Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Bhumi Pednekar: Leading by example

Bhumi Pednekar wants to make a lasting impact through her climate-related initiatives. The actor, who was named as the World Economic Forum's Young Global Leader, is also investing in businesses that promote sustainable choice

Kunal Purandare
Published: Jul 3, 2024 12:28:50 PM IST
Updated: Jul 3, 2024 02:40:32 PM IST

Actor Bhumi Pednekar at a beach cleanup in Mangaluru this year
Image: MAC CosmeticsActor Bhumi Pednekar at a beach cleanup in Mangaluru this year Image: MAC Cosmetics

As we wait for Bhumi Pednekar at Yash Raj Films’ (YRF) office in Andheri, Mumbai, on an unbearably sultry afternoon in end-May, someone earnestly suggests that we ask the actor about combating the heat and extreme weather conditions. The comment was not out of place. The 34-year-old artiste’s name is synonymous with climate issues because of her relentless efforts and initiatives to create awareness about a crisis that needs urgent, and constant, action. And her role as a crusader has now been acknowledged globally as well.

Pednekar was chosen by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as part of its Young Global Leaders Community that features “people with the vision, courage and influence to drive positive change in the world”.

“Bhumi is a passionate voice for environmental conservation,” the WEF wrote on its website. The star is thrilled to be one among five Indians in the class of 2024 that has 90 global change-makers under the age of 40. “It’s a prestigious place to be at… it’s a big honour because it gives you the validation that you are doing something right,” says the actor, adding that she underwent a rigorous and in-depth screening process before making the cut and being inducted into the group in Geneva in May.

Actor Bhumi Pednekar at a beach cleanup in Mangaluru this year
Image: MAC Cosmetics

Acknowledged as one of the most talented performers of her generation, Pednekar has won multiple laurels for her acting abilities. While that creative satisfaction continues to give the star a professional high, her endeavour is to make a lasting impact with her philanthropic work. “I’ve always had that bone in me that I want to give back—through the films I do or my other initiatives, on or off screen. I love the idea of creating something that can leave behind its own legacy,” she says.
Describing herself as an aware individual since she was a child, Pednekar recalls that she began openly speaking about climate change and its adverse effects on human lives and the environment from 2016. Though she had educated herself by reading extensively about the issue, she claims she was initially mocked by people when she broached the subject. Fortunately, says the actor, she came across like-minded people at YRF—the production house where she first worked as a casting assistant before making her acting debut under the banner with Dum Laga Ke Haisha in 2015—who came together to form Climate Warrior in 2019. 

Actor Bhumi Pednekar at a beach cleanup in Mangaluru this year
Image: MAC CosmeticsPednekar is an investor in EcoSoul, co-founded by Rahul Singh. The startup substitutes single-use plastic items, like plates, with biodegradables

The non-profit advocacy platform has been involved with beach cleanups, tree plantations, waste segregation initiatives, rainwater harvesting and recycling, among other campaigns. “Every big headline today is around climate change. I truly feel it is the largest looming threat that humanity is facing,” says Pednekar, who lends her voice to these causes and uses her social media to communicate the message.

Going a step further, the actor announced the Bhumi Foundation last year through which she will streamline all her philanthropic work in the future. It’s still a work-in-progress, but the actor is raring to go with the non-profit dedicated to preserving the planet, and supporting sustainable, green initiatives and businesses. “Through the Bhumi Foundation, I want to bring about actionable change. Everything that I do is self-funded. If I want to make a larger impact, I want to give it some time,” says Pednekar, who is also the United Nations Development Programme India’s first National Advocate for Sustainable Development Goals.

Actor Bhumi Pednekar at a beach cleanup in Mangaluru this year
Image: MAC Cosmetics
Environmental activist and lawyer Afroz Shah vividly recalls collaborating with Pednekar on the Versova beach cleanup in 2019-2020. While talking to her over a cup of tea at his house prior to the drive, they exchanged notes about plastic pollution, and he was pleasantly surprised at her knowledge. “Bhumi is young and well-informed. Her heart and mind are in the right place as far as global warming and the problems about Mother Nature are concerned. And she rolls up her sleeves as well… she is not an armchair activist, but someone who comes to the field and does what has to be done,” he tells Forbes India. “In spite of being a Bollywood actor, she understands the ground reality very well. That’s a big plus point for somebody who wants to work in the sustainability and environment areas.”  

Shah reveals he has had multiple engagements with the actor on the field and discussed many issues with her over the phone as well. She had planned a lot of initiatives, but unfortunately, Covid came around that time and they haven’t spoken for the last couple of years. But the duo did plant three native species of trees at Versova, and “all are blooming”. “Bhumi is extremely warm and affectionate. I rate her human and environment quotient very highly,” he says.

Also read: From advocacy to awareness: Women-led communities are finding their voice in the climate space

From a business point of view, Pednekar has invested in companies that encourage sustainable habits and living. One of them is EcoSoul that aims to substitute single-use plastic with eco-friendly, compostable, biodegradable products—paper straws, areca palm leaf plates, bagasse bowls, bamboo wooden trays etc.

Rahul Singh, co-founder of EcoSoul, says the company—which has a presence in countries such as the US, UK, Canada and Vietnam, among others—was exploring the right partner for the brand when some of its investors in the UK introduced them to Pednekar, saying she had the right credentials as she had been working around climate issues. The deal was sealed when they met her at YRF’s office for a meeting that lasted over an hour. “She is a passionate climate advisor. We saw that zeal… she genuinely wants to contribute towards the planet,” he says. “She cares about the people and the environment. And I am not saying this because she is our brand ambassador, but because I see the action on ground.”   

As an investor, Singh says, Pednekar comes up with ideas and questions. And her wide reach is a bonus. For instance, when she posted a video about EcoSoul’s new line of bowls and cups on social media, it got 2.6 million views. “The biggest challenges for any green products company or brand are advocacy and customer awareness. That’s where Bhumi plays the most important role… she educates our customers about what is eco-friendly and how important this is,” he says.

Singh emphasises that it’s not just about being popular or having legions of followers. “It’s about someone who can genuinely communicate that message and make it believable,” he says without divulging the financial details of Pednekar’s investment in EcoSoul, citing a non-disclosure agreement. “Ours is not a time-bound partnership, it’s mission-bound,” he stresses.

Actor Bhumi Pednekar at a beach cleanup in Mangaluru this year
Image: MAC CosmeticsWith Kaia co-founders: (L-R) Pawan Shahri, Nikita Shahri, Bhumi Pednekar and Dhaval Udeshi

Dhaval Udeshi and Pednekar, who met through a common friend and have known each other for years, had initially thought of starting a health café. That plan did not materialise, but when the former decided to co-found Kaia, an oceanfront, boutique hotel and villa at Ashwem beach in Goa, with Pawan Shahri and Nikita Shahri, founders of Chrome Asia Hospitality, the first person he thought about was her. “Luckily, Bhumi was in Goa then. She visited the property, fell in love with it and the rest is history,” he says, refusing to disclose her investment details.

The property promotes sustainable living, does not use plastic or any material that damages the environment and ensures that the local life of the village where it’s located is not disrupted. “Bhumi is known for promoting slow living and organic stuff. And we got a lot of reach and inquiries because of her. Had I done this individually, without her, it would have taken us a lot longer… and we wouldn’t have got so much attention that we get because of her,” concedes Udeshi, who is the founder of Dhaval Udeshi Hospitality.

He was under the assumption that Pednekar would mostly be busy with her film commitments, but Udeshi was surprised at her hands-on approach. “She is extremely hardworking, has an opinion on everything and that matters a lot to us. She sometimes calls in the middle of the night to say ‘this is not proper… can we do this instead or can we rectify this’. I was impressed by her level of involvement—from the menu to the décor to each and every element of the hotel,” he says. “Since she is so involved with the brand and is constantly ideating, it makes my life easier.”

Actor Bhumi Pednekar at a beach cleanup in Mangaluru this year
Image: MAC Cosmetics

For Pednekar, these investments are crucial steps in her business aspirations. “I support a lot of green businesses. It is a big area of excitement for me,” says the actor, who was named MAC Cosmetics India’s first brand ambassador in 2021. “At the same time, this is also a business… it’s not a non-profit effort that I am making. My entrepreneurial journey is new, but I want it to be a big part of my legacy.”

Conscious of the soft power that the film industry has and the influence that she wields because of her popularity, Pednekar does not want to stop at one place when it comes to making an impact. Though climate is closest to her heart, she also actively contributes towards animal welfare and children’s education, while speaking about gender equality and biases. “I want to give back as much as I can. And I draw a lot of inspiration from younger kids because they are the true champions. They are the ones that are telling us that your generation has completely spoilt it for us, now you’ll have to fix it. They are the change-makers,” she says.

At the same time, she is aware that her stardom and on-screen roles have helped her gain people’s trust. Next year, Pednekar completes a decade in the film industry, and she cannot thank the universe enough that she gets to do what she loves the most. And she has no intention of stopping. “I am only going to keep getting better and healthier,” says Pednekar. It’s an open secret now that she wishes the same for the planet too.

(This story appears in the 28 June, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)