A disarming smile and the unmistakable curly hair are what greet you when you first meet Shivani Tanksale. The 28 year old Mumbai based theatre actor, who has recently started directing plays, became a well known face on television with the first ever commercial for Cipla's emergency contraceptive pill, called i-pill, in 2007. After watching back-to-back ads with plastic, glossy faces, Tanksale stood out with her freshness and expressiveness.
Tanksale has been acting in plays since her school days at Mumbai's Greenlawns High School. She was formally introduced to Marathi theatre in college, when one fine day, while she was loitering about, a classmate walked up to her and asked, "Are you a Maharashtrian?"
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Tanksale decided to give ad films (she claims to have had a secret fascination for advertising and had even majored in the vocational subject at college) a shot on the sly. Her first ad was with White Light Films for Annapurna Aromax in 2003. This was followed by an ad for Airtel Blackberry, an ad where she appeared at the tail-end of the commercial.
Her big break arrived when White Light called her to audition for the i-pill commercial. "I was told that I had the exact look and at the time of the shoot, I was to don the same look as I did for the audition - simple kaajal, bindi and powder."
The ad was shot in a floating set, with the walls erected separately. The production house was particular about the execution and the set was dismantled and rebuilt several times. The ad succeeded mainly because "the White Light duo, Subir Chatterjee and Namita Roy Ghosh, didn't over-brief me."
They simply told her that they wanted to break the cliché of how married couples are supposed to behave on screen. They wanted to add realism to it and prune the clichés - the 'they had sex last night' factor had to be brought out very subtly, without many overtones.
Tanksale recalls that it took all day to get the male actor's expressions right, while her bit was wrapped up in two hours. "I had no clue how I would look, or that a sepia-toned effect would be used. One has to understand that the magic in that film is in the editing," she adds.
She has worked with most of the leading production houses across brands such as Colgate, Britannia Cakes, Wheel, Kellogg's Chocos, Vodafone, IndusInd Bank, Max New York Life Insurance and Cavin Milk.
Tanksale also has a few TV serials to her credit - Ketan Mehta's Time Bomb 9/11 and Gubaare for Zee TV; Sansani for Sahara Manoranjan; and Kitty Party for Sony.
She has done brief roles in feature films such as Escape from Taliban (2003) and The President is Coming (January 2009). Tanksale feels that feature films are easier to do than ad films. A feature filmmaker has a larger canvas to paint on, so in that sense, the space for an error (and its being forgiven) is far greater here. "Ad films make me a bit more nervous. The 'canvas', so to speak, is before you only for 30 seconds - and every shot better be saying something!" she remarks.
Tanksale is the granddaughter of politician Vasant Sathe. "Who knows?" she answers coyly, when asked if politics may be her calling at a later stage.
(Who's that? is an effort to highlight the lesser known talents from the advertising, media and marketing industry.)