From self-made to self-healed: ‘Aashiqui’ actor Anu Aggarwal on life after fighting death 25 years ago

Anu Aggarwal captured hearts with her iconic Bollywood film "Aashiqui" (1990). In this Health Shots She Slays interview, she talks about how her life took a turn when she met a brutal car accident.
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Anu Aggarwal talks about the ups and downs in her life! Image courtesy: Anu Aggarwal
Aayushi Gupta Updated: 8 Mar 2024, 10:14 am IST
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Back in the 1990s, Anu Aggarwal set Bollywood abuzz with an unforgettable debut in ‘Aashiqui’. This romantic musical blockbuster film made a model and video jockey an overnight star. Anu was not conventional by Bollywood’s beauty standards. But her rawness brought a breath of freshness to the screen and the industry. She featured in multiple movies, but her career was cut short when she realised that acting was not her forte. She became drawn to yoga, gradually fading away from the glitz and glamour of showbiz. While the ‘Aashiqui’ fandom kept her alive in the audience’s heart, Anu Aggarwal’s life took an unexpected and unfortunate turn with an accident that changed everything for her. Now, 25 years later, she says her positive thinking has kept her miraculously alive.

In 1999, while driving back home from a party in Mumbai, 30-year-old Anu met with a serious car accident. She ended up with multiple bone fractures, landing in coma for 29 days. When she finally woke up, she had no memory of her past life. Half her body was left paralysed and it took her years to recover completely. After 2001, Anu chose to live a monk’s life for the next six years. She discovered the wonders of yoga, self-love and self-awareness. At 55 today, she is drawn to the acting profession once again.

In this Health Shots She Slays interview, Anu Aggarwal opens up about her childhood, her rebirth in the 1990s and life in her 50s.

Anu Aggarwal’s childhood diaries

The tendencies of an adult are mostly first seen when he or she is a child. It was the same with Anu. “As a tiny girl of 3 years old, I was already picking up my mother’s bag (larger than me) and walking the road alone. When a helpful uncle saw me struggle to cross the road, he asked ‘Where are you going?’ I, like a grown-up said, ‘to do shopping’! A humanitarian fellow, he luckily brought me safely back home. My mother had missed a heartbeat by then,” Anu recounts. That became her first step towards always doing the unexpected, being fearless and stepping out of her comfort zone throughout her life.

A tryst with Bollywood

Stepping into Bollywood was also accidental. Her modelling assignments in India and abroad led her on this path. Despite the taste of success, she has always been open about how she never felt she belonged in the film industry. Anu lived alone in Mumbai and had her own struggles while juggling her life as an actor. In her book, Anusual: Memoir of a Girl Who Came Back from the Dead, she called her film career the “unhappiest time” of her life.

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“While I was always grateful for sudden stardom, I wasn’t prepared for its intensity. However, the combination of my acting skills and the film’s immense success ensured I was taken seriously in the industry. My unhappiness during that time was more about the dark side of Bollywood than my personal struggles,” Anu says in retrospect.

She found herself at odds with the stereotypes prevalent in Bollywood. “Overdone and loud acting, hideous dress and fashion sense, outrageous white over-the-top makeup, ‘heroines’ wearing falsies in loud and greasy item numbers, and so on, in appearance and acting. I could have still been fine with the fact that alarming rate of illiteracy that was weeping into a large number of the members of the film fraternity, had I come across the ‘art of Filmmaking’. That was deeply lacking. Creativity, I think, should be the boon of the entertainment business in dress, act, and style. But filmmaking (then) did not seem to have it. Aashiqui’s appearance came across as a raw and breathtaking style,” she says without mincing her words.

Why did Anu Aggarwal leave the entertainment industry?

“When people taste success, it is easy to get sucked into the spiral of stardom. But I opted out of it and more than ever, I needed to know myself better. I wanted to know ‘me’, which is beyond my role as an actor. I found relief in yoga and my effort today is to awaken as many people as possible to this idea of living a life,” she adds.

Also read: Yoga is the secret to Rakul Preet Singh’s sanity!

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The world changed further for her after her life-threatening accident. She was left with severe injuries, including fractures and extensive facial damage, and slipped into coma. Before the accident, Anu used to live in an ashram, where she had a spiritual name. When she woke up from the coma, she says she knew nothing but her spiritual name.

“I found myself embarking on a journey from self-made to self-healed. As my body lay broken after the accident, I dove deep into the realms of the spirit and felt a deep sense of compassion for others. I realised that we are all interconnected, part of one universal family – Vasudev Kutumbakam. Despite the formidable hurdles that stood in my path to recovery, I remained determined. Today, against all odds, I stand as a living testament to the miraculous power of resilience and faith,” Anu says.

Life as a monk

In 2001, she took sanyas in the mountains and kept her head shaved. She lived with one bag, in humble surroundings, simply studying the mind and human psychology. She remembers the time as “very peaceful” when she learnt from Adi Shankaracharya’s teachings. One big lesson was about letting go of attachments to material things and focusing on gaining knowledge and managing the mind, a fundamental aspect of monkhood that resonated deeply with her.

“Living a life of simplicity with minimal possessions and desires revealed the true value of the things we often cherish in city life. Now, when I speak at health conferences and share my yoga program, Anufun, I am driven by a desire to give back to society, a value I learned as a monk. This sense of giving makes me feel fulfilled and motivates me to do my best,” says Anu.

Yoga proved to be therapeutic while dealing with trauma after the incident. It marked a profound shift in her life — “a complete 360-degree turn” in Anu’s life’s trajectory, leading her to a journey of self-discovery.

anu aggarwal

This also became instrumental in helping her build a positive relationship with her body. Asked about a piece of advice she would give people struggling with body image issues, she said, “First and foremost, you have to accept yourself the way you are and that’s what I did. Until we fully embrace our worth, sensuality, sexuality, and confidence, we can’t truly live life to its fullest, no matter how rich we are. Additionally, fostering a positive mindset not only reduces the risk of stress and depression but also extends lifespan, improves coping mechanisms, and enhances psychological and spiritual well-being.”

Anu Aggarwal on the power of positive thinking

Positive thinking, she asserts, can manifest dreams into reality. She has witnessed it firsthand when she encountered minor accidents on set during her shoots. “I persevered, never taking a day off due to my unwavering belief in my recovery. Today, I credit my positive outlook for my continued well-being,” she adds.

She hopes to return to acting once more – something she has always been passionate about.

“I have a deep passion for acting, rooted in my identity as an artist within the entertainment world. While some may label me as India’s first supermodel, I never aimed for that title. Something inside me, maybe fate or karma, kept pulling me towards fame. I did not have to try hard to be glamorous, it just came naturally. Regardless of my acting skills, I changed the definition of a heroine because I was too tall, too dusky, and a supermodel (back then supermodels were not welcome in Bollywood). But I felt there was more to explore beyond just stardom, so I studied yoga and naturopathy and even became a monk.”

Now is the right time to be back!

“Coming back took longer and was tougher than I expected, but I’m finally past that now. It’s not surprising that I’m drawn back to modeling and acting—where I started. And with changing times, it feels like the right moment to dive back in, refreshed and ready for my second chance since 1999,” she adds.

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About the Author

Aayushi Gupta is a health writer with a special interest in trends related to diet, fitness, beauty and intimate health. With around 2 years of experience in the wellness industry, she is connected to leading experts and doctors to provide our readers with factually correct information. ...Read More

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