In Conversation with Pragya Kapoor

In a world consumed by hyperconsumerism, a select few are leading the charge for a sustainable and waste-free future. Over the last five to six years, movie producer and avid sustainability advocate Pragya Kapoor has contributed exponentially to the revolution. Born and brought up in Sweden, the model-turned producer was used to living a carefree and vibrant lifestyle. It was only after becoming a mother that her outlook on her lifestyle did a 360. With the changing conversations surrounding the environment, she realised that a wasteful lifestyle wasn’t feasible in the long run. This meant a complete overhaul, but Kapoor took it in her stride and has since been a vocal crusader of sustainable living. From incorporating waste-free initiatives into film-making to launching Ek Saath Foundation, an NGO that works for marine conservation and conserving nature, she is making big waves and doing her bit to create a safer future for the younger generations.

What drew you to the idea of sustainable living?

It was my children. I was born and brought up in Sweden. So having kids in India was never something I had ever thought of. How to raise kids in India, especially in a big city like Bombay, like this big concrete jungle, was never something that I had ever imagined. So when I did plan to have children, and I was pregnant, I was constantly looking for my childhood. I wanted to give them everything I had as a kid, whatever I had experienced, all the good things of being out in nature, climbing trees, and running around on the grass. And that was when it just hit me, what the situation is, and that realisation just happened, of how we live. It’s not something that used to bother me before. I think I was also part of extreme consumerism and a high-profile lifestyle. But when you have kids, everything changes. Everything’s just about what’s best for your kids and what best you can give them. One thing leads to the other, and you keep having realisations every day. For me, sustainability became important because I could see where the world was heading. It was just so clear to me. I got into this five, six years ago.

We recently went through a heatwave in May, and so did Europe. I was in Sweden then, and suddenly, in the middle of the summer, there was a hail storm. I think even Delhi had a hail storm a few months ago, and it’s just so random; the weather pattern right now. Even Bombay was extremely cold for being Bombay in the winter. So it’s like, all over the place. It was not like this when I started my journey in the sustainability space. It’s right in our faces; we can’t ignore it anymore. And I think, every day and every year, it’s just going to get worse if we don’t start making these changes. I think it’s just something you care more about when you have children because you know you’re leaving something behind. So obviously, you’re a little more careful than maybe when you don’t have children.

Does the idea of climate change scare you?

It’s something that’s always on my mind because when you have these two beautiful faces looking and smiling at you, having this very innocent worldview, and how everything is fantastic and exciting. To know that, at one point, reality will hit you on how one reacts to that and how one can prepare them as much as possible. I moved out of my house when I was 19. And I moved straight to India. A few years ago, I asked my dad how he allowed me to move to India at such a young age, especially since I had never been there. And he said, “Pragya, your mother and I gave you the best foundation we could possibly provide. And after that, we had to let go and then it’s for you to build on that. Those initial years where we taught you whatever we could about right and wrong, good and bad. How to be and how to grow in life.” But I still somewhere believe if I can give them that solid foundation, where they know how to be sensitive towards the environment, how to be empathetic, be career driven, but not to a point where it’s unpleasant or too competitive, or too aggressive, where you can live a harmonious life. So if I can give that to my children, I think I’ll be able to let go a little easier and know that they will be able to face the world, no matter what condition it is in, in the future.

Do you feel that living a sustainable life devoid of consumerism can be limiting?

PK: There are two aspects to this. Yes, it might be limiting because you can’t consume certain products that everyone else is, the commercial aspect of it. Something that mainly comes to my mind is fast fashion, fast food, chips and stuff like that. You can walk into a store, buy a multi-layer plastic chips bag, and enjoy that. I don’t find that limiting because I know the benefit of not doing that is much more, and it’s worth much more than that one packet of chips. It’s much easier to be sustainable today than a few years ago. And it’s just growing with time; it’s like supply and demand. The more need in this space, the more products will be available, and the more conscious companies and corporates will have to become. So I honestly don’t find it limiting. One thing that I focus more on is consuming less. I try to buy what I need. And that’s it. I don’t step into stores regularly. I don’t do online shopping, and I’m not a person who sits and scrolls through all these websites to see what’s happening, what’s trendy, and what’s new. So that’s how I control myself, but it also gives you a sense of contentment. You feel so happy in the space you are in because there is nothing you need or want that you don’t already have.

I mean, I’m in a decent, privileged space in life where I can afford to have good clothes, good food to eat, and all my basics are and they’re being taken care of, and I don’t need more than that, so everything else just becomes excess. The more you consume, the more it’s like an addiction. A lot of people are shopaholics. So that addiction element from life comes out because you’re not consuming that piece. So your mental health is much better than someone on this consumer bandwagon of having the latest trend and trying to fit in and keep up with what’s happening. Another aspect that I always try to also speak about is the financial aspect of it because if you don’t consume as much, it means that you have more money saved, and then you can spend that money on something that matters. For me, it’s an experience. I like to travel, try new things with my family, and actually explore, so I feel that is more enriching than anything I could buy, like any worldly thing. So I just think it gives you peace of mind. You sleep better because you’re unaware of what others are doing, wearing or buying. My mom told me as a kid, “You’re not walking that path, so you don’t even have to look at it.” And that’s one less thing to stress about in a world governed by social media. It’s just giving you an insight into other people’s lives, which is not a real insight but an image that they are portraying. In a world like that, I think stepping back and consuming less mindfully is a boon and a blessing. So I don’t find it limiting. I just find it incredibly peaceful.

Your last movie was dubbed a zero-waste movie. How much does the film industry contribute to environmental waste? And what are the best ways to curb it, according to you?

PK: I realised how bad the situation was when we shot Kedarnath. With the movie, we tried tapping into how development is affecting the environment and how consumerism is affecting our mountain range and Himachal Pradesh overall. Sara’s character was always against the kind of mindless development. And even Sushant’s character brought it up in a scene where he spoke about how we cannot keep going, and we cannot sustain at the pace we are going; it’s gonna hit us back. So it’s a topic that we had in the film. But while making this film, I realised how much waste we created, not only just in our daily consumption of food and water and food being wasted. There were thousands of small plastic bottles that people would take a sip of and toss aside. And then, because of the water sequences, there was so much water being wasted; even though we tried to repurpose that as much as we could, there was still a lot of water wastage. There was so much material in terms of wood and metal that we couldn’t reuse because of the flooding sequences. And shooting overall is very wasteful. Production becomes incredibly wasteful because you’re only using it for that film. And you can rarely reuse it for another film. Even if you try, it’s just a tiny percentage being reutilised in a different movie. It’s a lot, and it all depends on the film’s scale and what you’re making. And that is why we had the “Zero Waste” initiative in Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui. It was more of an experiment to see if it was possible to make a zero-waste film. And I’m thrilled that post ‘Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui’ being a zero waste film, many production houses have picked this up now. And many films are beginning to follow the same concept of reducing waste and repurposing the waste they usually send to the landfill. I see that as a positive trend. I believe we will see a very different way of making films within a few years. It won’t be acceptable to generate unnecessary waste because when you change your operating method, you’re saving money. So hopefully, that also will be an incentive for producers to take that step of making sure that they’re not buying or consuming unnecessary things.

Do you think sustainable living is considered frugal or looked down upon in today’s time?

PK: I wouldn’t say it’s looked down upon; it’s something people feel like they can’t do. And hence, it’s not something to give too much thought to. I have some people who sometimes feel or think I’m a little odd in my behaviour, and I can sense that. But sooner or later, we all have to make this shift. We have no choice; the way the world is going right now, there is no way that we can sustain without making the shift. I think an essential part of pushing this way of life is for you to make it cool. You have to make it feel like something that people want to be a part of, and something which is such as a status quo, so to say, like you have to give in to that vegan trend, where it’s just the thing that everyone has to do. So, I think, yes, it’s something that has to be pushed to become cooler than what it is currently. Currently, it has a very hippie vibe. Everyone’s wearing khadi, and it has a very Goa vibe to it. But I think that’s changing. And I do hope people start understanding because if we don’t change now, it’s going to be too late.