If there is anything 2020 has taught us, it is to not get too comfortable, writes Scam 1992 actor Shreya Dhanwanthary
'It sounds ridiculous, privileged, and downright offensive when I say that this year has been wonderful for me,' writes Shreya Dhanwanthary.
2020 has been a watershed year in history, and that has also trickled down to the realm of entertainment. In this series, 2020 Unwind, stakeholders from the Indian entertainment scene weigh in on how they view entertainment now, how their skills had to evolve and adapt to changing patterns and whether the year has altered them as artists.
If there is anything 2020 has taught us, it is to not get too comfortable. Which is why it sounds ridiculous, privileged, and downright offensive when I say that this year has been wonderful for me.
As any good story goes; to go forward we must go a little back.
Growing up, we moved around a lot because of my father’s profession. As a direct result of that, I found solace and friendship in stories. Stories, be it in the form of a book, a song or a film, have this magical ability to take you out of your mind and body to experience something life-changing. All I ever wanted was to capture that magic. There is a charming tale involving Bhumi Pednekar, Vaani Kapoor, and Shanoo Sharma that I’m going to keep to myself for now, but it’s because of that incident that I made a life-changing decision.
I moved to Mumbai. Terribly young and naïve, filled with nothing but a suitcase full of dreams and eyes full of stars.
A regular cliché.
Let me give you a quick flash forward to the next few years. I went out for a million auditions, and booked one or two jobs. I reached out to casting directors who were also starting to take root at the time and every single big name you know now, I assure you, showed me genuine kindness and encouragement. That is not to say the process was coming up roses. The rejections were rampant and occurred for reasons that have nothing to do with you or your talent. You weren’t the right age; you didn’t have the right skin tone; you didn’t date the right person; you didn’t have the right surname… the list is ridiculous and endless. I was finalised and let go from about 13 films for all of the above reasons and more. It was all pretty darn demoralising… to put it mildly. How and why I decided to persevere is the gist of another article.
My debut Hindi film released in January last year, and though I got great notices and reviews across the board, the film didn’t perform well at the box office. That translated into little to no fanfare for me, and I was told I’d need to start from ground zero. So I waited. And waited. Waited for an audition to convert. Waited for another chance but nothing happened. This part is a lot more taxing than people will tell you. Long painful story short: after sitting painfully unemployed for about a year, I met with Hansal Mehta, Raj & DK, and Nikkhil Advani. Not particularly in that order. These were the people who gave me an opportunity… who took a chance on me.
I’d finished shooting all these projects by early March 2020, and by then, news of the pandemic started to make its way homewards and by the last week of March, a nationwide lockdown was announced. I was worrying about work on a random conversation with Raj when he encouraged me to create my own work. So I wrote. For nine hours straight. Then I begged, threatened, and emotionally blackmailed people for their time and talent; and the cast and crew came together for a wee project called A Viral Wedding. Ridhima Lulla from Eros Now gave this project a home, and it released on 9 May. People liked it.
They actually liked it! Phew.
All this while, I was in constant touch with Jai Mehta (co-director of Scam 1992 and future superstar) and Pratik Gandhi (the unparalleled reel Harshad Mehta). Every single person associated with Scam 1992 had given the show their blood, sweat and tears, literally and figuratively. Plus, I knew that Hansal and Jai fought for me and it was going to be on a relatively new platform. We all had a lot to prove, a lot to gain and a lot to lose. Then in August, Hansal shared the show with me. I saw the first episode.
It was, hands down, the best pilot I had ever seen come out of India. I was blown away when I first read the script, and seeing it come to life so wonderfully, I was blown away again. The only thing we were worried about was the audience finding us and sticking around for what is essentially a very non-spoon-feeding, never-before-seen tech-heavy show.
Then came 9 October. The rest, they say, is history.
The audience became our PR and sales & marketing team. Our small hopeful show slowly became one of the biggest shows to ever come out of India. People were singling us out by name and by department to shower us with praise! It’s been more than two months since the release, and in a space where attention is fleeting, we’ve carved a spot for ourselves.
All of us had been so used to our work coming and going without getting noticed that when this deluge of love washed over us, we didn’t know how to react.
I still don’t know how to react. I’m still getting a lot of calls and messages. They ask me where I’d been all this while. I tell them that I’ve always been here but they weren’t looking. In fact, I’m still here. Waiting. Waiting for another chance. They ask me what it feels like to have finally arrived. I tell them honestly that I’m not sure I feel that I’ve arrived. Or if I ever will feel that way. All I’ve ever wanted was to capture the magic that happens in the telling of a story. All I will ever want is an opportunity. Another opportunity to tell a story. A chance to unpack that suitcase of dreams, and those eyes full of stars.
A rarer cliché.
Shreya Dhanwanthary is an actor, filmmaker, author and model.
Read more stories from the series 2020 Unwind here.
All images from Twitter.
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