The whole country seems to be awaiting the truth behind actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. We wouldn’t want to jump into the bandwagon of name calling, media trials and accusing people… what we would like instead is to know the process of pressure that begins once a person reaches stardom (like Sushant had). Could you elaborate on this?
I have worked with a lot of famous people who come from families that are famous as well as those not belonging to one. When you are a star, it is equally pressurizing, irrespective of where you come from. I remember John Abraham once told me, every time he wraps up a film; his career begins again, from the very start. Stardom is as big as your last movie. There is a lot of stress on the superstars. People think their life is very easy; that they are famous, so they get whatever they want. But imagine yourself in their shoes – you can’t walk on the streets. You don’t know who your friends are because a lot of your friends are friends because you are famous. All of a sudden, you don’t know what love is, because people may fall in love with the ‘star,’ but not the person you are. Your money too becomes the focus. Fame has a very powerful effect on an individual. So, unless you have a very strong family and inner circle, the pressures of stardom begin to give you a sense of mistrust, anxiety and uncertainty about who and what is around you.

In one of your earlier interviews, you have been quoted as saying, “I enhance mental performance.” Which again is all the debate surrounding Sushant’s death as it has been reported he was suffering from depression. While you may not be able to say what was Sushant’s state of mind (none of us can), could you tell us: what do you mean by ‘enhancing mental performance’ and how do you go about working on it?
When I say I enhance mental performance, it doesn’t mean I put a chip in your head and help you perform better. It means I help you understand your mind better. I don’t believe in the concept of positive thinking. I don’t believe that you sit down, close your eyes, visualize and your world will fall in place. Fact is: you get results based on the way you process information. You look at your life, your relationships, money, health, spirituality, career, friendships, social life, and you map it out. Now, what I do is I don’t help you start thinking positively. I’d rather if you can work out how you behave on a daily basis, you can find a way to enhance it. I’ll explain that with an example. If I am an apple tree and I plant myself in a desert, no matter how positive I am, I am not going to produce apples. So then what do I do? I convince myself I am a cactus. But if I am an apple tree, I can’t be a cactus, right? Hence, what you need to do is, ask yourself — who am I? That’s the first question I help people with as it is imperative for mental performance. For this, I have a 130-listed questionnaire. Once it is answered, I get a clear description of an individual’s personality. The next question I help them ask themselves is: now that you know who you are, what kind of people and environment do you need around you? It’s unfortunate that we spend 15 years learning Mathematics, English, Geography, History, etc; another four years at the university and come out with absolutely no clue how to live this life. We don’t know how to manage our emotions or take care of our relationships. We have no experience about anything to do with mental performance. How then can one handle fame? When you feel so pressured in life that you resort to drugs, can you handle it? We suffer because we haven’t been taught how to deal with our mind. My role is to help people get to a point where they don’t need the drugs or the money, neither dependency on anything. They identify themselves. That’s what mental performance is all about.

How does an industry (the way it functions) affect mental health? If there is failure, there is also success, how does one strike a balance? Would this fall under your domain of enhancing mental performance?
In any industry, a lot of things have an impact on mental performance and mental health. You are trying to climb up the corporate ladder and someone attacks your reputation. It will affect you. You have a mean boss, it’ll affect you. You audition for a role, it goes to someone else and it’ll affect you. Pressure exists everywhere. The problem is we don’t know how to deal with it. In my opinion, people can be broadly categorized into two types to understand who sails through and who doesn’t. There are those who are self-obsessed (using it as a description, not as a literal meaning).They focus on themselves, how much money I have, what car I drive, do I look good in the picture, how many likes do I have, how many followers do I have? Am I fat, thin, skinny, muscular? Do I have friends and do people like me? The whole concept of the internal and the external thinking is about the self. These are people who will fall because the only mission of their entire life is based on themselves. The other type, who wants money, success, health, will do the exact same things as the first. The only difference is they measure their success and their abilities on what they are able to do for others. For example, I have got a good body; I may want to help others achieve the same. I want to make money but I also believe in charity. Then my whole assessment of myself is not based only on how many likes I get or how much money I have made or how many awards I have got. It is based on what I have done for other people. That’s how you strike a balance.

Are celebrities at a higher risk of having mental health issues?
My understanding of the word mental health in itself is confusing, because in a few years, when someone’s sad or upset, they’ll say it’s about mental health. I have had people come up to me with children that are 13, saying they are restless, always jumping around, and have labelled them as having attention deficit disorder! These are just kids with high energy! That’s all. Maybe schools should focus on educating children on mental health. Yes, celebrities are at a greater risk of being stressed and having anxiety. Any industry that offers fame, or attention or invites pressure has a profound effect on mental health. In the near future, the cases of depression, anxiety, mental stress, mental health, will go through the roof because of social media and people’s obsession with validation. Add to that the effects of COVID-19, which will have an impact on every aspect of a person’s life. There will be a high rise in suicides, massive increase in drug and alcohol addiction, because of difficulty in finding a solution. Most people will seek performance or life coaches. And I think every person should have access to one.

Why do you prefer to be called performance coach than life coach? What is the difference?
I don’t have a problem with the term ‘life coach.’ But it is misunderstood. Everyone thinks a life coach is one that will fix your life. It’s not that way. A life coach is someone who uses their own life experiences to coach others with a similar problem. A performance coach is someone who helps with your internal mind work. They don’t focus on goal setting or time management, but on how to improve mental performance.

There have been many suicides among celebrities, succumbing to pressures of failure, depression and rejection. When/where does it get too bad?
Sadly, yes, there have been a lot of suicides among celebrities. But if you look at statistics, you will realize that it has hit the entire country. The highest rate of suicide is amongst farmers. The number has increased among students too. We hear more about celebrities because their suicides are publicised. It starts to get bad when you begin to think you’re going to be riding sky high for the rest of your career! Bollywood is a roller coaster, remember. Sometimes, you’re going to have big dips and sometimes, you’re going to have massive highs. You may reach a high, but you cannot control it unless you are someone who’s more interested in the craft rather than the fame. Also, unless you start having massive expectations from yourself topped with what others expect of you, you can sail through, because you won’t feel the pressure of letting yourself or others down. However, when someone new steps into the industry and achieves a status, but does not know who to surround themselves with, or how to manage fame and the money, a tragedy is just waiting to happen. Remember, we are living in a world of instant fame. You’ve artists like Dhinchak Pooja, reality shows like Bigg Boss. Unfortunately, instant fame often also leads to instant depression. If you are in the public eye, and you like it, but it has also begun to affect you, that is when one should seek help.

We now hear words like nepotism, camps and movie mafia doing the rounds like these terms are going to solve the case. What in your view though is about Bollywood that’s plaguing the celebrities, the same that makes them famous faces?
Could you name one industry in the whole world that will not favour their own? I run a business, and I have two children. I am more than likely to do my best to make sure my kids can take over my business. Is that favouritism? I agree some may have an easier access to the industry, but how long you stay put depends on your talent. Sushant Singh Rajput didn’t have a film background, yet he became a superstar on TV. And then in Bollywood. Kangana Ranaut came from nowhere and has made her mark. Or, Shah Rukh Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Irrfan Khan. Where’s nepotism at play here? They let their talent work for them. Take my case. I’ve acted in Mere Brother Ki Dulhan and I’ve never been on TV or knew a single person in Bollywood. I met somebody who told me I could be a good fit for a role. I auditioned and got it. Thing is, we can keep using nepotism as an excuse, but the truth is nepotism exists everywhere.

We have just about begun to acknowledge mental health; and we are far yet from knowing how to deal with/behave/say to a person if at all the individual seeks help. What can be the crisis intervention? Or the role of the first responder?
Notice people. Observe if there is any change in behaviour. Someone appearing to be happy doesn’t mean the person actually is. I can meet a person and within five minutes, I can tell you what kind of state they are in. I used to meet Sushant at the gym. He was a quiet person, but always in a good state. I didn’t see anything negative with him. I don’t think he was in depression. Maybe he was lonely. Of course, we do not know what really happened to him. As far as crisis intervention is concerned, I think the first step is to acknowledge the problem/ issue. Most often people are advised to “get over it” or “stay positive.” We hardly say, “let’s deal with it.” The intervention cannot begin by not talking about it. When you meet someone and realise/know the person is going through a tough time, you should be able to say things like, “it’s going to be okay.” You have to get that person to open up to you slowly, not forcefully, and all you have to do after that is listen. If we could all be better listeners, a lot of anxiety or depression would find no room to stay. We don’t want to be in a situation where we make mental health a mental weakness by making everyone so dependent on pills.

As a performance coach, when you are trying to help the others’ minds work better, does it not take a toll on your own?
It has absolutely no effect on me. I am what they call a progressive coach. I don’t focus on why things are bad, I focus on how we can make things better. Having said that, in my earlier days, I would come home depressed because I would just be listening to people’s problems. Eventually, I learned the art of coaching as well as disassociation. Today, when a person comes to me and says she/he is having a very difficult time, I say: let’s do something about it right now. So, the process is very progressive. When you’re looking for solutions and outcomes, your brain doesn’t get drained. When you’re listening to problems and you feel sad for them, your brain does get drained. I have heard some of the most traumatic stories, but I don’t get upset. In fact, finding solutions for people is very empowering. I have done seminars where I worked for five days straight. I worked from 9am till 3am and started again the next morning, and I didn’t feel tired at all. I have got 3,000 coaches working under my umbrella and brand and our goal is to help people transform their lives.