SSAKSHI Tanwar was packing her bags for Bhutan last year when she received a casting call from the team of the upcoming Aamir Khan-starrer Dangal. The call was for the role of Daya Kaur — the wife of Haryana-based wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat, who defied social norms to train his four daughters and two nieces in the art of wrestling. Two of his daughters, Geeta and Babita, are popular wrestlers at national and international level. The film is based on his story and is scheduled to release this Friday. Once she bagged the role, Tanwar immediately dropped her mountain getaway plan and got down to learning Haryanvi and familiarising herself with the script. “I had very little time as the shoot was starting in two weeks. It hardly registered that I acted in Dangal until I saw the trailer,” says the actor, who rarely checks the monitor on the sets after giving her shots.
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Since Tanwar was one of the last actors to join the team, she found Aamir Khan, who essays the character of Phogat in the December 23-release Dangal as well as the girls who play his daughters in the movie, already well-versed with the script and dialogues. As they underwent intense training in wrestling, she spent hours with language coach Sunita Sharma. “As I did not have much time, I asked her to say my lines, which I then recorded. I would keep listening to them during my travel and in the breaks while shooting for the second season of 24,” says the 43-year-old, who played the role of Anti-Terrorist Unit Chief Shivani Malik in the series. For Dangal, it helped that the actor, daughter of retired CBI officer Rajendra Singh Tanwar, was born in Rajasthan’s Alwar, located near the border of Haryana, and grew up in Delhi. “I was familiar with the language and its tonality,” she adds.
All her efforts for picking of the correct Haryanvi twang has paid off as Tanwar’s first major big screen outing has already won her critical appreciation. She slips into the role of a mother, who reluctantly lets her husband train their daughters in wrestling, and, eventually, takes pride in their achievements.
By the time the shooting of Dangal started, every member of the cast was aware of their entries, exits and positions after intensive rehearsals. Though Tanwar was not part of this elaborate preparation from the start, she allowed her instinct to guide her, apart from following the instructions of director Nitesh Tiwari. “Fortunately, everything fell in place. We first shot with the older look of the cast. I was nicely healthy then,” says Tanwar with a laugh. Her co-star, Khan, made news with his weight gain — he weighed 97 kilos — to shoot the portions featuring older Phogat in the movie. He later shed kilos to play a younger Phogat.
Ahead of the film’s release, Tanwar, clad in an ivory anarkali and seated in Khan’s sprawling office, confesses that she is “living in the moment”. Dangal is tipped to be her major big screen outing even though she has acted in a handful of movies, such as C Kkompany (2008) and Coffee House (2009). Earlier this year, she was complimented for her performance in the Marathi musical Katyar Kaljat Ghusali. Yet, Tanwar is widely known for her popular television shows. In 2000, she essayed the role of Parvati bhabhi in Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii. After its stupendous eight-year run, which made her a household name, Tanwar followed it up as the host of Crime Patrol (second season), appeared as a negative character in Balika Vadhu and played the independent Priya in Bade Acche Lagte Hain.
Ask her about being able to cut the clutter unlike many other TV actors who gain stardom, mostly short-lived, and Tanwar cites her laziness. “Even when I did Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii, I had no idea that it would run for eight years. It doesn’t bother me when I don’t have work. That’s why I take up projects that I really believe in,” she explains. Tanwar, however, regrets the fact that her film Mohalla Assi, directed by Chandra Prakash Dwivedi, has not been released yet due to legal and censor troubles. “It’s one of my better works. I would want people to watch that film. But I can’t do much after my work is over. I am willing to wait,” she adds.
During her Delhi days, small acting assignments were means of earning pocket money while Tanwar nursed the idea of joining the administrative services. The first break for Tanwar, who studied in Kendriya Vidyalaya and graduated in political science from Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College, came when she was chosen to anchor Albela Sur Mela, a music show on Doordarshan. “This job required me to read Hindi and say the lines without making any grammatical errors,” says the actor, who was also the president of her college’s dramatic society. The anchoring job was a cakewalk for the actor, considering her love for Hindi literature and exacting parents who were strict about the children conversing in Hindi at home. “My father would berate us if we spoke wrong Hindi and mother would be quick to correct if we mixed up words,” Tanwar recalls. She adds that she writes poems in Hindi once in a while and is open to take up writing professionally.
However, in spite of making easy money and winning praises, Tanwar got hooked to acting only while doing TV serial Rajdhani. “Earlier I would just say my lines in front of the camera. During Rajdhani, I realised that I was able to slip into the skin of a character and bring it alive. That gave me a high,” she says. Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii followed soon after, overwhelming her with its success. “Whatever followed Kahaani… has been a bonus,” she says.
Today, Tanwar does not have any plans or strategies as far as her career is concerned. “Being an actor was never on the cards. I enjoy what I do. I don’t know if I would be part of another big project. I am happy with my journey and the fact that I am growing professionally,” she says.