It is often too easy to sit within our confinement and safe spots, dressed in all our biases and ignorance, and simply draw conclusions and judge other people. It is our signature flaw as humans. Another major flaw is how easy it is to forget. Otherwise, how do we explain celebrating our favourite star this moment for blessing our screens with goodness and delight one minute and riding on a rumour to bring her down the next?
A lot of celebrities have had their own fair share of media bullying and stirred-up controversies. While some have lashed out and missed their chance to really prove they deserved the spot, one star, Koena Mitra is taking it wholeheartedly; honing the hurtful words and turning them all into positive energy. For her, if you accept the love, you best be ready for the hate as well. For more than a decade, this multi-talented model and actress was bullied and criticized for simply owning her truth.
It is disheartening to see that in the 21st century, a woman will be mocked and bullied for having a surgical reaction. But her crime wasn’t that she underwent a plastic surgery; thousands of people (male and female) do that every day because it is now commonplace; her only crime was being honest about it. “I was bullied by the media and several people for several years because I had the courage to accept, to say that I had opted for a surgery,” she says wearing her signature smile.
As someone who is never afraid to speak up when it’s necessary, she is a strong advocate for the rights of women. She believes her own story is only a reflection of the injustices that women have to face daily. “It’s a 10-year old saga but people keep running the story, they keep accusing women. There are many male actors, at the age of 50 and 60, their hairs grow back, their skin are wrinkle-free, but nobody says anything. They are not attacked. I feel many people become very judgmental when it comes to women,” she notes.
You may remember her for her spectacular performances in Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena and Apna Sapna Money Money. You may have even caught a glimpse of her in the 2005 blockbuster Insan and her powerful interpretation of the character Lara in Sanjay Gupta’s Musafir. What you do not know is that Koena’s journey to stardom goes back many years ago. When we sat with the gorgeous star for a chat, we didn’t intend to shy away from the sensitive subjects, but she was also really generous to take us through her journey.
Born and brought up in Kolkata, Koena started with dance at age 3. She learnt Kathak, Kathakali, Manipuri and Indian Ballet. She remembers looking like a precious little bird and would stride on the dance floor as much as her tiny legs could carry her. That continued for 10 more years, and at 13, she became a coach, training kids and the junior batch. She remembers her first major performance all too well. “It was a drama called ‘The Selfish Giant’. I danced and acted, but my role was that of a sunflower and the costume just wouldn’t let me dance as much as I’d have loved to,” she says.
At age 16, she found herself in the modelling industry. She competed for the Gladrags and won the West Bengal pageant as well as the Indian finals. She represented India at the Intercontinental stage and emerged among the top 12 finalists. It was only normal for the endorsements and commercials to roll in. Remember the Mirinda campaign? Yes, that one. Then there was Margo Soap, Clinic All Clear, Rollick Ice Cream and so many others. At this time as well, the music videos started calling, and there were quite many of them.
Koena, armed with a degree in psychology, has always been a curious child. “I used to organise shows and events in school and college. I was thus associated with dance, drama and music. I wasn’t the best student but I must admit I was quite popular in school because of my high energy and association with art and culture.”
Koena’s entry into the movie industry in the early 2000s meant she had made her mark as a truly deserving entertainer. For everything she has done, she has given her heart and entire being. All her life, she has devoted her gifts and talents to her fans, Indians and to the world at large. Having gone almost five years without her face on the screens, we were curious for answers. “I took a break to go to Los Angeles. I am not a planner. I am a gypsy soul. I just backpack and travel, and like experiencing new things.
“When I am not happy with certain stuff, I don’t express much. I change my track. I shift my focus on something else for happiness. I left for California. I lived in Los Angeles for four and a half years. Trained there. Learned a lot there. I did many shows. In the last 13 years I have done more than 1,200 live shows. I didn’t take a break, it was a shift. I wanted to try different stuff. I even shot a film. It will be released soon. It felt good to have been recognised and appreciated by the people. I worked with a Hollywood director. I don’t want to reveal much about him, all I can say is that you have seen his name in movies such as Jurassic Park, Home Alone, and so many others,” she adds.
Recently seen in the Indian reality show Big Boss 13 in 2020, Koena returned months ago when her father fell sick. She has also had to deal with some health issues, like a back pain. But it’s unlike a celebrity to just stay away from the spotlight. If that tells us anything, it is that Koena is not an attention seeker. “I don’t want to be in news for unnecessary reasons. To be in news is easy. If at all I want to be in news is for substantial work. Career wise I am always going to be like this – when I work it will be in full swing, and at times I would prefer myself to be in the shell – to do other things I love or spend some ‘Me’ time,” she says.
One would say the treatment she has received has been unfortunate to say the least. But all she has for the film industry is gratitude. “Our film industry is fabulous and has many good people,” she says. Continuing, she recounts how the experience has been for her. “They give opportunities to many outsiders. No one has ever blocked my path. Never shut doors to me because of rumours. Within the industry, she picks out Soojit Sarkar, Anurag Basu, Ayan Mukherjee, Rohit Shetty and Abbas-Mustan as some of her favourite directors.
“Some people, because of a three-month suffering from a surgery, bullied me for years. I was cool enough to accept and admit and I paid the price. Lots of my seniors said that I shouldn’t have spoken the truth about my surgery, but I was just being honest,” she muses.
Unmarried and open to a purposeful relationship, Koena is more concerned about her growth at the moment; becoming a better person and just working hard on the projects before her. That includes producing a web series; an idea she’s still toying with. There are also talks of upcoming collaborations in Mumbai and West Bengal. And she may invest in a startup. When quizzed, she nods in confirmation. Until then – and with the pandemic resurfacing – she will continue to dance and is enjoying home-cooked meals, packed with nutrition.
Talking about her style statement, she mentions, “I look for comfort. I like hoodies, t-shirts, track pants, and sneakers. I like to have fun with my clothes. At times I go all black and other times neon. However, white remains my all-time favourite colour. I have a whole wardrobe of whites.”
And in her free time, Koena watches movies, listens to music, travels to her favourite places, and reads books related to ayurveda, fashion, and astrology. As she says, creativity and learning are her biggest hobbies.