It takes courage to admit that you’ve been suffering from mental health issues. Tougher still is acknowledging that in a book and opening your deepest and most intimate insecurities to the general public. But that’s what Sidhartha Mallya has done in his memoir ‘If I’m Honest‘. Speaking exclusively to ETimes, Sidhartha opens up about writing the book, appreciating good friend Deepika Padukone‘s initiatives in the same field, and also admitting to the heartache and damage caused to his mental peace by the criticism and infamy meted out to his father Vijay Mallya. Excerpts:
What kind of response have you been fetching for the book?
Some people have already finished reading it. The response has been pretty positive. Everyone seems to like it and it also seems to be resonating with the readers. As the title suggests, people are just happy that I was honest about it.
Why did you feel the need to write this memoir? Once you’ve healed and left the mental health issues behind, recalling them again, even if for a book, must be challenging. Does it force you back down the rabbit hole?
It did. But I wanted to write this book to help people. I don’t know if you know about the series I did or some other stuff that I have shared about mental health, because of which I saw how many people I was able to touch by being honest about my story. I am not trying to fix anyone; I’m just trying to be honest. I know that a lot of people in India felt seen and like they weren’t alone. So, that’s why I wanted to write a book… just to continue shining a light on mental health. Any time it got difficult, writing it and going through my experiences–which it did–I would remind myself that this was going to help someone and that got me through it. Knowing that you have the possibility to use your pain to inspire others is a great feeling.
People were commenting on your Instagram posts on how they dealt with alcoholism…
I think most of the time people just want to feel like they are not alone. They just want to know that ‘someone else has felt that as well and I am not the only one and there is nothing wrong with me’.
In recent interviews, you’ve acknowledged allegations and said that your book is not a PR stunt and that you’ve held back the wild and glamorous tales. Were you tempted to share those spicier moments?
No, I have to be careful about what I say because I saw that what I said in that interview was taken out (of context). I have written a book to help people. So, to be honest, if it is a PR stunt, you can imagine it is a little bit insulting. It’s like I am literally trying to do something that not many people in India do. Also, what would I gain from talking about that life? It would have been a different book… something completely different… and that’s not me. As I am writing the book, we have enough people in the world ready to tell you how great their lives are and how everything is amazing. These things pop up on my Instagram account; there are people who post pictures of their watches and those accounts have around two million followers because they are posting pictures of 30,000-dollar watches. There are enough people to show you how great their lives are, but there are not enough of those who are willing to take the mask off and actually talk about what they really suffer from, and that’s what I always wanted to do. And I would hope that that is respected as well.
Will you consider sharing the wild tales in a tell-all in the future, if need be?
What do you mean by ‘need be’? I mean I can share funny experiences of my life in a memoir when I am 80, and talk about the experiences. If I can help people, then I’ll share it, otherwise, I don’t really see a point. What’s the need?
What was your lowest point in the struggle with mental health and what do you think brought it on?
I talk about issues with depression in 2016 as the lowest point, because that acts as the catalyst for self-work. I felt really low then and I was experiencing feelings in a different way because I had been to drama school and I had been opened up to express myself and experience things in a different manner. So, I think I was definitely dealing with a lot of the things the first time that I hadn’t quite experienced before, or if I had experienced them before, I had not experienced them the way I was experiencing them then now.
At one point you were very close to Deepika Padukone, who has also been an advocate of mental health issues and the need to be outspoken about it. Did you reach out to her while writing this book?
I think it’s amazing the work that she and everybody else do in India. There are just not enough people who talk about mental health. The fact that people like her use their platforms to promote mental health is very inspiring, and I think that the more people we can get to talk about mental health–whether it’s writing books, celebs or just grassroots level or teachers talking about it in school to children or families talking about it–better for everyone.
Did Deepika and you ever discuss mental health when you were hanging out in the past?
For me, my journey with mental health started in 2015-16. As I have said in the book, I was really unaware of a lot of the things that I was going through before then. So mental health was not really something that we talked about; it wasn’t really a conversation I was having with anyone.
There’s so much said and written about your father and a lot of it can be unflattering, too. How do you react to all the criticism?
I think that when you read anything on anyone you care about–a parent, friend, or sibling–and not even read about it, as humans we don’t like to see people we care about, suffering. Regardless of what the suffering is, it’s inconsequential. Whether he is being accused or not accused is inconsequential. The fact that you know someone is suffering, does hurt. Again, I write in the book that, ‘Everyone is entitled to an opinion’. I think opinions are great in life. I think discourse and discussion are very important, but you should have facts to make opinions. A lot of the time someone’s opinion is not an opinion, it’s just a vindictive attack. And then they are not even open to having a discussion. You must have an opinion and be open to having your mind changed or to look at things from a different perspective which you are unaware of.
Does the experience of seeing your father vilified and criticised so openly affect your mental health adversely?
Of course, it has and there is a whole chapter on it in the book. As I said, everyone has an opinion and there is no hiding from it. Everyone has problems in life and I am not saying we are anything special; it’s usually confined to the four walls of the house and a very private matter. But in a situation like this, it seems to be everyone’s business and that everyone feels that they are entitled to an opinion, which they are. But there is a level of due diligence that should go into making an opinion. In today’s world, where you can get your opinion across in the click of a button, that process of diligence seems to get lost a lot of times and we don’t perhaps think before we type (laughs).
You spoke about not getting a part in Quantico, too. How much does it hurt when you don’t come on board for a project? Is it hard to bounce back from such setbacks?
I think it’s just part of the experience. You have to learn to have tough skin in this game. Mark Ruffalo plays The Hulk in the ‘Avengers’. He once said in an interview that he went through 500 auditions before he got his first role and that is how it is. It is part of the job. I didn’t say I am not getting selected but what it is that a role needs to be cast. A breakdown goes saying that this is the role and submissions come in. You might get 4000 submissions for one role and out of those, the casting director will say I want to see 70 people and then they pick one person. It’s just about knowing that you have to go on and do what you can do and then letting go of worry because it is subjective. This is art; there are so many variables that could come into play that it is important to keep positive.
You don’t think one can use words like rejected or failed, you don’t resonate with it…
This is art, not a test. It’s not math or science that you can fail. It’s subjective. I think using words like ‘rejected’ and ‘failed’ when it comes to the arts isn’t perhaps the most appropriate terminology to use.
Are you planning to make a comeback to acting, modelling, or even the IPL? Or maybe try your luck with another career in Bollywood?
I don’t know. There is so much great content coming out of India today because of the emergence of the OTT platforms and stuff like that. There are so many more opportunities than perhaps what existed when I left India, so I am always open to wherever the wind takes me and we’ll just see what there is (smiles).