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Shreya Dhanwanthary simply loves telling stories

The actor writes, directs, but it is her acting chops in web series The Family Man, Scam 1992 and Mumbai Diaries 26/11 that has struck a big chord with the viewers

By Kaveree Bamzai

Published: Thu 20 Jan 2022, 2:48 PM

You're too tall, you're too short

You're too smart, you're too foolish

You're too fair, you're too dark

You're too fat

Your eyes don't work, your nose doesn't work

Your smile is off, your teeth are off

Your lips are off, your hands are weird

You have a weird dimple in your chin, you have a weird widow's peak

Palpable joy

In her 10 years in the profession, Shreya Dhanwanthary has heard it all. The 33-year-old actor, an engineering graduate from National Institute of Technology (NIT) Warangal, Telangana, who rose to fame with roles in the web series The Family Man (2019), Scam 1992 (2020) and Mumbai Diaries (2020), is delighted to be noticed. And how.

Coming up are roles in Loop Lapeta with Taapsee Pannu, opposite Dulquer Salmaan in R Balki's Chup and with Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Adbhut.

The joy is palpable.

As she says: "The more time you spend in the industry, the more you talk to people the more you interact with them, you realise very little is dependent on what you're doing in the audition room unfortunately. A lot of decisions are being made which have nothing to do with you. It helps not to take widow's peaks seriously. I’ve no anger or hate or despair or thirst to prove myself."

She loves stories, as has ever since she was a shy, nerdy kid, and still feels like a child in a candy store.

"I still can't believe it," she says.

Directors’ delight

Filmmakers who've known her over the years testify to it. Nikhil Taneja, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Yuvaa, a Gen-Z driven youth media and insights organisation, has known her since 2013-14 when she was cast as the lead in an MTV Film he produced with Rohan Sippy, called The Girl in Me. It was about the underside of the fashion business.

She was also one of the two leads in Ladies Room at Y-Films/YRF in 2016, one of the first web series to show the young, urban working woman and her many adventures, from smoking hash in a train washroom to handling difficult bosses.

"Shreya's been one of the most committed, hard-working and passionate actors I've had the privilege and pleasure of working with. But the thing that's always set her apart is the enormous love she has for movies and the moviemaking process. Shreya is a bundle of joy on set because she's always excited about getting to perform, and always has wonder in her eyes, no matter how many years she's been doing it," Taneja says.

Scripted her own success

He says she's also one of the few actors who's always trying to learn from the crew around her — you can always spot her being curious about the work of everyone from a director of photography (DoP) to the 'spot dada'. Every job is equal in her eyes, and everything is an adventure. The one other thing that I have always admired about Shreya is the fact that she's made it here on her own terms.

She's always been offered a lot more than she's said yes to — because she has steadfastly refused to do work where she was reduced to being a 'pretty face'.

The Miss India 2008 finalist, who starred initially in Telugu films Josh (2009), as the hero Naga Chaitanya's friend and Sneha Geetham (2010) as one of five friends, was always determined to make it.

And filmmakers are noticing that. Balki says when it came to casting for Chup, it came down to a choice between the girl in The Family Man and that in Scam 1992.

"I just didn’t connect the two," says Balki, who calls her a contemporary performer who pitches her acting just right.

He calls her the happiest person in the film industry, after Kareena Kapoor Khan. Her ability to appear spontaneous in the scene is something her director Nupur Asthana noticed in Amazon Prime Video's Unpaused: Naya Safar.

She appears so spontaneous, she says, though she knows she does her homework, whether it is to play TASC spy Zoya in The Family Man or the hotshot financial journalist Sucheta Dalal in Scam 1992. "The camera switches on and she is in character," says Asthana who cast her in her short film in Unpaused: Naya Safar after watching her in The Family Man.

Coming of age

Yet Dhanwanthary feels almost guilty that she has had her two most successful professional years at a time of worldwide misery. "Yet I know two years ago, not many people knew me and now people know me enough to joke about me playing yet another journalist (in Scam 1992 and Mumbai Diaries: 26/11) which is so cool," she says.

A writer, director, actor, she says everything gives her as much joy as it does tension. As a director — of the made-in-lockdown series A Viral Wedding — she says she has lost 10,000 hair strands, while thinking about writing makes her forget about the act of writing — this even though she has written a novel, Fade to White.

"Acting is a different type of tension because you're the face of it," she says.

It's one that we love her in.

(The author is a senior journalist and author, most recently of 'The Three Khans and the Emergence of New India')

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