although the main topic of conversation is set to be her ground-breaking debut movie Friends In Law, Shreedevi is very keen to talk about the rich history of Falaknuma Palace, which is almost like a second home for her. She feels very much at home in a palatial setting once owned by the Nizam of Hyderabad.
After the fabulous five-star lunch, Eastern Eye settles down with Shreedevi to talk about Friends In Law, fashion, philanthropy, woman empowerment and a home city she clearly loves.
What do you most love about Hyderabad?
I am very proud to call Hyderabad my home, Asjad and it has helped shaped me into the person I am today. The city has so much to offer and is as multi-dimensional as any in the world. You have the incredible history, which you can see all around including old palaces belonging to royalty, but at the same time, it is very modern with amazing grandeur like the biggest movie studio in the world, built by the incredible Ramoji Rao uncle. But perhaps what makes it really special is the amazing people and their kindness. It is a city filled with love and one that can compete with any in the world.
You are a successful businesswoman, a bighearted philanthropist, an amazing fashion designer and now an actress; which of your achievements are you most proud of?
My proudest achievement is that I have been able to do things on my own terms. I am a proud single mother, who has made her own way in the world and overcome the challenges using her inner resolve. My dear mother taught me from a young age that if you are honest, hardworking and have a clean heart, then anything is possible. I’ve used that along with a fighting spirit from my father to walk with my head held high through all the challenges. Any achievements you have in life are secondary to how you got there. If you are proud of your journey then that is the real success.
You are known for your great sense of fashion and designed some amazing collections. What are your fashion inspirations?
First and foremost, it is whatever makes my soul happy. That is what fashion should be. Creatively I am inspired by the rich tradition of India and you can see that in my regal-inspired sari collections. I think we have the most timeless fashion in the world and that is perfectly illustrated by outfits worn by the great queens from past centuries. We have always had great craftsmen, weavers and materials, which are like endless wells of inspirations. For me, an Indian sari is the most beautiful and those who create them are artists.
What about international designers?
There are many I adore and have in my collection, but my two favourites are Elli Saab and Oscar De La Renta. I will always come back with something by them when I travel internationally.
Another issue close to your heart is women’s empowerment, please talk about that?
I think all Indian women are bought up empowered because from an early age they face several challenges and are given so many responsibilities. But at the same time, so many of the amazing women and girls don’t get the opportunities they deserve, so through my foundation, I have set up education programmes. I believe the empowerment of women is an important global issue, which both men and women should support whole-heartedly. I hope more and more future leaders will be female, and it is happening now. (Laughs). I think it is up to women to save the world and you’ll see it happen sooner than you think.
Any other social causes close to your heart?
Oh, there are many. I believe if you are in a position to make a difference you should, because it is a blessing from a higher power. I love supporting local Indian weavers who make such beautiful fabrics and in my opinion, they are artists.
Talking of art, what prompted you to produce and star in the movie Friends In Law?
I had opportunities to act from a young age, but it isn’t something I took up for varying reasons. That didn’t stop people over the years constantly asking me to act in films. But for me, I only take on projects I believe in and will make a difference in some way, in whatever field. I liked the subject of Friends In Law because it has never been tackled in India before. A mother accepting her son is gay and finally being supportive, told predominantly in English. I found that journey very fascinating.
Tell us about the story?
I don’t want to give away too much at this early stage, but is a heartfelt story of an Indian mother going to Thailand to spend time with her son, but ends up spending time with his partner and eventually has a change of heart, but also goes on an empowering journey herself.
How did you feel when section 377, which criminalised homosexuality, was repealed in India?
Just like our film was a step in the right direction, so was the law change. I just hope society carries on going in the right direction where people are not judged because of something like their sexuality. I hope when Friends In Law releases, it will be another step in the right direction towards promoting understanding.
Your producing partner on Friends In Law is Swati Sanghi, from the very famous industrialist family. Tell us about your friendship with her?
Swati Sanghi is my best friend. Thanks to her I have had two mothers and two fathers. Her late father was a great man and treated me like his daughter. I feel blessed to have her in my life and she is a great inspiration. This was our debut film and she was like a captain who steered the ship in the right direction and through rough waters. She is a great woman.
Who are you hoping connects with the film Friends In Law?
Friends In Law is a film that is aimed at any one who has a heart. It is a mother-son story. I think one reaction from a major film festival organiser summed it up best. After he saw the film, he rang his mother.
What does the future hold for you?
The main focus is to get Friends In Law a good release because it is a movie with an important message, but at the same time, it is entertaining. It is a film that will bring people together. We have started planning our next film as a production house.
I read somewhere you were thinking about a run in politics.
You are very high profile, well-connected and want to make a positive difference, so it seems like a natural fit?
Not right now. I do seeing serving people as my long-term plan and making a positive difference to society makes my soul happy. The best way I can do that right now is to support those in politics who I believe in like the very honourable Gandhi family and inspirational chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Nara Chandrababu Naidu.
What advice would you give young girls embarking on their respective journeys?
First and foremost, believe in yourself. Always remember that anything is possible in life. You will encounter setbacks, obstacles and challenges, but use them to become stronger and wiser. Take your own decisions and ones your future self will be proud of. Don’t ever be pressured into anything and remember females are the stronger gender, and don’t let anyone ever tell you differently. Enjoy the journey ahead and remember you are blessed by a higher power and destined to be a queen.
Finally, what inspires you?
I am inspired by all the good people in my life like my best friend Swati Sanghi, my two moms and all those amazing women who battle against the odds every day to make a difference, even if it is just providing for their family. I feel that if you look with your heart instead of your eyes, you will see inspiration all around you, every day.