Her Own Woman

From IAS as­pi­rant to be­com­ing the coun­try’s best- loved telly star, Sak­shi Tan­war has had a re­mark­able jour­ney.


When TV ac­tor Sak­shi Tan­war was first of­fered the role of Par­vati Ag­gar­wal in a new show that Balaji Tele­films was launch­ing on Star Plus, she turned it down. “I thought a bhabhi’s role can never be the lead. And I was al­ready play­ing one in an­other soap called Karam,” says Tan­war.

When pro­ducer Ekta Kapoor in­sisted she go for a nar­ra­tion, she went and said no again. “The orig­i­nal story had Par­vati as the mother of a teenager,” says Tan­war. “I was not com­fort­able play­ing some­one that old, so I had doubts,” she ex­plains. Kapoor then agreed to re­duce the age of the en­tire cast by 10 years. Delhi- based Tan­war turned down the part a third time, fear­ing that a gru­elling daily soap rou­tine may de­mand shift­ing to Mum­bai which, at that point of time, she did not want to do. “Ekta then said ‘ tell me how many days can you shoot for?’ I said 15. And she agreed to shoot for 15 days ev­ery month so that I could be in Delhi for the rest of the month,” laughs Tan­war. Hav­ing run out of ex­cuses to make, Tan­war says she then asked for an ex­or­bi­tant fee and that de­mand, too, was read­ily ac­cepted. “Till the day the shoot­ing be­gan, I kept telling them to keep a back- up ready be­cause I wasn’t sure whether I could shoot for a daily soap,” says Tan­war.

The show Ka­haani Ghar Ghar Kii went on to be­come one of the most pop­u­lar se­ri­als on In­dian tele­vi­sion and led to a bar­rage of fam­ily drama dailies soon af­ter. It was on air for eight years ( 2000- 2008) and made Tan­war’s Par­vati a house­hold name and the na­tion’s much- loved bahu.

“It was a phase that started with Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi,” says Tan­war, 40, of­fer­ing her anal­y­sis of the show’s mag­i­cal pop­u­lar­ity. “Th­ese were pi­o­neer shows that took you back to your roots, to the whole joint fam­ily cul­ture. Peo­ple could iden­tify with the sit­u­a­tions, the prob­lems and also the so­lu­tions that a joint fam­ily setup of­fers,” she says. “I think that clicked with the au­di­ences not just in In­dia but abroad as well. When I used to hol­i­day abroad, NRI fans would tell me that our only con­nec­tion to our cul­ture is through your shows.”

Par­vati and Tulsi Vi­rani ( of Kyunki) be­came shin­ing ex­am­ples of good In­dian daugh­ters- in- law in the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion. The loving, sac­ri­fic­ing yet strong women who come what may, held the oc­ca­sion­ally- way­ward- but- on- the- wholelov­able fam­ily to­gether. “Par­vati was an as­pi­ra­tional char­ac­ter,” points out Tan­war. “The idea be­ing if one was more like Par­vati, one would be more ac­cept­able in the fam­ily. All my fans used to say that they wanted to be like me,” she says.

The shows though hugely pop­u­lar also re­ceived much flak for be­ing re­gres­sive and con­ser­va­tive in their por­trayal of women. The sweet, po­lite, ac­com­mo­dat­ing bahu was a daugh­ter- in- law, a mother, a wife be­fore any­thing else. Tan­war agrees that it may seem re­gres­sive, but the idea was to sub­tly push for change. “Th­ese shows are a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of our so­ci­ety. When you tell a story you have to show both the pos­i­tive and the neg­a­tive. I used to have many ar­gu­ments with my creative team,

even Ekta. And she al­ways said wait and see how your char­ac­ter will fight back.”

Tan­war’s Par­vati was a paragon of virtue for her in­tegrity and good­ness in the last decade, her lat­est avatar Priya Kapoor ( from the telly hit Bade Achhe Lagte Hain) has been just as pop­u­lar, be­witch­ing view­ers with her the- girl- nextdoor charm. “Priya is a more iden­ti­fi­able char­ac­ter,” says Tan­war of her in­sanely pop­u­lar on­screen per­sona. “When the show started, Priya was this 30- some­thing, un­mar­ried, fiercely in­de­pen­dent woman who sup­ported her fam­ily and was not afraid to speak her mind. In the case of Par­vati, fans used to tell me we want to be like you. And with Priya, they said we are like you,” she laughs.

The tran­si­tion from Par­vati to Priya, ad­mits Tan­war with a hint of pride in her voice, has not been easy. Eight years of Ka­haani had made her the poster girl of the good bahu bri­gade. It took a lot of ef­fort ( and pa­tience) to break out of that stereo­type and find in­ter­est­ing roles. “I said no to what­ever of­fers came my way if they were re­motely sim­i­lar to Par­vati. I didn’t want to re­peat my­self. So I sat at home un­til, of course, Ba­lika Vadhu was of­fered to me.”

The schem­ing Teepri that Tan­war es­sayed in the show was a com­plete change from the up­right Par­vati. “Teepri had shades of grey and a streak of mad­ness. Though it was a cameo part, I pre­ferred it over many big roles that had been of­fered to me. I wanted to chal­lenge the ac­tor in me by play­ing this char­ac­ter. Then I hosted Crime Patrol and that helped me reach out to my fans for a cause,” says Tan­war.

But it was Balaji Tele­films’ daily drama Bade Achhe Lagte Hain that marked her full- fledged re­turn to the small screen. “There is a joke at Balaji,” says Tan­war, her rich voice drip­ping with amuse­ment,

“my re­fus­ing a role at first brings good luck for the show even­tu­ally. Bade was of­fered to me right af­ter Ka­haani ended. But I did not want to work in an­other daily im­me­di­ately. So I took a two- and- a- hal­fyear sab­bat­i­cal. It was only when I felt that the time was right for me to re­con­nect with my au­di­ence, I went ahead with Bade,” she says.

Tan­war says she worked very hard to make Priya un­like a typ­i­cal drama soap heroine. “To re- cre­ate an­other Par­vati would have been the eas­i­est thing to do. But even at the cost of fight­ing with my creative team, I re­fused to play Priya as ladylike, sweet and soft- spo­ken,” says Tan­war, stress­ing each word as she bats her eye­lids in mock coy­ness.

When the show started in 2011, the in­de­pen­dent, feisty work­ing girl Priya was not elab­o­rately dressed all the time, lost her cool when an­noyed, ar­gued with her mother, picked fights with strangers and told peo­ple ex­actly what she thought of them. She also stayed away from the daily puja rou­tine and braved so­cial dis­ap­proval of be­ing un­mar­ried at 30. “Priya comes out of the bath­room and flings her wet towel on the bed. She is late for work and barely has time to comb her hair. That is how it is for most women,” says Tan­war. “We are not per­fectly dressed all the time, are we?”

Sit­ting in an over­sized arm­chair by the win­dow in the ho­tel room, Tan­war plays with the cor­ner of her sari pallu as she speaks. With her mel­low voice and cour­te­ous de­meanour, she seems very much like the good- na­tured women she por­trays on­screen. Tan­war says she views her suc­cess ob­jec­tively, like “an out­sider to this whole cir­cus”. “The only thing that has changed in my life is the amount of time at my dis­posal. My work doesn’t al­low me much free time.” And of course the fact that she can­not travel out­side Mum­bai with­out be­ing mobbed. Wrap­ping her­self in scarves or hid­ing be­hind sun­glasses doesn’t help ei­ther. “My voice gives me away,” she points out.

And Sak­shi Par­vati Priya Tan­war does have a huge fan base. In just a short walk from the ho­tel lobby to her room, she elic­its in­vol­un­tary, be­nign smiles from by­standers if not out­right re­quests for pic­tures. From a fan web­site that tells you pretty much ev­ery­thing about her to a twit­ter fan page that fol­lows her ca­reer very closely, her fans, it seems, are every­where. There have been those who’ve waited end­lessly out­side her apart­ment just to meet her and a Kolkata- based devo­tee who pre­serves ev­ery in­ter­view Tan­war has ever given in the past 12 years. Tan­war says she feels blessed to re­ceive such af­fec­tion, but she also finds some of it, well, a lit­tle bizarre.

“I wish peo­ple re­alised that TV soaps are not a real world. They shouldn’t get so in­volved. At the end of the day, it is just en­ter­tain­ment,” she says. “But what do I tell oth­ers when my big­gest fan lives in my own house— my mother,” says Tan­war. “She gets hy­per if she misses an episode, watches all re­peat tele­casts, doesn’t talk to any­one or take any phone calls while my show is on TV,” she says. “Dur­ing the Dubai track on Bade, there was this episode when Ram finds out that I am alive and he is furious and he is yelling at me. My mother,” says Tan­war, ex­as­per­a­tion writ large on her face, “got high blood pres­sure af­ter watch­ing that episode.”

“Daddy got very an­gry and there was great drama at our place. Fi­nally I got Ram ( Kapoor the male lead of the show) to talk to her. He told her ‘ Aunty, I get paid for yelling, she gets paid for crying, why are you ru­in­ing your health over this?’ ”

Wor­ry­ing though it may be for the Tan­war fam­ily, her mother’s be­hav­iour is like that of ev­ery woman in In­dia hooked to the Ekta Kapoor brand of TV shows. The TV re­mote be­comes an ob­ject of con­tention in most homes at 10.30 p. m. ev­ery Mon­day to Thurs­day. Come what may, an IPL match, a city- par­a­lyz­ing protest, or even the TV pre­miere of a Khan movie, that half hour at night be­longs to the ladies and is re­served ex­clu­sively to watch the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of Ram and Priya Kapoor.

It comes as a sur­prise then when Tan­war tells you she never planned to be an ac­tor. “I wanted to be an IAS of­fi­cer, but des­tiny had other plans. A friend of mine was an­chor­ing a show for Do­or­dar­shan. When her co- an­chor did not show up one day, she called me and I got the part,” says Tan­war. While still in Delhi, Tan­war acted in a num­ber of shows such as Das­toor, Ra­jd­hani, Bhanwar be­fore she bagged Ka­haani and moved to Mum­bai. Born in Al­war ( Ra­jasthan), Tan­war had a peri­patetic child­hood as her fa­ther was a Cen­tral govern­ment em­ployee.

De­spite her ob­vi­ous mass ap­peal ( she is the face of 12 brands at present), Tan­war has not made the tran­si­tion to the big screen though she has done a few cameos. She will be seen in a big role next in a film op­po­site Sunny Deol called Mo­halla Assi. So are more films on the anvil? “Right now I am com­fort­able where I am. I have my hands full and there is no time to do any­thing else,” she says.

Tan­war with co- star Ram Kapoor in a

still from Bade Achhe Lagte Hain

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