« Back to articlePrint this article

The Cute World Cup Scene Stealer

December 07, 2023 08:59 IST

Naina Bhan is the pretty face with the adorable bob who popped up on our screens in the PhonePe ads during the World Cup.

IMAGE: That's Naina Bhan when her Netflix series Class was named the Most Popular Youth Show at the IWMBuzz awards.
Photographs: Kind courtesy Naina Bhan/Instagram

In a lot of ways, Naina Bhan is very aam, just like us. She likes shopping, turns to her dad for advice, loves creating reels and enjoys the McDonald's creamy vanilla soft serve.

But she is also "a one-woman army", hustling minute-to-minute as she juggles several roles -- actor, intimacy coordinator, content producer and podcaster.

The pretty face with the adorable bob -- who popped up on our screens as the PhonePe ad girl during the World Cup -- has a remarkable level of confidence.

Former MP Rajya Sabha Swapan Dasgupta even touted her as a 'sensation' and that tweet of his was liked by over 50,000 people.

Now that the World Cup has ended, her fans miss her quite a bit.

Growing up she picked choir over theatre and learnt Hindustani classical and Bharata Natyam. She later went on to study history at Delhi's Miranda College and then film.

Bharata Natyam classes meant she was in a cotton salwar kameez for most of the week.

"I still love the oversized kurta, but, more than that, I love cotton saris. I generally wear them with a cropped top if I'm wearing one casually."

IMAGE: She always has a smile ready for the camera.

The 10-year-old Naina thought she'd be Shania Twain. Instead, she ended up studying film.

"Originally," she tells Anita Aikara/, "acting was something that was never on the cards."

It was her love for writing and photography that inspired her to study film.

"I thought it was a great way to bring my interests together," she says.

Now, says Naina, it does not matter if she is before or behind the camera; both are second nature to her.

"I wear many hats -- actor, intimacy coordinator, content producer and podcaster. And I intend to expand this list further," she says.

"This kind of multitasking helps me focus on doing the work that I enjoy doing; switching around keeps my professional life dynamic and allows for a lot of learning."

After Naina completed her degree at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, and moved back to Delhi, she began working at a film production house called Jamun.

She also freelanced as a model.

"I was always around the camera. It's a practice I've been following for 7-8 years."

IMAGE: The easiest way to Naina's heart is through her stomach.

The auditions for Netflix's 2023 high school thriller series, Class, happened because she was already modelling, says Naina.

"I used to get calls for TVC (television commercial) auditions and then, once day, the Class audition came in. I thought, 'What'd be the harm in trying?' and gave a self test."

"More than accidental, it was pure fate," says Naina about playing Koel in the series.

"It was one of the only auditions I had ever given at the time and (Film Director and Screenwriter) Ashim Ahluwalia saw potential in me."

Being an actor, she says, has been a huge learning curve for her.

"I was learning to navigate the industry in real time as Class released.

"I had moved to Mumbai just months before the show aired and was suddenly exposed to a huge industry with no familiar faces.

"But I loved the challenge.

"My learning from it is that I think being an actor in 2023 requires you to don a lot of hats and have multiple skill sets.

"It is also a game of patience and instinct. There is no set path so you have to be open and alive to where the journey takes you."

IMAGE: One of the 'many moods of a gremlin lady'.

In her spare time, Naina also doubles up as an intimacy coordinator.

Quiz her about it and she says, "An intimacy coordinator is a professional on set who works with actors and directors to facilitate and choreograph scenes of intimacy."

She worked with an intimacy coordinator on Class and was intrigued by the work. "I found it interesting to be able to work with actors and arm them with the tools and confidence to carry out challenging scenes."

The actor feels like a lot of things have happened to her in 2023 by divine intervention.

"Just a week prior to the audition for the PhonePe ad, I felt this sudden urge to cut my hair short," she explains.

"My family was surprised, it's not the kind of call you take as actor.

"It's generally assumed you should keep your hair long. It was a small detail but it made all the difference."

The production house that produced the films, Nirvana -- with Director Prakash Jha at the helm -- was a bucket list item for Naina.

"When I was studying film, the first production house I applied to as a director's assistant was Nirvana. I'm sure my resume is somewhere in their archive."

So when she found out that she locked the part of Arya (the PhonePe girl) all these years later, it was a full circle moment. "Prakash Jha, as it turned out, was looking for a good actor with short hair."

"The (PhonePe) idea of a six-film series centred around a main character exploring a new city excited me.

"Looking at the films come to life on set was a lot of fun. The lensing, the art direction and Prakash Sir's detailed eye... it felt like something special was brewing."

But Naina had absolutely no idea what that meant until the films started to release, one by one.

"So much love poured in from all parts of India.

"Not to mention my family beaming every time they watched a match. They would send me a photo.

"I did not fathom the impact the series would have. My comments are flooded with people attempting to engage with Arya.

"Her dialogues have become iconic with 'Mera chhota sa nuska' and 'Chhote payments ke liye pin nahi lagta' being the most popular.

"The proof is in the audience recall. I think there's something so honest and vulnerable about the concept that it connects with a lot of people."

IMAGE: She serves up 'bubblegum baddie energy' in ASAL by Abu Sandeep.

Naina's got a weakness for well-tailored classic items.

"I'm always on the hunt for a good pair of jeans," she confesses.

She happily spills the beans on the places she shops at.

"Delhi is the shopping heaven for all budgets. Growing up was a lot of thrifting from Sarojini Nagar."

Her Indian clothes come from exhibitions at Dilli Haat, Aga Khan and Pragati Maidan and she owns staples from brands like Bhaane, Icho and Leela.

For collector pieces, she turns to Bodice, Antar Agni, Pero, Bhaavya Bhatnagar and Lovebirds.

"My favourite, most underrated places to shop are the Blind School Diwali Mela and Dastakar."

IMAGE: 'Kleopatra Kalra' on the prowl?

In Mumbai, the actor is still figuring out her spots.

"Kala Ghoda (in south Mumbai) has some lovely boutiques and I haven't made it past Palladium (in central Mumbai)," she says.

"I have been using my Instagram to hunt new homegrown brands. I like the ones that are doing inventive textiles, fuse Indian and Western wear and are sustainable," says the die-hard fan of Beyond Echoes, an Instagram thrift store.

Her tip to dress like a queen bee are "to build an intentional wardrobe.

"Invest in classic pieces like a good white shirt, great jeans, a blazer and make the look your own with Indian crafted jewellery," she advises.

Her Pinterest board is a lot of interior decor, fashion photography and graphic design posters.

"Whenever I'm scrolling on Pinterest, I fantasise about a film I'm going to direct one day," she says seriously.

Naina always has three half-read books at a time on her Kindle -- two fiction and one non-fiction.

"Currently I'm reading Yellowface, Glamorama and Untrue. Apart from this I work with content development, so I read about 3-4 scripts a week."

Naina would want to retire having lived a full life and with lots of exciting stories to tell. "Maybe that means I'll retire as a consultant," she laughs.