Chopra started earning when she was just 17 years old, but the lesson of save first, spend later, was learnt even before that. “I used to save during my pocket money days. But I am not a miser. For instance, I saved even in school when I used to get lunch money. If I was busy during lunch hours due to rehearsals, plays or extra-curricular activities, my lunch money used to get accumulated. When I had collected enough, I used to go buy a great outfit because in high school that was also important," says the 33-year-old Chopra.
Money lessons learnt
Unlike salaried individuals who have a steady income coming in every month, in the entertainment business, earnings are sporadic. But be it regular or sporadic, if you list your cash outflows and inflows, you will be able to budget better. This was yet another lesson that Chopra, who has acted in about 50 Hindi films, learnt in the initial years of her career.
“Initially, mom (Madhu Chopra) and I used to have a little diary in which we would write what is coming in and what is going out just to keep track, because there were months where you got so much money and then there were months where you got nothing." She ensured that she evened out the money for the entire year, especially in the beginning of her career. “I think it was very important for me to look at starting to build a safety net so that I didn’t feel the insecurity of the ups and downs of finances because I might do no film a year or I might do six commercials or I might do none."
So, when Chopra ventured into the risky entertainment business, the first financial takeaway for her was to build a safety net. “Risks are important. But a big risk without a safety net is something I wouldn’t do. You have to have a safety net so that even if you fall, you don’t get killed. Say, you are a contestant on Kaun Banega Crorepati (a popular TV quiz show) and you have bagged 5,000. You should take at least 5,000 home. You can’t come down to zero. Similarly, even if you take a big risk, you need to know that you will be okay even if you fail. You can’t take a risk where you can lose everything."
Knowing yourself is among the important initial steps to building wealth. Chopra knows this, and has also benefitted from it. “By nature, I am a rebel without a cause. I like to be rebellious because I can. I am little ‘anti’; a little off the beaten path. But within all of that, if I am walking off the beaten path and I don’t know what is coming in front of me, I make sure I wear comfortable shoes. I protect myself but at the same time make sure that I fly. I know very well that if there is a ditch, I am not going to walk into it. I am a sensibly rebellious investor."
The other stepping stone of her career and finances has been consistency. “If you are consistent in every exam and every test you take, you will keep getting As. If you study for all the small tests and keep getting A+ for each of them, eventually you will come first in class. You have to not slack. No matter what you do, you can’t lower your standards. Eventually, you will win. The plan is not the big win; the plan is winning today, right now."
The Padma Shri recipient says that there are multiple ways to get to one’s goals. “This is something I tell my brother (27-year-old Siddharth Chopra) and all the young people who want to achieve something in life. For instance, if the answer you want is 4, then 2 plus 2 is 4, and 8 divided by 2 is also 4. There are so many ways to get to 4. If one way doesn’t work out, you think of another way. We are in a world today where you can do that."
While Chopra knows what she wants and how to get it, she also understands the value of support. She ensures that a part of her income goes into savings, and her mother takes care of her investments. “My mom is my CFO (chief finance officer) and also for my company. She handles all my finances and legal work, and also handles her own business (including her clinic)."
Madhu Chopra is the brain behind the family’s investment strategy. “Since the beginning, my mom has been the finance king in the house. She used to literally put 1,000 in my dad’s (late Ashok Chopra) wallet because he didn’t have his credit card and didn’t know where his money was. Same with me, I don’t know what is where. I remember, in the first year of my career, I would depend tremendously on my mother."
Chopra also has a professional team that manages her money, and her mother keeps track of it. “I don’t like getting into anything unless I am educated about it, and my bandwidth right now is to be a creative person. I leave it to the people who actually know what they are doing. I have an amazing team and business managers over there (in the US) and over here (in India). My mom heads the team. And I don’t even get into it."
PeeCee: the investor
Chopra may have a wide range of roles to her credit, and may be willing to professionally go far and wide, but her financial portfolio is tilted largely towards real estate, and she stays away from gold and stocks. “My nani (maternal grandmother) was a Malayali and she believed in gold, and so does my mom. I don’t believe in gold. I prefer diamonds. And I have not ventured into the stock market." This, reluctance, she says, is because she doesn’t understand the stock market.
Movies and movie-making, however, attract Chopra, who has recently turned producer with her production house, Purple Pebble Pictures. The actress has taken up many unconventional roles in 13-year long career. Some of her successful movies include Aitraaz, Barfi!, Mary Kom and Bajirao Mastani. And with her production house, she wants to help tell stories without the barrier of conventions plans.
“Storytelling is as old as civilisation and can be told in any language. And cinema does exactly that. I wanted to be able to tell stories without barriers of conventions. So, I have started a production house that gives an opportunity where it doesn’t exist."
So far, she has produced three regional films. Bam Bam Bol Raha Hai Kashi (in Bhojpuri), which released in June, is her first film as a producer. Next in line is a Punjabi film (Ek Onkar) and then a Marathi film (Ventilator), which will roll out later this year. “Soon, I am going to do another 2-3 films in different languages." Her focus is on small-budget movies.
Besides her production house, Chopra has an interest in startups too. “I am definitely curious; I will not deny that. I have been listening and keeping my ears to the ground, not only in India but globally also. It is such an interesting new thing that is happening. It is bubbling on the surface at the moment. I like to be first in everything, so you never know."
People, their attitudes and understanding, all change with time. The same holds true of Chopra. “My mom as an investor has been a little bit of a risk taker. She invested in properties a lot. But now, we are slightly different. Now, she is a little careful and I have become a little bit more of a risk taker with my production house and a few businesses that I am getting acquainted with and also involved with. I like to sometimes push the envelope a bit. So now I say, ‘alright, let’s invest; if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen’. With time and exposure, my business acumen is becoming sharper."
Being financially independent
As is evident, Chopra’s mother plays a big role in the actress’s life. So, what is the most important financial advice that she got from her mother? “Financial independence is paramount. My mom always says that when a woman is financially independent, she has the ability to live life on her own terms. I think that was the soundest advice that I ever got. No matter where you go in life or who you get married to, you have to be financially independent—whether you use it or not. You don’t know what curve balls life will throw at you. You should have the ability to take care of yourself and the people you love. That has always stayed in my mind." Chopra’s mother told her this some 16 years ago.
Chopra emphasises that there is “a certain pride that comes with being able to be independent". “It is like your kavach; your protective shield. It gives you the ability to protect yourself when life happens, because life will happen. It happens to everyone. It gives you the ability to stand on your own feet and say that alright I can do something about it without being helpless. I don’t like the feeling of being helpless."
One of the aspects of financial independence is being able to spend freely. Though Chopra says she dislikes spending and shopping, she does splurge. “I am a different (type of) girl. I hate shopping. I will never go out and shop, especially for clothes, shoes and bags. I can’t be bothered with a new clothing line that has arrived."
Then what does she shop for? “I like buying drones, hover boards, 360-degree cameras and fabulous cars. I am a little bit like a boy. I also spend a lot on books. I am a voracious reader and I love vintage stores and first editions. Right now, I am making a library in my new house in Mumbai. I spend on random things. If I do shop, it’s mostly at duty-free because that is where I spend most of my time and I don’t have time to go out."
But splurging doesn’t mean dipping into savings. “For instance, when I wanted to buy a house, I did a lot of shows and events. But with my work, which is my films and my art, I never compromise. I have never done a film only for money."
Chopra is a firm believer in opportunities and says that everyone should make the most out of it. “We are one of the youngest countries in the world, and about 60% of our population is under 35 years of age. We have the ability to change the world. And we have to think like that. People need to keep that in mind when ever they look at opportunities."
Donning various hats, says Chopra, is in her genes. She calls her mother “an extreme over-achiever". “She is an ENT (ear-nose-throat) specialist as well as OB GYN (obstetrics and gynaecology) specialist. Now she has her own cosmetology clinic. She is a pilot and can speak eight languages. She also heads my production house and handles all legal and finances for it," says Chopra. Her father, too, was multi-talented—he was a painter, musician and a surgeon, she adds.
Meaning of success
At this point, Chopra’s is a success story, but she says failures are bound to happen. “I also make mistakes. I have taken risks on movies that have not done well; that’s bound to happen. No one has a 100% track record. You are known by your last failure. You will never be known by your last success. It happens to everyone and not just because I am a public figure."
Success is not a destination, she adds. “For instance, a film, a job or a promotion doesn’t mean you are successful. Success is a journey. You can’t stop and say I am tired because then someone else is going to run ahead of you and be successful. There are very few people who have the drive and want to keep bettering themselves. You have to be consistent to be successful; otherwise, your last failure will define you."
Scripting conventional success through unconventional professional moves, defying geographical limitations with an enviable career arc, Chopra swears by hard work and feels there is no substitute to it.
“I believe in destiny, but I don’t believe in entitlement. I don’t believe that you can sit and wish for something and it will happen. The soles of your feet have to be blistered. There is no pretty picture of hard work. There is no success story that doesn’t have shadows of pain, doubt, fear, lack of sleep and illness. But when you step out in the light, all that gets hidden. The effort and the struggle gets hidden. The path is not easy for any success story."
Chopra has travelled many paths and she has more than just blisters to show for it.
Mint Rich Star is a series that introduces readers to the business side of a celebrity. The series will lead up to the annual Mint Rich issue.