Shirley Setia ‘The Girl With A Million Dreams And Zero Regrets’

CANdY’s Digital Cover March/April 2021

Words by P R Gayathri

Photographed by Denzil Christian

Shirley Setia is not a new name for the Indian audience. The girl who stole our hearts with her sweet voice, innocent smile and the ultra-cool vibe is now a Bollywood star and is expanding her horizons working in the south too. Adding more feathers to her hat, the cutesy singer cum actress tells us how she is just like any other girl, with a million dreams to achieve and a heart that is not tired of the struggles and a mind focused on the trophy. With no regrets and only gratefulness, Shirley smiles, remembers and recollects her journey from creating homemade YouTube covers to becoming everything that she is now.

From being called “The Pyjama Popstar” to achieving a name as “Bollywood’s Next Big Singing Sensation”, how have you successfully carved a name in the industry?

Both are very much a part of my journey so far. I feel that I still have a lot more to work on and achieve in life. I am grateful for whatever has happened so far and am extremely thankful to my fans without whom none of these would have been possible. It’s the inner motive that drives me to do more and work better and I hope to keep that going on and hopefully, one day I get to make all my dreams come true.

What would be the role of social media platforms, especially YouTube in creating your dream come true? 

It has played a very important role as it was the only medium through which I could even try to make my dreams come true. Having lived so far away from India, the only thing that instantly connected me to a real audience in India and Indians worldwide was social media. At first, I did not know how it would translate into real life, but when I traveled around India during my vacations, I realized that a lot of people were giving love to my covers. This then motivated me to keep posting more and then eventually move here to pursue a career in the entertainment industry full-time. 

What would you regard as your highest point in life so far? – A sweet memory that you relive every day?

There have been many such moments!  Crossing every little milestone has added happiness in my life, but possibly signing my debut Bollywood project was definitely one. I was so happy that both my parents were also here the day the role was confirmed, and we literally went to eat pani puri to celebrate this right after! (laughs) 

How challenging was it to bag your first debut film, Maska? Tell us any interesting event from the set that you still hold on to?

Yes surely, it was challenging! It was the first time I was finally playing a character other than myself on screen and so it came with its own set of challenges. I had to learn some Parsi- Gujarati, and since I didn’t know the language, it was surely difficult. I went through diction training for the same and also for my English, so it was truer to my character Persis. I think my workshop classes for photography were very interesting as well. Our still photographer, Vaspaan Shroff, helped me with the same as I played a blogger in the film. It came with some challenges too, as I had to approach people I have never met before to let me click pictures of them, something which I normally might not do as I am a little reserved person. But it was a great experience and I’m glad everyone who watched the film liked it!

How thrilled are you for your Bollywood debut movie, Nikamma? What more can we expect from you as a singer, actor and dancer in this movie?

I am extremely excited!!! Not many know that my meeting with Sabbir sir for Nikamma had happened even before Maska came along. He and the entire team have made me feel very comfortable and welcomed me with open arms. I still won’t be able to disclose much, but it’s a family entertainer and I’m happy that I’m getting to play a different character this time, different from how I was in Maska.

Outfit: Nikhil Kolhe , Jewellery: Deepa Gurnani & Antarez Jewels , Footwear: Something i
Top: Nikhil Kolhe , Skirt: Sania J Shroff, Jewellery: Deepa Gurnani & Antarez Jewels , Hairband: Bellofox , Footwear: Bata India

Graduated from the University of Auckland, how has your story of a life changed to being a star and how supportive were your family and friends in making your dreams come true?

I would say I’m still very much like any other girl who has a dream and wants to really work towards them. I don’t generally feel like a star or anything like that. I mean, I often still take rickshaws as they are so very convenient in Mumbai! But yes, family and friends have been very supportive throughout. My parents initially were concerned about whether this could be a sustainable career option for me and how I would manage in India, but with time they have become very supportive and are also quite involved in my career choices. 

If you could change one thing in your life what would it be? 

As cliché as it may sound, nothing at all! I wouldn’t be doing the things I am, or be around the people I am with right now if my past was any different. 

As a woman, how do you think the entertainment industry is working to bridge the gap between men and women in the aspect of appreciating talent and creating equal opportunity?

Our entertainment industry is moving beyond traditional stereotypes. Storytellers are sharing their unique perspectives in the form of filmmaking, music composing and entertainment in general which has contributed towards bridging the gap between men and women. There were in fact more women working on the set for our film Maska, even the producers being women themselves. It was really lovely to be surrounded by such strong inspiring women and I hope to meet and work with such inspiring women in the future too.

As a singer there come a lot of restrictions to your diet chart. How do you train to maintain your beautiful voice?

I try to avoid cold drinks and ice cream as much as possible. I have ice creams whenever I go back home, that too probably once or twice. I’ve grown to love hot water, which really helps during events and recordings. Other than that, I eat pretty much everything, I don’t have any diet restrictions but I do eat smaller portions throughout the day and that really works well for me. Also, just in lockdown, I got myself a cold-pressed juicer, so I have been enjoying fresh juices at home too!

Apart from your love for music, dance and acting, what will Shirley do in her leisure hours?

I love to watch makeup videos and try out new products and also cooking!! I love to cook – I’m not an expert or great at it, but I guess I can make decent food. It makes me happy and helps to take my mind off the stressful things happening around me. 

What’s your take on fashion? What are your favorite go-to styles?

Oh! I am not very fashion savvy, but I have good stylist friends who will help me out when I need them. (shout outs to Akanksha and Kareen) But generally, you’d see me wear more casual clothes than anything else.

What are your plans for this Holi? Any new music video/collab that we can expect?

I believe I will be at dance rehearsals and on set the next day for the same! I don’t have any specific Holi release, but I am working on my new single. I’m super excited about it and cannot wait to tell everyone more but thoda aur wait for karna hoga before I disclose more. 

What is your earliest memory of celebrating the festival of colors? How different is it going to be this year?

I never really played much Holi in my childhood, but as I grew up, there were a few Holi events and also, we did a Holi flashmob in Auckland which I was a part of and that was a lot of fun. This year I’m mostly going to be on set during Holi, but it’s exciting as I’m happy that the projects I’ve been working so hard on will soon be released! 

What would you regard as the turning point in your life and how grateful are you for having the courage to take the plunge?

Moving to India was definitely a turning point in my life and another one was deciding to go to the New York film academy to study a short course in acting. The experience there really gave me the confidence to give my all in acting. I believe that strengthened my drive to chase my passion and helped me develop to build the skill professionally.

Top: Punk House of Couture , Skirt: Nikhil Kolhe , Jewellery: The Jewel Gallery & Antarez Jewels , Footwear: Hush Puppies India

Tell us a bit about your upcoming projects and plans for the year ahead? 

Since things are so uncertain due to the pandemic, I wouldn’t say I have things pre-planned as such. I am just taking things as they happen. I’m currently working on my Telugu debut and looking forward to the release of my Bollywood debut film, Nikamma. Also, I’ve been working on singles on the side, so hopefully, my fans will hear some music from me soon! 

Women in your life that you look up to?

My mom and my Dadi. 

Your favourite song? 

These days, probably tujhe kitna chahne lage hum

Celebrity crush?

I’d have to pick Priyanka Chopra, as she has been so inspiring with everything that she has achieved! 

Favourite singer to collab with?

 Jubin Nautiyal 

Recent Netflix binge?

 The Crown

Music that puts you to sleep?

I actually like it to be peaceful and quiet when I sleep.  You’ll find me in a work mode when there is music in the background.

A new skill you picked up during quarantine? 

Cooking for sure.

Dogs or cats?

Both, but if I had to pick one then maybe cats.

Espace destination? 


If not a singer/ actor who would have you been?

Possibly doing a job in the digital marketing field. 

A quote you live by?

 “There is no substitute for hard work” – Thomas Edison

Favourite book? 

Harry Potter!

Unsung melodies of struggles and in-depth drive to keep pacing ahead is what makes your dream a reality and Shirley Setia’s life is the best example for it. Hard Work, passion and the courage to face life as it comes has made her a star and she now inspires us to write the lyrics of our lives in our own way and to move upwards and onwards! 

Outfit: Dziine , Jewellery: Deepa Gurnani & Antarez Jewels, Footwear: Something i

Editor-in-Chief: Farrah Kader | Photographed by: Denzil Christian | Fashion Stylist: Hemlataa Pariwal | Makeup Artist: Kunj Shah | Hair Stylist: Esha Sikka | Assistant Stylist: Drashti Jasani, Shikha Goel, Afsana Khan, Jhalak Jain, Akanksha Dhanwani | Words by: P R Gayathri | Location: The Barrel & Co | Coordinations: Sadhana Jennifer | Media Director: Communique Film PR