Words: Mitalee Deshpande
Photography: Sameer Belvalkar
Styling: Amrita Saluja
Fashion & Beauty Director: Chandrakal Sanap
Hair & Makeup: Nikita More
Location: Crowne Plaza Pune City
Photography Assistance: Aditya More, Pranav Ithape, Hrishikesh Gosavi
Behind the scenes: Aishwarya Ranbhor
Styling Assistance: Monica Lundh
Shoot Co-ordination: Prachi Rathi
“IF SOMEONE TOLD ME TO STOP ACTING, FOR A FEW DAYS I WOULD PROBABLY TRY AND COOK, BUT AFTER A WHILE I WOULD BE A FISH OUT OF WATER.”
MEET THE DAUNTLESS SAI TAMHANKAR, AN ACTRESS DESCRIBED WITH ALL THE POSSIBLE ADJECTIVES OUT THERE, BUT WHO’S ALSO MANAGED TO HIDE THE BEST PARTS OF HER FROM THE WORLD.
The calming pitter-patter of the July monsoons paired with the lazy stretching of faint grey light signals the arrival of an idle Saturday morning. There couldn’t have been a better start to the weekend, unless you’re working at URBANE where the call of a photo shoot is tempting enough to get you out of bed. Arriving at the location for the trials, Sai welcomes us into her room. One look at her in her striped pyjamas and braided hair is reminder enough that she is, to put it simply, a perfect example of the girl next door. Her warm nature, in spite of her four-hour sleep, is our first clue that the shoot today is going to be smooth sailing. It doesn’t take much for the quirky, child-like Sai to make an appearance. The dressing room is cluttered with garments and accessories – right from raw silk and beaded skirts to crop tops and animal prints – each unique, just like the wearer. Sai is the bold, ferocious woman we see on the screen with a sharp focused vision of all the things she’s achieved. “I haven’t been counting, but I think I’ve been in the industry for 11 years now, and I’m pretty much happy with what I’ve done. I own my mistakes. I’ve done some really weird and unimportant projects. I think a combination of all the projects and my journey has made me who I am today. I wouldn’t want to change it for anything.” A commerce graduate and state level kabaddi player, acting was never on her radar.
The fickle mind of a young Sai dreamed of becoming an air hostess one month, and an HR officer the next. “I was majorly into sports. I was a tomboy in school, even in college to some extent. I performed in a play for an inter-collegiate drama competition, and I think that changed my life. I sort of realized what I want to do”. She also gave the examination for hotel management, at which she failed because she believes her destiny was to become an actor. She started with TV serials, learned to develop her characters and moved on to films. “Every form has its own charm. Cinema has its own charm whereas serials help you reach tiniest corners of the state. I find theatre, TV serials and cinema, all three forms very interesting and charming in their own way.” I’ve seen Sai portray the traditional Marathi young adult, the fierce corporate business woman, the stereotypical girl you’d take home to meet your parents, and the audacious woman who fears no one. When asked who the real Sai is behind the lens, she replies with a cheeky glitter in her eyes, “The character in the first part of the film, Appu, is my soul. That’s who I really am; and the one after marriage, in the second half, is who I have to be because I’m a public figure. I would be Appu all the time if it wasn’t for this public figure situation”. For all those who don’t know, Appu was Sai’s character in the Marathi film Classmates, where she is a rough bully in her third year of college. She’s come a long way from her first TV soap, and that’s visible when Sai doesn’t fail to impress us with the quick shots and even quicker transformations.
She doesn’t shy away from the lens, and is ready with a pose for all cameras pointed at her. When asked about the changes she’s seen in herself through her career, she’s quick to reply, “Technically, there are a lot of changes. I didn’t know how to face the camera earlier, or what my good angles were. I didn’t know about lighting. Now, since I’ve been practicing and working for so many years, I feel I’m a pro at it. As a person, I don’t think much has changed. I’ve probably grown a little more patient, and a little less impulsive, considering I’m a public figure. That is something I’ve consciously changed in myself. Otherwise I’m the same girl for whom small things matter in a big way.” Although Sai didn’t plan to face the screen, she does hesitate to end it all. “If someone told me to stop acting, for a few days I would probably try and cook, but after a while I would be a fish out of water. Maybe I’d explore fashion, and I love doing makeup as well but I’d stick to something related to this field. I’d also love to be a hippie. I’d travel all over the world, pick up my bag and fly wherever I want to.” As the day progresses and the shoot finds its rhythm, Sai has built a rapport with every crew member. She may be a diva on screens, but the Sai you meet behind the scenes is a refreshing change for the eyes. “You will be tagged; you will be portrayed in a certain image by people, by the audience, but you really have to know who you are inside and not let others bother you. You should just focus on your work and keep doing what you’re doing”.
Regret and fear are two words Sai doesn’t believe in. “I don’t have fears. I don’t think about all the ‘what if’s’. I go out there and just do it. There is no fear, no contemplation, no doubt. If you have something in your mind, just go and get it done. That’s the way.” Working in the industry for as long as Sai has, she’s bound to have developed a cynical attitude, sometimes towards the smallest everyday things. She doesn’t believe in putting herself out there in spite of her social nature. With new faces being featured on screens every day, cut throat competition has taken centre stage. Sai aims to focus on healthy competition and also supports the fact that competing with yourself helps you achieve your best version.
“You can’t freeze yourself. Healthy competition around you is very important, but it shouldn’t become a part of your routine or a part of you. I think it’s dangerous. Just do your thing. Compete with yourself and be happy”. The calm façade facing the camera has a hyperactive brain continuously working behind it. “When I’m in front of the camera, there’s a storm inside my head. There are a lot of thoughts, honestly, but the one that takes priority is when I keep thinking ‘God, let me nail this.’ Every single time”. Finding inspiration in the industry, Sai quotes, “What Priyanka Chopra is doing is very commendable. I think it takes guts to do that. I love the way Radhika Apte is shaping her career. And also Rajkummar Rao. I like self-made people; people who do their own thing as I am one of them. Everything I’ve learned has come from my experience; no one’s taught me that. It’s going to stay with me till I die.” We’re nearing the end of the shoot, and Sai is the first one to jump up for a group photo. Hang out with her for a few hours, and she’d definitely make you forget she’s a star. Right from the way she talks, to the way she drags you into her conversations.
Just like any other girl, her ideal Sunday is made up of a comfy blanket, coffee, pizza, and Netflix. She’s ready to express herself without inhibitions – another perfect example of mastering the skill of being comfortable in her skin. Remembering the time when she shot for Vazandaar, she reflects, “What more can I ask for? I got to eat everything and also got paid for it. It was a win-win situation. You won’t believe the glow Priya (Bapat) and I had, what with all the ghee and milk, dinkache ladu, and all sorts of rich food. I have never seen any makeup or any product bring that kind of glow. I had a gala time eating and working and not caring about my looks.”
The shoot is all wrapped up, and here we are, chatting with the vivacious Sai Tamhankar whose carefree front is a disguise to her deep thoughts. With this witty actress, you get what you see, and then some. She hasn’t figured out life yet, and she’s not in a hurry to do so either. She still has a long way to go. The biggest unsolved mystery in her life remains people. “Sometimes you think that you know a person but after a while you realize, damn I did not! People are mysterious, and that’s beautiful.” The day is almost coming to an end and with the weather turning gloomier by the second, a steaming cup of filter coffee is what lifts the crew’s spirits. Coffee may be her favourite kick, but she swears she can go without it. “I can live without coffee, but I’d rather not. It adds a different kind of spice to my life.” Sai’s smile reaches her eyes, and if that’s not true happiness, I don’t know what is.