Exclusive: India is breastfeeding-friendly but women must start a dialogue about its challenges, says Sonali Kulkarni

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“Women need to communicate their requirement when it comes to sensitive issues like breastfeeding. Let’s start a dialogue,” she says

In an industry that hinges on youth for opportunities, actor Sonali Kulkarni has proved that it’s not the only parameter for success.

At 41, she is sitting atop a thriving career and is balancing it with the responsibilities of being a wife and mother to her four and a half-year-old daughter, Kaveri.

“The universe has been really kind to me that I am blessed with such a lovely family and at the same time I am able to do what I want to do,” says Kulkarni, in her exclusive interview to The Indusparent.

She spoke to us extensively about her role as a mother, a working woman and why young mothers need to generate a dialogue about the challenges of breastfeeding.

Here are excerpts from our exclusive tete-e-tete with Sonali Kulkarni, a day after she celebrated her sixth wedding anniversary with husband Nachiket Pantvaidya (CEO, ALT Digital Media, Balaji Telefilms).

On marriage

Well, it was my sixth anniversary yesterday, and I just spoke to my husband and told him that this has been the best casting of my life- to be his wife and to be his family member.

I have an adorable new family now and I am so happy to be married to my husband and to be a mother of my four and a half-year-old daughter, Kaveri.

On experiencing motherhood

Being a mother is such a nice feeling. I have always wanted to have my own family and I am so thankful that I did get it. And yes, just like any other mother would feel. I also feel that mother has changed me big time.

I think there is a huge amount of understating and tolerance that I have learnt after becoming one. My sensitivity quotient has certainly heightened.

There was a point when I would get quickly annoyed seeing people with kids at the theatre or seeing them travel with their kids on flight. But today, I feel extremely empathetic towards other parents.

Continue reading to know about the challenges Kulkarni faced during her pregnancy.

On challenges during pregnancy

When a girl is pregnant there are two extremes. There are people who shower you with congratulations, and then there are those who scare you with their experiences.

So, even I was bombarded with such scary stories. And, as a pregnant girl, who has conceived for the first time, you want to believe that this experience is going to be beautiful and nobody warned me about these scary stories.

Mulgi.. ????

A photo posted by @sonalikul on

So the challenge was to stay positive and believe that everything will be normal.

And my friend in this journey was my gyneacologist, Dr Vinita S. Salvi. She made the experience scientifically beautiful for me and encouraged me to read about pregnancy and childcare and to ask questions. So she basically removed my hesitation and fears about the pregnancy.

And because of this, I had a normal delivery and I was extremely active during my pregnancy. In fact, I was shooting for three films when I was pregnant. I was working two days before I delivered Kaveri. She was born on October 18 and I was working till October 16, and I felt really nice about it.

In fact, I never had any cravings and I was generally very happy. I travelled a lot, we visited places and I kept myself active. 

On challenges as a new mum

I had to first learn that I had become a mother. I had idealistic expectations from myself. And since I am a perfectionist and am very particular about things in my house, I felt that I will be super cool and so organised, but I was so bookish.

As soon as I became a mother, the house had gone hay-wire and I wouldn’t find my normal things, from napkins to my chappals. I was in a mess for a while, I did not understand how I would recover from this mess.

It was hilarious. But it was my baby who really helped me.

There was an incident that really opened my eyes about how to handle being a new mum.

Kaveri was probably two months old and was not sleeping properly. So I just happen to ask her, "What do you want my girl?" And she looked at me as though she wanted to convey that she didn’t know what she wanted.

She was new to this world and I was the only anchor, the only support, I was her belief and her vision. I felt that she wanted to convey that we should both be a team.

And that really calmed me down and I have that memory carved in my heart.

Continue reading to know how this powerhouse performer managed to go back to work with her baby in tow. 

On one thing she misses after being a mum

I miss resting because I did not realise its value before. I always thought resting is killing time.  

I will definitely appeal to women like me to not feel guilty to rest. If anyone is my mentality, they should definitely understand their problematic personality of expecting too much from oneself. They should not think twice before resting.

On going back to work

I started working when Kaveri was five and a half month old. In fact, she used to accompany me to the sets and while I was still breastfeeding, I did about three films.

I must share that I never put anything in the contract but my units have been very cooperative. I could feed her and I could take my breaks.

It was during this time that I realised that we should be more empathetic towards Indian men. What motherhood or pregnancy has changed in me is that I have started feeling very affectionate and respectful towards men.

In my experience, I did not encounter a single wrong look. I have only seen respect and I didn’t have to tell them that shouldn’t look at me when I feed my baby.

Of course, I went to my vanity van, but there were locations where I had to shoot and feed her outside. I shot for a film called Dr Prakash Baba Amte in the jungle. And to my surprise, I never had to tell anybody. They voluntarily got up, offered chairs and sheets to cover me.

Even while I was pregnant, the amount of respect I was given is something really special. My respect for men has doubled because of this experience.

Strangely enough, I felt that my brother or my husband or my father, were the only gentlemen in the world, but no, that’s not the truth. We are blessed with a gentle society.

It is extremely unfortunate the kind of events that take place but I feel that we also have to wake up to the good men around us.

Continue reading to know why Kulkarni thinks we should talk more about breastfeeding.

On breastfeeding in public

India is certainly breastfeeding-friendly and we do encourage breastfeeding. I have been a breastfeeding ambassador for last three years and have promoted breastfeeding extensively.

Surprisingly, I found that people are much more aware and at the same time much more illiterate about the challenges of breastfeeding.

For instance, if a new mother cannot breastfeed, they go through a bit of depression and tension. And while we need to have that scientific knowledge about breastfeeding, we actually do not.

Women need to get communicate their requirement when it comes to such sensitive issues. There is a need to start a dialogue. And you will be surprised that your bosses or your colleagues will cooperate, because they also have a mother, they have sisters and wives and daughters.

No person will dislike you because you have a child.

When my child comes on my set, I never trouble anybody on the set, but I have hardly met co-actors or directors who hate children or tell me that I shouldn’t bring my child on set.

Not that I bring my child on the set everyday, but there are challenging days and there are resources if we seek help. It is about generating a dialogue.

On the need to learn to communicate with children

First, let the pregnancy not be an accident. When you are married, prepare yourself. Planned parenthood is crucial and pointing fingers is something one should never indulge in.

Second, when you have a child, you must learn to respect his/her choices. For instance, I treat Kaveri with extreme respect. If she doesn’t want to go to the park, I respect that. But that doesn’t mean that I am spoiling her, at times she may have a say.

Having said that, I feel that people don’t understand how to talk to babies.

They either offer chocolate or they scare babies. They narrate jokes and they think the baby is going to laugh. I don’t understand this joke where they say, “I will take your mumma away!”

Then the baby starts crying and they say the baby is looking so cute while she is crying. What is this villainous pleasure? This can actually impact the child negatively.

I definitely want to cultivate a class where I want to talk about how to talk to children. Please do not ask them “What is your name?” Please do not ask them “Which school you go to?”

Don’t try to entertain them because kids really like to observe. My advice to people is to be themselves around kids. Trying to have animated conversation- it is fake and scary for the child.

And am trying to build this trust in my daughter and I appeal to all the parents to be normal around children. Just be true to yourself.

Even for me, I don’t lie to Kaveri, I don’t buy her gifts because I am late. She knows that I really enjoy my work and she knows that I am going to perform a play tonight. She knows that I am going to shoot and if I don’t come back before she sleeps, I feel really bad but, I do not try to compensate by buying her gift.

Because she knows that I have gone to work. And I really like my work as much as I like her.

I am trying to communicate that respect I have for my life. I definitely tell her the next day that I feel bad that I couldn’t be there on time. They are not interested in apology but your company.

So, you have to learn to communicate with children because they are as good as adults, they understand everything.

Continue reading to know what Kulkarni has to say about her hands-on hubby. 

On her hands-on hubby

Nachiket is certainly a hand-on father.

In fact, he is bonding very well with Kaveri and they are becoming friends. They have their set of plans and I am generic enough to accept that because I have seen that many mothers like their child to be dependent on them.

I want them to understand that it’s all right if the child only needs the father at one moment. The mother’s feel that the child should only need me because I am the mother.

I party hard when my rockstar is along ????

A photo posted by @sonalikul on

At times Kaveri wants to talk to her father and only wants to say something to him. Because they are developing their bond and she loves him. I love the fact that there are two parents and both of them have different association with the child. Of course, Kaveri loves me the most. But I have to understand that she loves her father too.

Nachiket has been an extremely supportive dad and he has always wanted to respect my values about parerthood. He has been very understanding about it. He has travelled with me without any complaints.

In fact, I have performed all over India and I have traveled abroad with Kaveri and he has tried to accompany us as much as he could and he has let us travel on our own.

I feel that very few fathers have this confidence that their wives and children will do fine without them. Nachiket is extremely open-minded and generous and has instilled a lot of trust in us.

On Indian fathers rising upto the occasion

I think India is raising upto it and many fathers are taking active participation in raising the child. I feel it should be beyond taking the child to the park on holidays and it should be on a daily basis.

I am definitely lucky to have such a mature partner like Nachiket who is very reciprocative when it comes to sharing values. We love music and we love sharing that with Kaveri.

Both of them bond over classical music and he is introducing her to musical notes and the instruments like tabla and harmonium. I like it that way. It is beyond the ‘rule,’ and he is sharing his passing with Kaveri.

Continue reading to know what Kulkarni has to say about the pressures of getting that pre-baby body back. 

On pressures of getting back the ‘pre-baby body’

There is pressure because I must tell you that I have had a few very strange encounters with male friends. There is an interesting incident. I had gone out with Kaveri, and this was probably my first public appearance with her.

I had gone for a premier and this friend of mine came up to me and started a conversation. And I was looking pretty, and so was Kaveri. He said, “Oh! What happened? You have become heavy and you have put on so much weight.”

And he was laughing and making fun of me. So, I politely asked him his full name and if was he married. He didn’t understand why I was asking him these questions.

So he said, “Sonali you know me.” I said, “Yes, you have a child, you know me. The baby is in my arm and you are making fun of my figure? What do you want women to be? You want to deliver one day and the next day you want them to be baby dolls.”

I feel that before anyone can make fun of them, girls start taking this pressure of looking good. We are all born beautiful and we should respect that.

The body will definitely go through some change. After all for nine months it kept changing, because there was a child growing inside us. How do we expect ourselves to be normal in the very first month?

I feel really amazed when I look at girls who say “In two month I was back to normal.” It’s okay to lose weight or turn big. It’s very sad when girls don’t understand that taking time is okay, going through change is okay. Everybody wants to be superwoman.

I feel that this is not about society that gives you that complex, but it is also about us. It is women who really want to have that complex- that we have put on weight and now they must loose this weight quickly.

It’s very unhealthy and you don’t even have the child’s health in mind. It’s our responsibility to look after our own fitness for the child. It’s not fair to miss on feeding time at the cost of going to the spa.

Women should take it easy and remember that nature is going to give us enough time to recover and we are definitely going to fall into our own shape in given time. But getting into a competition mode is not right.

Women have to understand that we have to respect each other because we belong to different classes. Some mothers have enough house helps, and they have time to get ready.

Some women do not have the support system to take care of themselves with such indulgence. And they are running around driving themselves and they might not even have any help. They drop the child, cook and then go to the office.

We have to understand each other’s challenges and respect that. Otherwise we will fall into very crooked and demanding creatures.

On upcoming projects

Currently, I am working on two plays, my production White Lily Anni Night Rider and Gardish Mein Tare, where I am playing the lead. I also just came back from Dubai, where I participated in the Dubai Prithvi Festival. You will next see me in two Marathi films and one Hindi movie.

She signs off!

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(Images courtesy: Instagram)

Written by

Deepshikha Punj