If Zoya were a voice in a room, it would be one that reverberates and rings through every corner. If you got talking to her, other voices around would evaporate, and only hers would sound true, honest, unruffled. She sits with a not-so-quiet determination, an envy-inducing self-surety in that voice.
She comes from a family of storytellers and visionaries, stalwarts in their own right, and amidst it, all was her own story, every word chosen with precision, building and budding into a narrative that was never heard before, never experienced before; a medium to travel through emotions, space, and even time.
It was only a matter of time before her voice travelled far and wide, like a message blowing in the wind, touching hearts, striking chords, and stirring more stories. She sees it as her own puzzle—infinite, with pieces unexpected and sometimes initially hard to fit, but they always find a place. As much as people find solace in it, it’s her heart that rides the crests and troughs of its raging passion and infectious excitement. A privilege, she says, to wield a sway in people’s thoughts.
And she simply isn’t a storyteller of borrowed tales. She crafts them, molds them in shapes we see around us but don’t notice, and colours them in shades you would want to wrap around yourself. The atom of every story is the way she sees her world, a vision unlike any other.
Before you know it, she has enraptured you in one of her many worlds. You’re amongst people you’ve never met but whose stories are yours, relationships you have shared, feelings you have felt, and a journey you had always anticipated.
And the room you found her in? She has moved on to the next, in search of a new piece to her puzzle, yet another story.
As an ode to love, and a celebration of Gucci’s first-ever fine jewelry collection launch in India – Link To Love, we explore the many different bonds shared amongst and as friends, father and daughter, artists, collaborators, or with our own selves through Runway Square X Gucci LOVE LINKS Anthology wherein we tell five beautiful stories to honour these connections. We live multiple lives in a lifetime, but love was, is, and always will be there – and that’s why this anthology puts a spotlight on the lesser-known, yet enduring connections shared by these known faces. And this is the story of Zoya Akhtar.
Runway Square: There is so much noise about self-care on social media with multiple narratives and arbitrary ‘checklists’. Amidst all this, how do you find the space to discover what loving yourself means to you?
Zoya Akhtar: You have to respond to how you are behaving. You have to be aware of those responses, you have to find quiet time, and listen to yourself. You have to wait for that inner voice to tell you what the problem is, or what the solution is.
RSQ: With everything going on around us, all the negative and devastating news, does it ever feel like it’s impossible to really switch off, especially as a creative?
Zoya: Yes, it does feel impossible to switch off because on one level you want to be conscious of everything that is happening in the world around you, but you also don’t want to be so desensitised that it doesn’t affect you anymore. You have to find a way to absorb it without getting so affected that you can’t function.
RSQ: What does an hour or two all to yourself look like?
Zoya: It looks like my dogs, it looks like exercising or meditating, sometimes just scrolling on social media, reading fiction.
RSQ: Does creativity continue to be a way to care for yourself if it becomes your work and profession, thereby entailing multiple other factors that might not always nurture your mental health?
Zoya: If you have a creative outlet, you have a tool in which to express yourself in a way that’s not always literal. You can get a lot out–a lot of pain, hurt, angst, anger, joy, a lot of things that you have to share that you can transmit through your work. It definitely helps you lighten the load.
RSQ: Have you ever prioritized your work and career over your own self and mental health?
Zoya: Yes, there are times you do because you want to and times you have to.
RSQ: Do you think self-care can be a collective practice, or solely an intimate and private one?
Zoya: The fact it says self-care has to be personal because it’s about the self. But, if you realize that taking care of people around you will eventually lead to taking care of yourself, I think if everyone practiced that, the world would be a happier place.
RSQ: For us women, loving and embracing ourselves often feels like a rebellion against that which is demanded of us. Did it ever feel like that to you?
Zoya: No, and I think I have my family to thank for that.
RSQ: You have grown up in a family of legendary icons. What was the process like of finding your unique narrative amidst such strong voices?
Zoya: It’s what your dynamic at home is and I think when from a very nascent stage you are allowed an opinion and it is respected, you are allowed to speak and express yourself, you just grow and evolve into somebody that has a voice. I don’t think you eventually need someone to come and validate it. That growth had happened before on some level, both for me and my brother.
RSQ: Even after achieving the stellar milestones that you have in your career; do you feel there is still a piece missing from your puzzle?
Zoya: I love what I do, and I just want to keep going. I have so many ideas. So, I am nowhere near completing the puzzle. It’s not about one piece, there are many, many pieces.
RSQ: As a storyteller and a cultural icon, you wield a lot of influence over your audience. Are you comfortable with that, or does that make you feel intimidated sometimes?
Zoya: I don’t feel intimidated, but I do feel that as a storyteller, I have a responsibility. And I do feel like When you are telling a story for a particular age group, audience, or society, there are things you have to be cognizant of, there are things you have to represent, or things you have to change the representation of, so I recognize it as a responsibility. I am very honored to have a platform like this.
I don’t look at the fact that I make films as a power, I look at it as a privilege. I feel very lucky because I am one of the few people that can live their life and make a career doing something they adore doing, and because I get to put out a narrative and my consciousness.
RSQ: What’s your happy place?
RSQ: Do you like the company of other people or are you more comfortable being by yourself?
Zoya: As a writer, I need both. I need to be with people and absorb things, build stories, pick up mannerisms and characteristics. At the same time, I need to be able to spend time alone and hear myself, where I’m at, and what I want to do with all that information. So, I think I am good with both, and both are as important to me.
RSQ: Does public judgement impact what you create, and what stories you want to tell?
Zoya: I don’t think it impacts the stories I want to tell because eventually, you have to stay with that for 2-3 years, but you definitely think about certain things, of what worked and what did not, and why. So yes, you do think about certain things, as you must, because that’s what you are making movies for.
RSQ: Do you think we are getting the notion of self-love wrong?
Zoya: I think what’s happening, not to everyone, of course, is that self-love is coming across as something very skin deep, as something on the exterior, something you project and what you are seen as, what you are wearing and looking like, and how you are taking care of yourself on the outside. I don’t think we are going beyond that to the bigger issues like mental health, to protect people and their uniqueness. We haven’t gone inside.
Editor + Creative Director: Charu Gaur
Photographer + Videographer + Art Director: Pretika Menon
Stylist: Ekta Rajani
Junior Editor + Creative Assistant: Karishma Gulyani
Make-up: Nisha Singh / T.R.A.C
Hair: Dianne Commissariat / BBlunt India
Manicure: Jean-Claude Biguine India
Text: Shubhanjana Das
Styling Assistant: Swity Shinde
Photography Assistant + Photo Editor: Karan Sarnaik
Music: JBABE / Third Culture
Set Designer: Jangu Sethna
Production House: Anomaly Production Pvt. Ltd.
Artworks: Shaista Syed / Kitsuné India
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