Shreya Dhanwanthary never dreamt she would do cinema

Shreya Dhanwanthary in Chup. Photo: Raindrop Media

She was raised in the Middle-East, as her father, who is into Finance, worked there. And though Shreya Dhanwanthary loved cinema since she can remember, she only studied Dance, Drama and Music along with Maths and Science, and also did Shakespearean and other theater.

Back home in India, where she completed her education in New Delhi and Warangal and became a model and then did a couple of Telugu films, Shreya never dreamed that she would ever find cinema going near her. In 2019, she made her Hindi film debut in Why Cheat India (some TV serials had happened before that) and on the web in The Family Man. Shreya has even co-produced, written, directed and acted in the low-key Eros Now mini-series, The Viral Wedding, which streamed during the lockdown in 2020.

Her biggest ace was Scam 1992, in which she portrayed the role of Sucheta Dalal, journalist and author. And her three minutes monologue in Looop Lapeta was also appreciated. In a no-holds-barred conversation, the chirpy actress lets loose on a variety of subjects. Excerpts from an interview follow.

It’s been a long list of glories in a short while. You were even appreciated in your debut film, Why Cheat India, though it flopped badly. Your thoughts on all this?

I can’t believe I am in cinema, that too with my long name! (Laughs) It was my secret, huge dream that I kept private, so I am very happy. Mom even cut-pastes every single thing she sees if it includes my name, trolling and compliments included! She has made a folder of all this!

And I am happy because so many people dream my dream, but never get there! I know I am not extra-talented, extra-fit or extra good-looking. I even got a good review for my debut film. My directors have trusted me with difficult things and I am happy.

How did the R. Balki chapter and Chup happen?

I am in the habit of sending love letters to all the filmmakers I admire, telling them to please, please, remember me for whatever space in which they may see me in their projects. I sent a letter to Balki-sir on a Friday, and on Monday, he called me to his office and told me that he was making what he termed a “psychological romantic thriller”. He gave me a narration and said, “If you want the role, it is yours!” I was so elated and consciously telling myself that I should not show any reaction. When I left his office, I screamed a little louder than normal for a rickshaw and when it stopped, I knew again that it was a great day! But the best part of all this was something I came to know later from one of his assistants!

And what was that?

Balki-sir told him that while he liked me, he had another girl in mind as well and maybe he should have met her too. That girl was “the new girl in The Family Man!” His assistant informed him that it was me only! And he had said, “Accha (Is that so)? Then I have done well!”

Shreya Dhanwanthary. Photo: Idayah Media

Films, web series, TV and ads—which of these is your favorite medium now?

I have long learnt not to look at mediums. Six years ago, I had got a message from Salim Khan (legendary writer and Salman Khan’s father) on the basis of a 30-second ad I did for Amazon. I naturally thought it was someone playing a prank and calling himself by the name and gave a rude reply, for the message stated that the ad proved that I could have a bright future in films and that I should meet him!

Then Salim-sir called, and I knew his much-heard voice. I apologized and he said that he understood my reaction. But I met him and it got me my first film in Hindi. And that got me my first web series. So the medium does not make a difference—work does!

Maybe you could tell him now to refer you to his son.

I doubt if his son would want to work with me (Guffaws)!

But you are getting great work.

Look, I am going to get scientific about this. I am now in a playground and the ball is given to me so that I can play! I am excited and it’s okay if someone does not like me or gets angry with me. I find it so much fun interacting with the media, for example. Aren’t we all part of the same game? If I am not there you are not there, and vice-versa. You hold us accountable and we give you the right to do that, so it’s a give-and-take thing.

Speaking of Chup again, how was the first day of shoot? Were you nervous?

For the first 10 days, I thought I know nothing in front of all the veterans, and will get fired! I have grown up of their films, so there was a tandav going on in my head! But gradually, Sunny (Deol)-sir, Pooja (Bhatt) ma’am and Balki-sir made me feel easy.

On the wrap day, I wanted to present Sunny-sir with a 2.5 kilo cake after his dhai kilo ka haath, which picture I had already posted on my Insta! But at the last moment, you can’t get a cake of such specific weight! So I got three cakes—two of a kilo each, and one of half a kilo! And when I asked him if he knew why I had done that, he smiled and said, “I know, beta!”

Shreya Dhanwanthary. Photo: Idayah Media

How familiar are you with the inspiration behind your film—Guru Dutt, and his music?

He remains the biggest example where art and its criticism is concerned. When the film Kagaz Ke Phool released, they destroyed it so much that Guru Dutt was heartbroken and never directed a film again. He never got to know how the film was ranked as a classic after his time!

As for the music, I grew up abroad, so I was more familiar through my father with names like Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey and Kishore Kumar. My dad was always singing in the house. He is from Lucknow, and my mom from Hyderabad, so from childhood I was exposed to both Hindi and South Indian cinemas.

And those melodies are so simple and nice that whenever we play antakshari, we still sing those songs and not a Blue hai pani pani—no offence to Mr. Yo Yo Honey Singh! (Grins) In fact, arising from that, my favorite joke is that because my parents are from Lucknow and Hyderabad respectively, I am a full biryani myself! My managers will kill me for repeating this joke yet again! (Laughs)

And what sets Balki apart from your other directors?

Balki-sir, just like Raj-DK, Hansal Mehta, Nikkhil Advani, are people who understand that I am like a kid who wants to be left loose in that playground I mentioned. They give me that much trust and I use it very wisely. I know that opportunities are not easy to come by, aur main jaan lagaa deti hoon. This is my temple, I cannot drop my guard.

How do you compare your struggles with that of a star-kid?

The experience is just not comparable. We outsiders come from backgrounds where our parents have worked hard and we have all heard that “Money does not grow on trees”. We have to come to the stadium, figure out an entry, then take the right training from the right place while they are already there at the starting-line. Their struggles are different, but I have no connection with them. Our experiences are basic—house, bills, rent, sweat, smell, transport. With them, even flops films get them more work. I accept and understand why that happens, though if you ask me if that is fair, I would say it isn’t. So, as outsiders, we cannot afford mistakes. We can play only the best from our cards. I have been rejected a hundred times, but that’s okay.

What are your expectations from this film’s box-office performance?

I have zero expectations. Life continuously teaches you that, personally or professionally, you cannot have expectations if you want to be happy.









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