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Home»Interview»Exclusive! Sai Dhanshika: Shikaaru is a film where every character’s behaviour is justified well, it’s a laugh riot»

Exclusive! Sai Dhanshika: Shikaaru is a film where every character’s behaviour is justified well, it’s a laugh riot

The actress, who carved her niche in Tamil cinema, discusses her Telugu debut Shikaaru ahead of its OTT release on aha

  • Srivathsan Nadadhur

Last Updated: 08.57 PM, Jul 27, 2022

Exclusive! Sai Dhanshika: Shikaaru is a film where every character’s behaviour is justified well, it’s a laugh riot
Sai Dhanshika

Sai Dhanshika, by her candid admission, is an actor whose potential hasn’t been tapped to the fullest yet. Starting at 17, she’s seen life through cinema, associating with some of the finest filmmaking talents in the Tamil industry - SP Jhananathan, Bejoy Nambiar, Bala, Pa. Ranjith and Vasanthabalan - who’ve honed her craft in a career spanning a little more than a decade. Good looks, solid screen presence and acting chops – Dhanshika has it all but it has taken a while for her to make her Telugu debut with Shikaaru. The laughter ride, which hit theatres earlier this month, is set for an OTT release on aha on July 29.

Ahead of Shikaaru’s digital premiere, she engages in a tête-à-tête with, discussing the film, her early years in the industry and the changing patterns of content consumption.

Your first major screen appearance was for Peranmai when you were 17. Were the cut-throat realities of cinema life too hard to digest at that age?

Reality sinks in everywhere eventually. I guess what matters is how you respond to it and deal with it. That’s how I’ve conducted myself so far. Right during schooling, I was very much into sports, and co-curricular activities. For me, it was always about cinema, my performance and the character that I was playing. At 17, you aren’t really mature; you think straight and are only keen on work. Cinema has taught me everything in life. This world has introduced me to so many people - there are good and bad times. I am someone who never lets negative energy affect me and still go about my work. To give credit to the industry, I don’t think I’ve faced too many uncomfortable situations. All along, I had people who guided me along - media and relatives, to deal with challenges.

As an actor, you’ve broken patterns to an extent that it’s hard to predict what role you would take up next. While you don’t get to choose your roles in the initial phase of your career, were you conscious of the diversity in your filmography later?

In the early stages, yes, as you said, I couldn’t choose my characters. The director was choosing me. Even now, the situation is similar but I’m more conscious about my choices. I don’t think about the commercials of the film too much. I’ve done a few masala films though they didn’t work as expected. The ones that stood - Aravaan, Paradesi - weren’t the regular mainstream fares. I think I was destined to do certain roles and people are looking at me from that perspective. Even directors who offer me roles are audiences at the end of the day. However, Shikaaru is very different. It’s a commercial, comedy film where I have a prominent role. For instance, in Iruttu, I didn’t mind doing a negative role. After going to a set, I need a driving force. I don’t want to be restricted to a few dances and a couple of scenes. If the character I play has prominence and is written well, I say yes to a film.

For an actress who has done only one Telugu film, you speak the language very fluently. It’s impressive that you picked up the language largely by watching Telugu films since childhood and learning it from a friend...

Thank you. Beyond that, I’m already doing a couple of Telugu films and I could attribute my Telugu fluency to those projects. Honestly, I still struggle with Telugu a lot. It’s just that, in front of the camera, the words flow quite naturally.

In an earlier interview, you said that your role in Shikaaru is about a woman who comes out of her protective cocoon in an unexpected situation. Could you elaborate?

The role actually breaks many barriers that I’ve set for myself - in my very first Telugu film, I play a traditional girl Devika, a wife who falls in love with another boy. Even when I was hearing it for the first time, I wasn’t hesitant about taking up this role. Generally, I wouldn’t have said yes to a role like this. When I began listening to the script, I felt every character had justification for their behaviour.

There are good and bad sides to everyone and our life is about how we rectify ourselves and cope with a situation. In a nutshell, this is what Shikaaru is all about. Any woman will expect love and attention from her husband and Devika is denied that. She decides to study to distract herself, gets attracted to a classmate and invites him to the house. The film looks at the lighter side of the situation and it’s an ideal premise for a comedy. When Hari garu was giving me a narration, I enjoyed it.

How do you deal with creative differences on a set, especially when male writers/directors enforce many stereotypes into female characters?

It’s not always easy to go to the director and pinpoint that a role is bad and not working out. Initially, I was hesitant to discuss these things. However, now, if I feel something is not going well with the character, I tell the director it may not be how a woman would react in that situation. The talk is rather friendly, it’s more of a discussion and they are also willing to accept. The directors these days are equally sensible and aware of what they’re projecting. In the initial days of my career too, when I wasn’t quite comfortable doing intimate scenes, I conveyed the same to the director quite politely. They may say it’s not a big deal but I stood my ground and I didn’t want to cross the line.

Shikaaru is a story about a woman who remains in her shell and is forced to break free from a wacky scenario. Isn’t that the problem in real life too, that women are shielded, protected and not allowed to experience the world in its entirety (unlike men for whom freedom is a non-issue)?

I think the problem isn’t limited to girls in our country - it’s a global issue. The majority are men and they get to decide the rules. The women are only coping with the situation till now and are still not able to claim their place in the world. We’re still struggling to fill that gap but the fight goes on every day.

Even you would agree with the fact that Shikaaru isn’t a conventional film one would pick while entering a new industry - right from the scale of the project to your co-stars and the director.

I think I’ve been like that all through my career. Beyond the role, I’ve rarely wondered why they haven’t cast a star or a big actor in my film. With Shikaaru, the director told me the story; I liked it and he’s choosing everyone necessary for the part. There’s not much you can do about it. We faced a lot of hiccups due to COVID-19 and the fact that we’ve weathered all those storms, released the film in theatres is itself a huge success. I always try to do the best in what I’m offered. This is a right debut, Kishore sir and the four boys were very apt for the roles.

In reality, you’re a confident, independent modern-day woman. What does it take to play an innocent girl on the screen?

That I’ve done mostly flamboyant, bold roles have filmmakers presuming I’ll only take up such characters. In my opinion, I think I have the range to pull off any role. I want to be a versatile actor. If I don’t have the confidence to take up something, I won’t sign it. Playing an innocent role wasn’t difficult because everyone goes through the transition phase from being innocent to matured, from introvert to extrovert. At one point, I was so silent at school that a teacher asked my parents if I was deaf or dumb. My parents were baffled to hear that. After coming to cinema and exploring so many characters, I’ve opened up and changed and evolved so much. We’ve all crossed the innocent phases in our lives - that’s how I draw inspiration for such roles.

Despite having films like Aravaan, Solo, Paradesi, Peranmai and Kabali in your filmography and delivering solid performances consistently, why hasn’t your career soared to the level one would’ve expected it to? There’s potential screaming in each of your performances.

I seriously don’t have an answer myself. I shouldn’t be saying this, but I feel I have a lot of potential waiting to be explored. I’ve not found the right opportunity to portray whatever I want to. That thirst to explore my fullest potential as a performer hasn’t been quenched yet. The day I feel I’ve done that, I’ll quit cinema. I think its human nature to not be satisfied with what you get. I still feel blessed to play all these different characters. So many actors, despite doing multiple films, aren’t getting any worthy opportunities to diversify. As much as I’m grateful for what I’ve got, I’m hungry for more.

Shikaaru is coming to OTT within four weeks of its theatrical release. The window was even lesser for a few recent releases. How are you, as an actor, coming to terms with this drastic change in viewing patterns?

I am still not finding it easy to get accustomed to this change. I’ve always enjoyed watching films on the big screen - the experience is different and something else. Sitting on the couch and watching a film is a new experience for me. One can’t compare both. In the COVID era, people have gotten very comfortable with home viewing except for larger-than-life cinema like RRR which compels them to hit theatres. Viewers are already feeling that comedies and romances are the best fit for OTTs. I am grateful that I know the magic and the madness of watching my own films on the big screen. I am not sure if that’ll be a reality in the days to come.

On that front, Shikaaru is just the ideal film to savour on OTT - clean, light-hearted and ideal for family viewing. Isn’t it?

Shikaaru was made keeping the theatres in mind. Had it been released during pre-COVID times, I am sure it would’ve received a warmer welcome from audiences. A lot of things have changed post-pandemic. It’s hard to predict what would convince a viewer to watch a film in theatres; the criterion keeps changing every day. I am confident about the reception Shikaaru would enjoy on OTT; audiences are in for a hilarious laugh riot.

(Starring Sai Dhansika, Abhinav Medisetty, Tej kurapati, Dheeraj Aathreya, Navakanth in key roles, Shikaaru, directed by Hari Kolagani, streams on aha on July 29)