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Birthday special: Anu Aggarwal, the mysterious heroine of Aashiqui

Aashiqui gave Anu Aggarwal a shot at stardom, but she spurned the lure of glamour to chalk out her own path in life, much to the disappointment of fans of the cult musical hit. On her 48th birthday today (11 January), we remember the reluctant heroine.

Shriram Iyengar

Not everyone is comfortable with the glare of stardom. Vinod Khanna, for instance, took refuge in Rajneesh, as Osho was then known, to escape the constant attention. Shah Rukh Khan on the other hand thrives in it. But rare is the star who disappears into obscurity so suddenly as Anu Aggarwal.

In 1990, Mahesh Bhatt's Aashiqui changed the landscape of Hindi cinema, particularly its music. A tale of young love, it dealt with the struggles of two people struggling to hold on to their love in an increasingly commercial world. In many ways, it was representative of a new Indian generation. Unsurprisingly, the blockbuster turned Rahul Roy and Anu Aggarwal into overnight stars.

Aggarwal was always a misfit in the industry. A gold medallist in sociology from Delhi University, she could have easily made a career as an academic. But her graceful looks and poise caught the eye of talent spotters, ensuring that she was soon walking down ramps, and working as a VJ in her spare time. It was her poise and nonchalance that caught the attention of Bhatt. 

Speaking about Aggarwal's big break in an interview with the Hindustan Times newspaper, Bhatt later said, "I saw her for the first time in a TV commercial and liked her enigmatic personality. I approached her through a common friend and signed her for Aashiqui. She was a good student and had the willingness to learn it all."

Aggarwal's reel and real lives were close. Like her character, she, too, was bold, free-spirited, a model and beautiful. No wonder she didn't find the need to watch the film to find out the answers to her life. On the release of the remake, Aashiqui 2 (2013), she said, "I haven’t seen Aashiqui yet. I think I should, though I haven’t done that."

Despite her success, Aggarwal struggled to build a career as an actress. Nine years after the big blast of Aashiqui, she was involved in a near-fatal car accident. The actress went into a 29-day coma, before battling back to life. Since then, she has moved past the stardust of cinema to immerse herself in social work. As she said in her interview, "I had a great innings when I was in the glamour business. I got more than I ever dreamt of. I believe in the power of now. I try to live in the present moment. Nothing I see in Bollywood now is interesting. If an irresistible offer comes, I will do it."

Having published her autobiography, Anusual — Memoirs of a Girl Who Came Back from the Dead, Aggarwal looks comfortable far away from the limelight. For now.