She has been a part of a Telugu film and a bunch of popular digital shows that came out in the recent past but as Shreya Dhanwanthary herself admits, ‘Why Cheat India’ is the biggest thing that has happened to her. In this exclusive interview, she talks about her debut Hindi film, her thoughts on the last-minute title change, the #MeToo movement and forthcoming projects.
You started out with a Telugu film.
Yes, but that was a one-off thing. I started modelling in Delhi. Shanoo Sharma, the casting director at Yash Raj Films was looking for a new face for ‘Dhoom 3’ and Bhumi Pednekar, who was then assisting her, came to Delhi to audition girls for the same film. I did not get the film but Bhumi asked me to come to Mumbai and work there. I had braces when met Shanoo in Mumbai. Still, she saw something in me and told me that I should be persistent and things would work out eventually. I went on to do ads and web shows and every project I got was because on the auditions I had given. I bagged ‘Why Cheat India’ after auditioning for three months.
Did you always want to become an actor?
No, being an actor was never a part of the plan. I am an engineer by qualification. I grew up in different countries, mostly in the Middle East. I was in a British education system. Here, art is looked upon as an extra-curricular activity but there, it was one of my major subjects. I have been acting since I was four and have done theatre for several years. Overall, I have 19-20 years of experience in acting but the thought of getting into films never occurred to me. I loved Maths and Physics and I was happy studying engineering. Suddenly, this Telugu film happened and I thought of giving acting a shot.
You have done some prominent shows on the web like ‘The Ladies Room’ and ‘The Reunion’. How do you look at this medium which is relatively new?
I think digital is a fantastic medium. It has made things a little more democratic and open. A lot of talented people who did not get their due on television or films have got a great platform to do some good work. The work that is being done abroad in the digital space is at par with what the big studios are doing. When there are more players, it brings in a sense of competition and people are compelled to make better content. I am very happy with the things are shaping up in India on the digital front.
One saw you in the song ‘Dil Mein Ho Tum’ but the trailer did not reveal much about the character you play in the film.
Yes, that is something we have done on purpose. The makers wanted the audience to discover my character when they come to see the film. I play a girl called Nupur who lives in Lucknow and is an arts student. She meets Rakesh (Emraan Hashmi) and then, they affect each other’s lives in different ways.
What was your first reaction when you heard about the Censor Board instructing the makers to change the title from ‘Cheat India’ to ‘Why Cheat India’?
I was not happy with it at all. I think the biggest judge for a film should be its audience. Films should be certified but this kind of censorship is not right. ‘Cheat India’ was a smart title as it had a bit of a word play in it. The Censor Board thinks the Indian audience is extremely sensitive and gullible and will get misled by a title like ‘Cheat India’. The audience is very intelligent and they should be treated like that.
The trailer gave some people an idea that the film is probably glorifying the act of cheating.
No, the film does not glorify cheating. Through the film, we are trying to show people how the cheating mafia operates. There is an organised network consisting of teachers, institutes, students and other middlemen. The education system in India is in a sad state today and if the laws and the policies are not strictly enforced, things will continue to get worse.
This is probably the biggest setup you have been a part of and you got to work with a big star like Emraan Hashmi. Were you intimidated initially?
No, everybody on the set was very warm and friendly. I have been doing theatre for seventeen years, so I do not have stage fear or the fear of facing the camera. For ‘The Ladies Room’, we shot an episode every single day. I have done a twelve page monologue as Draupadi in theatre. The only thing I am nervous about is how the audience is going to react to the film.
What are your thoughts on the #MeToo movement?
It was high time something like this happened in India. The repercussions have not been as severe as they were in the West but at least, there has been a start. It is very painful to even imagine that so many women had to go through something like this. Social media has given voice to a lot of people. It is nice to see women speaking about their experiences in the open.
You are doing ‘Family Man’, a web-series which stars Manoj Bajpayee. Can you share something your role in the show?
It is too early to talk about it but I am really excited about it. Right now, I cannot see beyond the 18th of January and waiting to see the audience’s response for ‘Why Cheat India’. After that, I will take up more projects.