Sidhartha Mallya on his mental health journey

He talks about his book on living with OCD, a famous surname, his parent’s divorce, and his plans to start a foundation in Bengaluru

Sidhartha Mallya

Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t see rich or poor. Sidhartha Mallya makes that case in ‘If I’m Honest’, his debut book on his battle with depression. The Indian-American actor and model, who’s better known as the son of beleaguered liquor baron Vijay Mallya, started therapy in 2016.

His struggles began with the divorce of his parents, which left him longing for a family and stability in relationships. As an only child of about nine years, he felt lonely and would yearn to stay and play with the kids from his father’s new family. At the same time, his father, his hero, grew irritable towards him and their relationship became a rollercoaster.

Later, his famous surname would cause him immense guilt. From his nanny to his school teacher and an immigration officer to the press at large, everybody judged him, mocked him because he was a Mallya. So he quit his family business of alcohol to carve his own identity, as an actor. He would also quit alcohol realising it had become an escape from his reality.

Then there was the distressing behaviour he could not shake off. He would avoid cracks on the road to dodge bad luck. He would open and shut the door ‘even’ number of times, again to avoid bad luck.

He would wash hands and feet 20 times to escape god’s wrath. He would call up friends to confirm he hadn’t hurt anybody in a drunken state. He had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), he would later learn.

Helping hand

Diving deep into the past has triggered some of Sidhartha’s OCD and he is back on anti-depressants, he admits over a Zoom call from his apartment in California. “But it was my choice. If by talking about my mental health journey, I could help even one other person, it would be worthwhile,” the 34-year-old reflects on his decision.

His honesty has struck a chord already. “After seeing one of my interviews about the book, a woman messaged on Instagram to say her soon-to-be ex-husband and his family have apologised for the emotional trauma they have caused her. That’s the closure she needed, she wrote.”

Or, sample these: “Someone who used to work for my father messaged saying, she would see me engage in obsessive behaviour as a kid but wasn’t aware it was because of OCD. Another messaged that he could see the demons (of the divorce) from afar and he’s glad I have come through it.”

His family WhatsApp group from his mother’s side is also abuzz with congratulatory messages. His dad has so far sent him a photo posing with the book.

On the other hand, his book has been dubbed as a PR stunt to reclaim his image and that of his father, who’s facing extradition from the UK for financial crimes in India. “It was a one-off question, probably for a platform that likes to give readers a bit of masala (news),” Sidhartha says. He was disappointed with the question because it digressed from the important topic of mental health and seeking help.

Moreover, it was untrue, he says. The book is an extension of conSIDer This, an Instagram video series he started last year to talk about his struggles with loneliness, guilt and OCD, why he quit alcohol, and how he deals with online abuse (like ‘I hope your family dies’).

The series has clocked more than a million views and Sidhartha “screenshots” all the messages he gets and responds to as many as he can.

Press troubles

Sidhartha didn’t quite enjoy his time in India, when he was here to learn the ropes of his family business UB Group and to work for the Royal Challengers Bangalore IPL cricket team. This was partly because of the media, which splashed him on the GQ cover but also wrote vindictive stuff and rumours, like he flew to Tanzania to select a specific diamond for an engagement ring. The scrutiny took a toll on his mental health, he writes in his memoir.

This got us thinking about the vilification Aryan Khan has been subjected to in the drugs raid case by a certain section of the media, because he is Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s son. “This happens all over the world,” Sidhartha says and draws the example of Prince Harry who was caught smoking marijuana at age 16.

“He was a child, he made a mistake and he should have been punished accordingly. But newspapers wrote things like ‘The future king of England caught smoking marijuana’, some called him ‘Harry Pothead’. Later, we saw him step back from public life because of mental health. We forgot that at age 12, he had to follow his mother’s coffin in front of the world. People did not give him the empathy he deserved (to process the loss).”

Sometimes media can be as bad as trolls on the Internet, he points and urges them to be responsible.

Plans for Bengaluru

Sidhartha is in a better mental health space today, in that his therapy sessions have come down to once a month. He practices transcendental meditation twice a day and is glad his mum has taken it up too. He runs around his neighbourhood and loves going out for coffee and conversations.

The actor, who was seen in 2016 English-language sex comedy ‘Brahman Naman’, had more projects but then came the Covid. It also put on hold his plan to start a social foundation in Bengaluru, where his family empire is headquartered. He had envisioned it as a center to help people quit drinking but “now I am inclined to turn into a foundation for OCD awareness,” he says.

‘If I’m Honest’ by Westland Publications is available for Rs 350