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Exclusive! Sarah Jane Dias On Playing A Potential First Lady In ‘Tandav’, And Her Mental Health Mantra For 2021

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When POTUS Donald Trump screws up (which is quite often), he isn’t the only one being scrutinised. Wife and FLOTUS Melania Trump is also the cynosure of attention. Similarly, while New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris or back home, the late Sushma Swaraj made great strides in their political careers, there was always a close eye on how and what kind of support their partners were offering them. Being the spouse of a powerful politician can be a difficult position. The newest offering from Amazon Prime Video, Tandav, is centered around dynastic politics and student politics, with Samar Pratap Singh (Saif Ali Khan), as one of the key candidates for Prime Minister of India. Sarah Jane Dias plays Ayesha Pratap Singh, his devoted wife, and the woman behind The Man.

While politics has been a man’s world, the women of Tandav, I’ve been told, are different. They do wield enough power of their own, whether overtly or covertly, to flip the game at any moment. You’ve got the likes of Dimple Kapadia, Kritika Kamra, Gauahar Khan, Shonali Nagrani, and Sandhya Mridul playing strong characters which they claim have been written like never before. To quote Sandhya, they’re a mix of aspirational and real women.

In Ayesha Pratap Singh, then, we can probably see a potential First Lady who supports her husband’s powerplays, but also has a few aces up her sleeve. I spoke to the lovely Sarah Jane Dias about Tandav, her prep for playing a character so different from who she is IRL, and working with that incredible cast. Since Sarah’s Instagram is a right ray of sunshine and positive affirmation, I even talked to her about her mental health advocacy and what she’s bringing into 2021.

Here are excerpts from the interview….

Q: What’s you character in Tandav, Ayesha Pratap Singh, like?

Sarah Jane Dias: Ayesha is a loyal wife. She’s a strong woman. She’s not a woman of too many words, unless she’s communicating with Samar (Saif Ali Khan), who is her partner in crime, the love of her life and the center of her world. However, she definitely has her own personality, and her own strengths as well. I think that Ayesha’s main goal in life is to be the ideal wife, but she doesn’t lose herself in the process. Very often, you find that people who are dedicated to their families tend to lose a sense of themselves. But Ayesha’s very much her own person while being a loyal, loving, dedicated wife.

 

 

Q: Ayesha sure seems like someone who wields considerable power herself. Is there anything particular that you loved about your character?

A: Ayesha’s kind of like a cat in a corner. Cats are very majestic, they carry themselves really well. They’re kind of mysterious but they always know what’s going on around them; they’re very alert. Ayesha’s also very aware of everything going on in the political world that Samar and she live in, and she’s very much involved without being obvious about it.

Also Read: “OTT Is Encouraging My Versatility”: Sandhya Mridul On Tandav, And Finally Getting To Play Non-Stereotypical Characters

 

 

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A post shared by Sarah Jane Dias (@sarahjanedias)

 

Q: Did you seek inspiration from real life to play your character?

A: My preparation was entirely informed by the script and by Ali (Ali Abbas Zafar, the director). Mostly by the script, because Gaurav (Solanki, writer) has done such a great job. The beauty of working with Ali is that he lets you do your thing. He will give you his suggestions but he will also let you do your own thing and he’ll let you contribute to the character what you think is important. And then it’s open to say, “Okay, yes, this works” or “That doesn’t work.” It’s just wonderful to have in a director.
Most of my preparation came from from comparing Ayesha to me, because she’s nothing like me. So I actually just went to the extent of making a lists comparing characteristics. For example, Sarah’s animated but Ayesha’s very reserved. Sarah dresses in Boho-casual clothes all the time. Ayesha is always formally dressed in sarees. Sarah speaks her mind loudly and openly, but Ayesha tends to keep it all to herself. I basically just went to the other extreme of who I am to play Ayesha.

Q: How was it working with Saif Ali Khan, Dimple Kapadia and such a talented and huge ensemble cast? Did you get nervous or was it fun and easy-breezy?

A: I’m generally not the kind to get nervous in life. So for me it’s more of excitement than nerves. Although, of course, when excited, it is exactly the same chemical reaction that goes on in the body when you’re nervous! So I probably had the same butterflies. But it was more from the excitement of sharing that screen with these powerhouse talents. Some of whom I’ve worked with before; some I’m working with for the first time. And I was just so amazed by the richness of each character, which I’m sure is going to translate on screen… I mean, you can see it in a three-minute trailer what the entire show’s going to look like.
Everybody’s kind of left wanting more and that truly comes from brilliant script writing and then a brilliant portrayal of characters, which each one of these characters did. So for me, it was just an honour really to be a part of this world of Tandav and bring these complex, mysterious characters to life.

Q: Women seem to form an integral part of Tandav….

A: You know, Shonali Nagrani said this the other day, and I’m going to quote her here, “What I love about the women in Tandav is that they’re really a force to reckon with, but Ali Abbas Zafar has portrayed them in a way where they maintain their femininity.” And that’s beautiful.
It’s so difficult to achieve because women are either typecast as ‘the overbearing bitch’ or ‘the submissive character’. And the ‘submissive’ is usually associated with feminine and ‘overbearing bitch’ is usually considered to be quite masculine. Whereas in the world of Tandav, we’ve got women speaking their mind and holding their own. But you can also see their vulnerabilities as women, just as much as you can see the vulnerabilities in men.

Also Read: Shonali Nagrani Says The Women Of ‘Tandav’ Are Strong Without Losing Their Femininity. Finally!

Q: Did being a part of a political drama that delves deep into India’s democratic politics change/influence your perspective of real life Indian politics?

No, I wouldn’t say that, because even though it’s relevant, and a show about India and its democratic politics, Tandav is mostly fiction. I’ve always maintained a very neutral attitude towards politics. I tend not to sway in my opinions about it. That’s just how I’ve always been. So while Tandav has contributed to many things, it hasn’t influenced my political outlook.

Q: You’ve been a staunch advocate for mental health awareness. What’s a learning from 2020 that you’re taking into 2021?

A: Gratitude has been my mental health mantra. for last year. I repeated it to myself many, many times. Because I think the fact that we, all of us here today, just survived is gratifying enough.

 

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I do a gratitude practice every day for everything, from just being alive to having had the chance to spend time with my family during the lockdown, because I was in a one-bedroom house with my mother and my sister. I express gratitude towards my body, for being able to do all the workouts, eat all the right foods and try to stay as healthy as possible. For a very long time, we couldn’t order outside food and had to eat ghar ka khana, in most cases, is a healthier scenario than ordering in.
A lot of people got onto the health bandwagon because they literally had to do something to spend their time. So a lot of people, including me, started working out, cooking, baking, taking up hobbies. So these are all things that I’m really grateful for. So I think my biggest learning would be be the ‘attitude of gratitude’ that I’ve incorporated (in my life) last year.

Tandav will begin streaming on Amazon Prime Video on January 15, 2021.

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