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Komal Panwar

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Celebrity Lawyer Priyanka Khimani Shares Stories Of Her Most Challenging Cases With Us

  • IWB Post
  •  May 26, 2018

The phrase “Kuch aisa kar ke dikha, khud khush ho jaaye khuda,” fits Priyanka Khimani perfectly. The lawyer whose firm Khimani and Associates recently merged with Anand and Anand has a lot on her plate.

Priyanka isn’t just a lawyer! She’s a theater artist, writer, and much more! Her career is rather interesting. From Sonu Nigam to Lata Mangeshkar, Priyanka has many wonderful clients turned friends by her side.

To find out more, I decided to interview the celebrity lawyer.

You’re a model, a lawyer, theater artist and a writer! Does it get any better than that? Are we missing out on some talent?

I hope not or I’m soon going to be called jack-of-all-trades! But on a more serious note, I think each phase of my life and all the trial and errors I went through during school and college have helped me reach where I am today. And each of those experiences has gone a long way in shaping my self-confidence and helping me build relationships.

Is casting couch the reality of a modeling career?

It would be wrong to stereotype a particular profession, so I’m going to answer this more broadly. Casting couch is the reality of every profession at some level or another. Unfortunately, what women don’t realize is this – Men who want to sleep with you, don’t intend working with you anyway;  and men who really want to work with you, don’t need to sleep with you to do able to do so. I wish more young women learned and internalized this, instead of feeling exploited and shortchanged.

You were 15 when you wrote “Tamanna House.” Tell us about your childhood experiences that helped you with the script writing?

I grew up in a home where my father was an avid reader and a great speaker, and my mum was (and still is) a huge entertainment buff. I recall my father reciting beautiful poems in Urdu or quoting Ghalib at the drop of a hat. I also regularly accompanied by mum to plays – Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi. That laid the foundation for thinking creatively and trying to express it articulately. My mum, who was extremely shy and reticent as a child, wanted me to grow up to be confident and well-spoken. So she would enroll me in all sorts of elocution competitions, dramatics classes, public speaking workshops.

Soon, I became one of the most popular kids in school as I won several awards for my speaking and writing skills. In no time, I was writing, acting in, and directing, plays for various school competitions and events. I did get into trouble once for my writing – We were staging a play as a farewell to our tenth-grade teachers where I had written several parodies based on then-popular Hindi songs and my fellow students were enacting them as part of play. It was meant to be a funny, sweet tribute to our teachers but backfired severely. The students and the principal enjoyed it tremendously and laughed their guts out, obviously leaving some of the teachers fuming!

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Everything! It went from being an engineer to a doctor to an IAS officer to, as you already know, a writer to a model! We’re brought up in a society where every person has an opinion about what your child should become. Not to mention, the typical stereotypes that plague one’s choice of pursuing either “science or commerce or arts.” I fell prey to one of those stereotypes and ended up taking “science,” when the whole time my heart was in creative writing and spent all my off duty hours participating in college festivals and extracurricular activities, much to the dislike of my science professors.

That’s when all the writing and theater happened. I recall being routinely pulled up and ridiculed in front of my entire biotech class for being “distracted” and “wasting a seat.” It’s a ridiculous system, and I hope it changes sooner than later.

In what ways will the merger with “Anand and Anand” prove progressive for Khimani & Associates?

Firstly, we’ve set the bar high for young lawyers all around the country. This merger is a live example of doing things differently, yields wonderfully different results. Secondly, merging with a firm as legendary as Anand and Anand lends considerable goodwill to our combined practice in Mumbai. It also gives us the bandwidth, resources and necessary senior mentorship to grow from strength to strength.img_1

Is it difficult for a woman to be a celebrity lawyer?

Gender has got absolutely nothing with being a lawyer, or for that matter, any profession.  These are deeply ingrained stereotypes that we have internalized for years. In all my years of trying my hand at various things, whatever else my insecurities might have been about, they were never gender based. You’ve already lost most of the battle the moment you let that gender stereotype take over. You need to think of every opportunity as being gender and age neutral. That’s the only way you can give it your 100%.

How do you research the case, keeping in mind the interference of the media?

As lawyers, I strongly feel it is needless to interact with the media, unless absolutely necessary. For instance: If proceedings have been entirely misquoted or there is massive trial by media, one may need to step in and clarify facts. Other than that, I find it best to focus on the task at hand, which is to prioritize my client’s case and work towards what the client wants.

Describe the first week of Khimani and Associates.

Oh, it was madness filled with the-universe-conspiring-to-give-you-what-you-want moments and sleepless nights! We knew we were on to something that had the potential to become big and did everything possible to make the madness happen. I could also sense people, ex-colleagues, peers in the profession watching along the sidelines, waiting for this girl to fail. And I wasn’t going to give them that joy!

One friendship that reaped out of the many celebrity cases.

There are so many, and it’ll be unfair to pick one. But two relationships that have evolved to be the most special for me are those I share with Lata Mangeshkar and Sonu Nigam. Didi is the coolest woman I’ve ever come across, period! I say “cool” because I’ve always perceived her as this ultimate goddess of music and yet, she always stumps me with her wisdom, immense humility and delicate sense of humor in the most intense situations. There are just so many lessons I’ve learned from watching her gracefully conduct herself during matters that I’ve been fortunate to advise her on. She was the first person to call me when she found out I was starting my own firm and said, “Me tujhya path aahe” (meaning: I’m standing right behind you).

So also, with Sonu, he’s a rockstar! I remember seeing him on a set in the middle of a shoot and informing him of my decision to start my own practice and without batting an eyelid he reacted, “Tu jahaan main wahan.” And that was all the support I needed to get started! Since then, he’s been a constant pillar of encouragement. It’s overwhelming and an immense responsibility when someone as iconic as these two put all their faith and confidence in you but I’m fortunate to have had this opportunity.

Top 5 reasons celebrities seek lawyers.

Controversy management, to protect assets and intellectual property, to understand and protect themselves from liability under contracts, plan and secure new ventures/investments from day one, and monitor monetization/royalties in respect of works. Besides this, there are all sorts of disputes that arise, often from these five heads, for which we also advise and appear on behalf of clients.img_2

Share with us your most challenging case.

There are two actually – first one was for the Talwars where we represented them against the release of the film, “Rahasya”; and the other one, which is still on-going, is in respect of the film, “Rangoon” where we are representing Wadia Movietone, the studio that produced and owned all the Fearless Nadia movies, on whom Kangana’s character in Rangoon is based. Both were challenging for different reasons, one due to the sensitivity and delicateness of the situation that the Talwars were in, and the other due to the sheer unexplored area of character rights in India.

In both matters, we’ve gone above and beyond just the matter and tried to explore broader issues of law. We have been creative in our approach and thought out of the box at every step of the way. Interestingly, by the end of the matter for the Talwars, we had given the Defendants such a tough fight, that the film’s Director himself reached out to us and lauded us for the brilliant work (despite his film’s fate having been at stake) and requested the firm’s representation going forward on one of his own matters. I don’t think there can be a bigger compliment than that!

How was the first-hand experience of wearing a lawyer’s robes?

Honestly, I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I had to borrow an ex-colleagues robe for my very first appearance in court. I had just started my first job as a young associate and was absolutely broke. Having to spend a few hundred rupees on the robe even before I had received my first salary was out of question. And yet, I had been sent to court by my senior for a matter where I was required to appear.  An old friend and ex-colleague who sensed that I was struggling to make up my mind about what to do, simply took off his gown and offered it to me, while he patiently waited outside the court room for me to get done.

Do you think women lawyers need to ‘prove’ their worth as compared to male lawyers?

I’d be lying if I said no. As much as I mentally know and feel that opportunity and success are gender and age neutral, unfortunately, the external world does not perceive it in the same way. There are different standards of being a “good lawyer” for men and women. If a male lawyer is aggressive in a negotiation to the point of being overbearing and loud, he’s supposed to be terrific. Try doing the same thing as a female lawyer, and you’ll run the risk of jeopardizing the entire deal, or even worse, losing your client because he/she is told that “your lawyer is too aggressive.” On the other hand, if you’re accommodating and not as aggressive (despite your male counterpart vigorously stressing his client’s case), a female lawyer is accused of being “ineffective” or “too mild”.

So also, often male lawyers feel the need to “approve” the advice being given by a female lawyer. Very recently, I was invited by a client to conduct a workshop/session for its senior management and members of the board. I had been specifically sought by the client since the in-house legal team was not well-versed with the subject. And yet, throughout the entire training, I could see the male in-house lawyer (only a couple years my senior) nodding his head or reacting with fervor in approval of every sentence I spoke to let the rest of the board know that “he approves”; while his female colleague reached out to me to thank me for taking the time out to conduct the training on a subject they knew so little about.

Being a lawyer is a stressful job. How frequently do you need to de-stress yourself?

I enjoy what I do, so I’m not complaining. But the one thing I look forward to de-stress is Crossfit. I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now and absolutely enjoy it. It’s a shame that I’m not as regular as I’d like to be but I try my best to squeeze it into my routine as often as I can. Either that or a tub of chocolate ice cream can work as good stress busters.

Lawyers are hard to argue with. Who is one person in your life who always wins from you?

I know, I’m married to one! Besides my husband, two other people who always win and get their way with me are my mum and sister. There’s no arguing with the two of them.

How do you keep the writer in you alive?

Drafting pleadings and contracts are just about all the writing I manage to do these days.


This article was first published on Sep 1, 2017.

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