“I am not rebelling against anything,” Uorfi Javed, the 25-year-old actor from Mumbai, clarified barely minutes after our Zoom video call. “I’m just saying I’ll use my body the way I want. How is that a revolt?”
One look at Uorfi’s Instagram page, with over four million followers, and you know there’s someone here who knows about her agency in a way that few are. Uorfi is not ashamed to ask for more – more attention, more love from her fans (who both hate and love her to death), more views and more likes.
Her honesty is refreshing and not what you would expect from a television actor. She has played supporting roles in TV shows such as Bepannah, Daayan and Meri Durga. However, she only rose to fame in India after participating in the reality show Bigg Boss OTT in 2021 where, despite being eliminated within a week, she made headlines for her “bold” sartorial choices. She recently became one of Asia’s most Googled celebrities for the third time, surpassing Bollywood greats like Sara Ali Khan, Janhvi Kapoor and more.
She calls out politicians who shame her and even controversial spiritual leaders like Sadhguru who said campaigns in support of the gay community should be stopped. Through her Instagram stories, Uorfi said we need pageants and campaigns to tell everyone that it’s okay to love and be yourself and that one’s sexuality should be spoken about freely and openly.
When I got Uorfi’s contact from a friend, I asked if the actor was approachable. My friend joked, “Doesn’t she like the attention?”
Indeed she does.
She answered my WhatsApp text in less than a minute – a refreshingly accessible gesture from a social media star.
“I look so eww now,” is the first thing Uorfi said during our Zoom call at 5 p.m. — she now prefers to be known only by her first name right now — adjusting her outsized shades on. “I was going to wake up two hours before this interview and do my makeup and hair for you, but I literally woke up now.”
Because of her surname, she was rumored to be the granddaughter of popular lyricist and screenwriter Javed Akhtar. The rumor gained such momentum that Akhtar was heavily cheated on social media, which encouraged actor Shabana Azmi, Akhtar’s wife, to take to Twitter last year to make it clear that Uorfi is not a member of their family.
Uorfi has responded to the rumors in her own way, but couldn’t resist the urge to joke in an Instagram story that she had finally met her “grandfather” when she bumped into him recently. She later shared that she had joked with him about dividing his property between three, not two, of his grandchildren.
Uorfi is not your conventional heroine. She rocks see-through dyed T-shirts with only crystals covering her breasts, poses with only a plate of freshly cut fruit and a glass of juice over her body, and wraps herself in bicycle chains, posted on her Instagram page. “I design them all [looks] myself and I try to be creative with them. All of these clothes run on such fine lines that it only takes one little mistake before the wardrobe malfunctions and disaster ensues.
Born and raised in the Indian city of Lucknow, Uorfi grew up in a conservative Muslim family. “My father didn’t understand the meaning of mental health and [the idea of] office for women,” she said.
Uorfi studied until the 12th grade. She is vocal about the fact that she is not a college graduate and has no plans to become one. When she was 16, she moved to Delhi where she worked in a call center. But the dream – to become an actor, attract the maximum attention, force the world to sit the fuck up and take notice of the juggernaut that she is – always bubbled underneath. A year later, when she moved to Mumbai, she started auditioning for TV roles and landed a few supporting roles in daily soap operas.
Author Chetan Bhagat recently opined at a literature festival that she was a distraction to young men looking at her photos “hidden in their blankets.”
Not one to accept slut-shaming, especially from the one-time best-selling author, who was one of two (businessman Suhel Seth being the other) accused of sexual harassment by author Ira Trivedi in 2018. cutting: “His #MeToo WhatsApp texts hadn’t distracted anyone, especially his marriage (because they weren’t getting divorced).”
“A lot of people may not know this, but I read and Chetan Bhagat’s books lack any intellect,” she told VICE. “His stories are written as semi-porn so I would never take him seriously. Whatever I do, I do it with my body, without harming anyone or even myself. You can keep your morals to yourself, because morals don’t pay the bills.”
Uorfi is clear: she is here to stay. She wants the attention. And she wants to be anything but basic. The paparazzi can’t get enough of her and she gives them what they want – posing in quirky cutout clothes, giving them flashy bytes outside the airport and calling out the next celebrity who might have made a prudish statement about her attire. When jewelery designer Farah Khan Ali labeled Uorfi’s clothing “obnoxious” after Uorfi was refused entry to an event, she hit back, saying her comments were “depressing and embarrassing” and that such statements are hypocritical of Farah Khan Ali, whose relatives in Bollywood had often depicted women in “tiniieee little garments in item numbers.”
A few weeks later, Uorfi was spotted wearing a telling crop top that read Not a Nepo Baby. In the wake of people increasingly calling out Bollywood for its nepotism, her bold statement was refreshing.
“Lady Gaga is a daring person, so she dresses like this. Likewise, I am daring and I want to express that through my clothes. The definition of fashion is constantly changing.”
She recently donned a black mini dress with two hands holding a loop at the center of the chest from British-American fashion designer Harris Reed, who famously dressed Harry Styles for the December 2020 issue of Vogue. Reed, whose gender-fluid designs also having been worn by Adele, Selena Gomez and Emma Watson, praised Uorfi’s recreation of the outfit via his Instagram stories, adding that he’s “kind of obsessed” with her.
Uorfi asked me a rhetorical question: “I just want to look good and be myself. Is that a crime?” For the politicians who target her, it might as well be. Unrecognizable crimes or NCs – crimes where a police officer cannot make an arrest without a warrant from the magistrate – have been filed against her across India.
“To date there is no FIR against me anywhere in the country because those bastards know they won’t have a case once it goes to court,” she said. An FIR is the first information report that applies to knowable facts. No court order is required for an arrest.
“All these people have alone [made] an NC complaint. They don’t want to lose in court. They would rather go to the media and accuse me of damaging the tradition of India,” she said. “They call me an attention-hungry whore, but they really want to steal my fame.”
Almost every post on her Instagram is full of hate and her inbox is bursting with rape and death threats, even from non-anonymous accounts. A few weeks ago, Mumbai police arrested a man named Naveen Giri for persistent rape and death threats against Uorfi.
She often uses her tongue-in-cheek wit to take down trolls. Recently, Chitra Wagh – a politician from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party in India – filed a police complaint against Uorfi for indulging in “open nudity on the streets of Mumbai”. In a series of tweets, Uorfi scolded the politician. One of them was: “Uorfi ki underwear me chhed hai, Chitra tai great hai (There is a hole in Uorfi’s underwear, Chitra sister is great).” Now Uorfi has opposed the Maharashtra State Women’s Commission against the politician, complaining that Wagh’s “comments incite attacks”.
But the hatred still got to Uorfi in ways she couldn’t have foreseen. “I am openly non-Muslim despite my Muslim name, so Hindus and Muslims unite in their hatred for me,” she said. “At first the trolling and slut-shaming didn’t affect me, but shortly after that I was depressed. It ruined me. All those people who complain [against me] made me feel like I had committed such a great crime that I should die. I thought: am I a whore? Am I really a blot on society?”
The journey to self-love and owning her choices has been long and arduous. It didn’t help that the TV roles she was getting at the time weren’t really high, stereotyping herself as the sister or “broken girlfriend.” So while she “didn’t like the way she looked,” Uorfi said the self-love journey also stops at the lip and chin filler dermat. She also wanted a nose job, but didn’t have the money for it.
“Recently I wanted to get a buttock implant because I had lost so much weight,” she said. “When I went to the dermatologist they gave me a laundry list of things to do – from tightening the skin around my back, filling in the blemishes around my body and stuff. So I was like fuck it, i will just be the way i am now.
It didn’t help that even friends would be embarrassed and ashamed to date her for a long time. “Nobody pays my bills. So I told them to fuck off. Fortunately, I filtered them out and I am now surrounded by people who really appreciate me.”
Uorfi now looks to the future with hope. Her dreams are not ordinary because she would do anything but choose to be ordinary, easy to forget and at the mercy of the long shadow of time. “I see myself at the top. I want to be the richest woman in India, and maybe even the world. Someone who is out there. I want everyone to know me. I want to be a legend.”
Follow Arman on Twitter and Instagram.