Debuting in 2010 with the Disney show, Ishaan: Sapno Ko Awaaz De as Shyla, Anisa Butt has given us one of the most memorable characters of our time. She has acted in a range of movies, starting from blockbusters like Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani to fan favorites like Half Girlfriend.
She has elevated her body of work with critical hits like It’s A Girl! and Got Cancer. Known for her widely followed podcast, Unplug With Ani, Anisa invites guests to narrate their inspiring stories to her listeners.
Take a look at what the actor, dancer, choreographer, model, host, and poet had to tell Team Storiyaan.
Questions and answers
Your Instagram bio describes you as 'God's Child.' You follow many feeds about spirituality as well. What role do spirituality and faith play in your life?
I had an excellent relationship with God growing up and used to always pray and communicate with him. Somewhere in between, I lost touch with that faith. Around the ending of 2016, I started rebuilding my relationship with Christ. I started going to church, and it reignited in me the will to follow a new spiritual journey. I believe that having religious beliefs is one thing, but being able to implement it in your daily lives is different. If I were to shorten it, I’d say that I’ve been on a massive spiritual journey.
We've heard you're a poet and also perform a lot of spoken word poems. Does poetry or its precision influence you and your outlook on life?
Yes, it has a massive influence on my life. One time an idea hit me while I sat in an auto-rickshaw, and I quickly typed it on my phone. I don’t like to stress it and only write it down when the inspiration comes. My poetry usually encompasses my life, spirituality, and a positive outlook on life. I also try to find the meaning of life through ideas of love. These are the main themes of my spoken word and poetry. My spoken word is out on my YouTube channel, so you can check it out.
Can you pen a short piece of your work for our readers?
Sure, let me give you a few lines.
He left that 99 to bring that one home,
My friend, he never leaves us alone.
And I told some people about him
But they said it’s not true,
‘Why would he leave everyone for you?’
Nah it’s not just me I said,
He loves you just the same,
But I know this all sounds a little insane.
I had to revisit it to deliver it nicely, so I hope you liked it.
Can you share your Easy-to-go Skin Care Routine?
The credit goes to my mother, who has been a constant motivation to keep up a routine and take care of my skin. I’d generally ask my readers to keep it basic. Find out what your skin type is. Mine is a combination of oily and dry and depends on the weather, mostly. If you love coffee, hydrate yourself with a lot of water at the same time.
I sweat a lot while working out, and I feel my skin benefits from it. Try to eat well and moisturize. Whether it’s chilly or warm, sunscreen is a must. Don’t forget to remove your makeup before hitting the bed. Make sure your skin is clean. And, of course, makeup exists for a reason. At times when I have a shoot planned for the next day, I get a pimple. So thank God for Makeup!
What books do you read? Can we expect a book down the timeline?
I enjoy reading a lot. Hardbacks, not on a screen. I like “self-help” books as I think they provide deep psychological insight. I love reading about Human Behavior in general. The current book I’m reading is called Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, where he talks about how we’re all wired differently and our experiences contributing to who we are. I think Paulo Coelho and Robin Sharma have some great skills. Their books like The Man Who Sold His Ferrari and The Alchemist are my favorite.
We cannot go on without talking about CodeM that streams on AltBalaji. What was it like to play a primary role in an acclaimed show, which also featured Jennifer Winget?
It’s a great experience as you keep making great relationships. It was lovely working with my co-stars, Jennifer Winget and Tanuj Virwani. I met Sam Khan, who deserves a special mention for his production on the series. I’ve worked with him long back in Ishaan when Red Chillies Idiot Box existed. It was simply lovely to be able to work with him again. And then there was Rajit Kapoor who played my father. Such a sport, I tell you! I had to slap him for a scene a couple of times, pleading for him to forgive me later. Besides, the show was written very well, and the whole team deserves applause.
You live in London, but you keep dividing your time to come back to India for work. How would you describe your connection to this country?
London is where home is. My connection to India is a special one, as it gave me an identity. I was entirely new to professional acting when I came to India. I was supposed to do a film, and that didn’t happen. And then came Ishaan, the Disney Show. Shayla was a character I loved playing in the show. With it came lots of fun and memories.
I keep traveling back and forth from London to India. It’s hectic but fun, and I hope to continue to do good work in both countries.
You described yourself as a fitness freak. You've done boxing and weight training as well. Can you highlight the importance of fitness, especially in the time of lockdown?
I am a fitness freak! I miss the gym as it comes with all the equipment. As for the pandemic, I don’t have issues adjusting. I enjoy running and walking too. I haven’t been able to do that a lot. You know, preventing myself from going outside a lot. Primarily, I have been shadow boxing, body combat, and body-weighting. You feel healthier training at home.
You don’t have to do it every day as I do. But I think if you could do it two to three times a week, you’ll feel healthier. There are so many benefits to working out. It pushes you, and you’re able to understand the capacities of your body. If you’re doing strength training, it makes you feel more durable; if you’re doing yoga, it helps you maintain flexibility. So go, get your workout in!
Can you talk to us about Unplug with Ani? How did the idea come about, and why did you choose a podcast of all platforms available out there?
Unplug with Ani is set to complete a year and a half in July. A friend had suggested starting a podcast. I always thought of podcasting as too complicated to maintain. I’m glad I started it and haven’t looked back since then. The idea of the title came to me through an eye mask that said Unplug! I was doing a photoshoot with that face mask and decided to name my podcast just that. It’s pretty funny how things happened, but I am so glad I started it. I talk to my guests about their journey, spirituality, and relationships. What excites me is every series is different. I’m on iTunes, Spotify, Anchor, and more!
Check it out here-unpluggedwithani.com
You've been into modeling, acting, dancing, choreography, and hosting as of now. You seem like a versatile artist. Are there other career choices you feel like you want to dive into?
I’m working on getting a poetry book published. Although I think I want to excel as an actor, I want to work with great directors too. I want to impact people through the things that I’m good at doing. I’d love to travel more and see more parts of the world. I’d like to trek or paraglide, see the Seven Wonders of the World and learn another language. But right now, it’s not my priority.
Tell us about content creation. You're a well-known presence in the Digital media. Whether it is just images you share of your life or positive quotes, how do you work on it? Is it a deliberate effort, or is it just the mood for the day?
It is a deliberate effort. Social media shows our best bits. I try to integrate quotes into my profile because I feel I have a lot to say. That is why the podcast came into fruition because I was compelled to share my vision. I feel like if I don’t share it with the world, it will be almost tragic. Content creation is hard, though. On days, you wake up to the pressure of posting something interesting. As an artist as well, you can’t wait for people to provide you with work. You have to push it and put it out there. When people ask me to introduce myself, I ask them to visit my Instagram feed. It’s real to me, and I feel proud of it. So, I’d say it’s a deliberate effort, but at the same time, it also comes naturally.
On days when things don't seem to be falling in place, what's your Mantra to keep going?
There’s a quote that has always stayed with me- “Take however little and do your best you can with it.” To me, it means I can take baby steps and create a better world for me. You can impact people’s lives in a big or small way every day. Never think that your existence doesn’t make a difference because it always does. Be passionate about sharing it with the world and letting them know that they matter.
Even on days when you feel like nobody cares or you’re not doing something big to make a difference, know that you’re making a difference. We need more kind and compassionate people in the world.
Can you talk about your internationally acclaimed film, It's A Girl? What made you want to be a part of the story?
It’s a short film directed by Simmer Bhatia and produced by Mehnaz Nadiadwala. It’s based on a book by Simmer Bhatia that deals with the topic of having a girl child in rural India. It revolves around the taboo of producing a girl child. I play a character called Karan.
Despite being born outside India, she moves here to marry an Indian. She lives with her mother-in-law. It’s about the challenges that come along, which include dealing with the traditional mind-sets. It did film festival rounds in America as well. It’s a critical story, and I’m delighted to be a part of it.
You've won several accolades as a dancer and choreographer. Talk about the significance of dance, and the first time you fell in love with the art of grooving.
Dance has been a massive part of my life. I was timid and used to dance in my room, facing the mirror. I watched a lot of Hindi movies and felt inspired by them. I wanted to be like Madhuri Dixit!
Dance helped build my confidence. I remember taking my first step in high school. We had an event to celebrate the end of the year, and I volunteered. I danced to a song from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. When the film came out, and I found out about Aishwarya Rai, I thought she was stunning—seeing her dance inspired me to dance more. It started as a passion cum hobby. Gradually, it helped me overcome stage fear.
I was part of a dance company called Flex Fx Productions once. Together, we did some big shows. We joined Atif Aslam at the Royal Albert Hall, and I performed Choli Ke Peeche. At that point, one look at the audience overwhelmed me. Hence, dancing will always remain close to my heart.
One of the most influential films you did was Got Cancer. It was done in a partnership with YouWeCanFoundation. Can you please talk about the movie and why it's so crucial for the world to watch it?
When I was shooting Half Girlfriend in New York, I met Rakesh, a casting director looking for actors who would be doing this project. As I keep moving around the world, Got Cancer just came to me. When I talked to the director, Ruhi, she explained how there’s a limited budget and how it’s about a great cause.
Cancer is scary, right? Many people have developed it and have passed away. I came to know that Ruhi has set up a foundation by the name of Hope Be Lit, which did a great job in Los Angeles.
In India, it provided sick kids with necessary medications and supplies. It was incredible to be a part of this film. By that time, they parted with YouWeCanFoundation. So yeah, Yuvraj also came on board, and it was shot as a mockumentary.
Last summer, I went to Chicago and L.A. to do a fundraiser for Hope Be Lit. The movie isn’t available online currently, but the trailer can be found. Keep an eye on it. I hope everyone will be able to watch it soon. It’s definitely going to touch your heart. You feel compelled to want to help the kids that are just starting their lives. And I think I have a big heart for children.
Do you have a golden word of advice for our young and aspiring readers?
I’d say that we’ve been planted with individual gifts in life, and we shouldn’t take it lightly. Sometimes it’s so hard to get everyone to want what you want for yourself. Not everyone is going to support you. There’s going to be many Naysayers out there.
You should make sure not to let anyone decide what you want in life. If circumstances are hard, put your faith in God. You’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The words “Hope” and “Faith” have had a tremendous impact on me. But the truth is, faith is a blind belief. When you leap, you jump because you believe in something, and not because you see a net there to save you. I think that the presence of the net doesn’t matter at all. That’s where the saying comes- “Jump, and the net will appear.”
As you get older, you discover your purpose. On days when you feel alone, know there’s God up there who is looking over all of us. And you know, He sees it all. When you look back later in life, you’ll realize that everything molded you into who you are today. And that’s the most beautiful thing in life.
Lastly, who inspires you the most, both as an actor and in life?
As an actor, Tom Hanks, Leonardo Di Caprio, Amir Khan, and Rishi Kapoor are my favorites. I grew up watching their performances.
My family has inspired me a great deal. I’ve been fortunate to have some amazing women in my life. My mother also has been a big inspiration and my nani. I’m grateful to my mother for supporting me, against all odds.
Even me, my future self! I can’t remember who said that in their Oscar speech. I loved that they would feel inspired by their future self. The thought of getting better with each passing day inspires me. Small acts of generosity and kind gestures inspire me.
1.Go to fashion choice: If it had to be an item, it would have to be a sports leggings
2.Travel Essentials: Hats, Shades, a book, and a speaker to play music on.
3.Acting on stage or against a camera: Film holds a particular corner in my heart. I’d go with acting for the camera.
4.Favorite writer: I think Haruki Murakami and Paulo Coelho are fantastic writers.
5.Favorite T.V. show: F.R.I.E.N.D.S., hands down! I think it’s so epic and legendary that you want to keep on rewatching it.