Image credit: Akula Madhu
If you owned a television set in the 2000s, you couldn’t have escaped watching Sakshi Tanwar earnestly playing Parvati, the dutiful wife and daughter-in-law in Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki, a show that propelled her to superstardom and changed the face of Indian television. Unlike the norm, where TV shows begin with the characters falling in love, getting married, and then having children over the course of a few years, Kahaani… started with Parvati having a young daughter, one she loved deeply and protected fiercely.
In her illustrious career since, Tanwar has played more iconic moms, most notably in the movie Dangal, and now she’s back to playing one in Netflix’s Mai, though, this time, she’s grieving her daughter’s death and beating up the bad guys. Despite the range of these roles, she laughs when I ask her if her experience playing them has taught her anything about motherhood in real life. “A child is able to throw surprises at you every single day,” she says. “You are never prepared. You might have read all the books on good upbringing and good parenting, you might be taking all the advice from your friends who have older kids or kids the same age, but your kid still manages to stir you up. My child has the power to completely make me do what she wants me to do. So there has been no similarity as such, because these are all fictional characters and very dramatic, not that there is any less drama in real life. But still, having my own mother around has been a great, great help. She can see both of us, so she has an outsider’s view on things and she always tells me what to do, and I’m glad because, on my own, I wouldn’t have known so many things.”
Mai only dials up the drama she’s referring to, because this is the first time she’s playing something so physically demanding. She explains, “This is a regular character but the circumstances that she is in are not your day-to-day circumstances. Our showrunner Atul Mongia wanted to do the most intense and difficult scene for the first workshop, and I was so unsure and under-confident. But we did a lot of workshops and there were other kinds of training involved as well, like I had to learn a bit of sign language, some nursing, a bit of scooty riding. It was difficult, and very challenging emotionally and physically. The beauty of it was that there are no two scenes in the show that are similar. That made it a lot of fun as an actor because I got to play such a range of emotions.”
Sakshi with Wamiqa Gabbi, who plays her daughter Supriya in Mai
The one thing that has become clear with her character Sheel in this show is that we seem to be moving past the sacrificial mother trope in television; we’ve given mothers their own identity on screen. Tanwar couldn’t agree more. “Now it’s no longer black or white. There are flaws in everyone. We might choose to hide them, but there are times when there is a crisis and your best or worst comes out. A mother is also human, and the character needs to be portrayed like that. There are such lovely mom characters coming out, especially with the advent of OTT. I’m glad I’m getting to portray one such character.”
OTT also means she can work at her own pace, especially after the gruelling years of daily television. “Nothing polishes you like television; it’s that daily polishing of your craft. It’s very demanding. But what I have learned is that there has to be a balance in everything, including your work. There was a time when my work was my everything. When I was shooting for Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki, that was the only thing I was doing for those eight years. I did not attend any weddings, nothing. I wouldn’t get time. So, I just feel that, now, in the phase that I’m in, work is important, but it’s (only) a part of my life. Now I try to do the work that fits in my life smoothly, where I can be with my daughter and my family. I want to go to her school, I want to drop her and pick her up every day. I think COVID has taught all of us that in a big, big way.”
This chill, relaxed outlook of hers extends to one aspect that sets her apart from most of her peers. Tanwar is not on any social media platform. “Very early in life, when I started working, I realised that both praise and criticism can corrupt you. With social media, people just put you on a pedestal. I love my fans; they’ve given me so much love. It’s always nice to know that there are people who like your work, but, beyond that, I don’t think I want that to affect me. For me, what matters is my family and my friends. If I have to seek an opinion, I will ask them personally. Also, I’m a very lazy person so I take time to respond even to WhatsApp messages. I don’t see myself taking the pressure of putting out something every day about my family or what I’m eating. I like to give that (time) to my daughter. I don’t want her to see me with the phone always. Recently, one of her teachers asked her about her favourite superhero, and she did not know because she’s not been exposed much to TV. And I was like, ‘Okay, no. Now, again, I have to strike a balance here. I’m being too strict about it.’ So then we started showing her a little, so that she at least knows. Not like me, because I don’t know anything that’s happening,” she says.
A four-year-old not knowing any superheroes – a lot of people would consider that a parenting win. “She doesn’t know a lot of things. My friends tell me, ‘No, you need to show her a few things. She needs to know!’” she laughs. If it’s a superhero she needs to start with, Tanwar’s filmography sounds like a great place to begin!
Also Read: 7 Hollywood & Bollywood Movies To Watch With Your Mum This Mother’s Day