So, as the spunky actor plonks herself on the sofa wearing a casual white tee and black sweatpants, greeting me with her trademark smile and bouncy ponytail, I can’t help but ask her “Are you really this happy?” Not really a question one would expect in an interview....
The blithe spirit
She laughs out loud. “We are so obsessed with this idea of being happy, but I think what is more important is peace of mind. Each person has his or her own struggles. Whether you are Shah Rukh Khan or the dhobi, you cannot be eternally happy!” she says.
“I think my biggest challenge has been maintaining a state of calm in an industry that constantly pokes and prods you, and to keep it real at the same time. There are many celebs who use a mask when interacting with the media, but I don’t want to put on a fake smile. So I psyche myself up enough to be in a good mood when I am in front of the media or interacting with my fans,” she adds pointing out the perils of the petridished life of the celebs that is under the constant scrutiny of media microscopes.
The actor however finds it baffling that people think she is living in some happiness bubble. “I do not understand the media obsession of asking me this question that how I keep happy all the time, especially when I am not!” she says, adding that more than happiness, it is the peace of mind and acceptance of reality that counts.
“It is not that I am consistently happy. I am consistently at peace with myself. I am consistently aware that life cannot be a constant state of happiness, and that bad days don’t last forever either. The struggle is not that I need to stay happy all the time. People who are running after happiness all the times, will honestly drive themselves insane. It is not possible to be happy all the time. But yes there are tricks to help yourself get into a good state of being,” says Jacqueline.
The dark side of ‘Happy’
She points out that no matter how hard one tries, it is impossible to be happy all the time, and the Bollywood’s in-house Funny Girl reveals how she found herself staring at a serious bout of depression a few years back. “A lot of times things become overwhelming,” says Jacqueline. “Sometimes you find yourself crying for no reason. Some days you don’t want to get out of bed. You are in a state of numbness and you can’t shake yourself out of it. Only when you go through it do you realise how depression actually feels. Nothing prepares you for it.”
Fortunately she self-diagnosed the problem just in time and acted on it. “I was letting trivial things get to me; things which earlier would not bother me. What slowly started me feeling low was that I started taking myself and what was happening around me too seriously. I would hear or read something disparaging about me and discuss that with 10 different people and they would talk about it and it would become a vicious loop. I would make even the most trivial of things that happen in the industry into big issues and dwell on them,” she says.
“It was very easy for me to stay in that state. When you are sad, you get a lot of attention, and who doesn’t love that! Then you top it up by watching sad movies and listening to sad songs. Then you start to binge eat. Chocolate becomes your favourite food…and so on. At the back of your mind you know you need to snap out of this, but that seem too much of an effort, so instead you become comfortable in your sadness. But honestly for me what really helped is the fact that I’m way too obsessed with my work and things I want to achieve in my life. So one day I thought, wait a minute, this is really unproductive. So that saved me. But it is truly scary how tempting it is to stay in that situation. It really takes a lot of effort to snap out of that phase.”
Ironically, one of the main triggers for her depression was the pressure to be ‘happy’! “The media would constantly ask me, ‘How do you stay so happy?’ or ‘What is the source of your happiness?’ Sometimes I would really feel like rebelling against this ‘happy’ tag bestowed on me by people who had absolutely no idea what was happening in my life!”
The truth about being an actor is that you live your dream, but at the cost of much stress. Plus, Jacqueline lives alone in a foreign country. “They really don’t see the complete picture. They have no idea what it’s like to be badgered by the media, or to read ugly comments about yourself every day or to have a really bad day at work where you give a bad shot and start questioning everything you do as an actor, or when a project you were in talks about goes to another actor, or when a close associate or a friend betrays you. Also. I have to run my house and even though I have staff, I need to oversee everything. Just because I am an actor, it doesn’t mean household chores sort themselves out magically!”
It seems, Master Shifu was right all along and the answer to all existential questions lies in two unassuming words “Inner Peace”.
Since the last one year, the actor has been practising meditation in an attempt to maintain inner peace. “I joined a class. Meditation has helped me understand my emotions better and act with a certain degree of detachment and objectivity.
“Over the years, I have realised that fitness is not about being a particular size. I am paying much more attention to meditation, breathing, and inner peace these days. I am focusing more on things that calm me, sometimes yoga, sometimes dancing, and sometimes breathing exercise. My fitness routine will always be there. But if I have just an hour to spare, I will go for a meditation session instead of the gym,” says the actor.
After a very hectic decade of running after and achieving her Bollywood dreams, including working in masala movies like Kick, Judwaa 2 and Baaghi 2 along with big-budget franchise films like Race and Houseful, Jacqueline is taking a step back as she steps into the new decade.
Turning a new leaf
“Last decade was amazing, but I was almost living out of a suitcase. I was working on out and out commercial films, I was doing item numbers, world tours, I was dancing at awards shows, weddings, music videos, then there were endorsements. I enjoyed every bit of it. But you cannot keep up with that lifestyle for too long, you are sleep deprived, your diet is not fulfilling, all that eventually starts impacting your general health and fitness. So as I start the new decade, I start with a new approach. I want to take things one day at a time. I want to be calm. I want to pick and choose the projects I do ,” she says.
And with cinema becoming more content driven and the OTT platforms giving more varied opportunities to actors, the time to do that is right as well. “The best thing is that people are looking at craft more than physicality. So a pretty face and some skin show will not make you a superstar,” she says. “Even the fans have become more discerning. It is pushing us to up our game. I need to sit with the script, do my research, figure out how I can do justice to it, and properly prep to play the character,” says the actor.