Remember the teenager from a recent Samsung TV commercial who becomes a footballer in the end? Or the 20-something girl from The Ladies Room (a web series from Yash Raj Films) who played 'Khanna' or a visually impaired bride in an ad for Eyetex Dazzler or even one half of the urban couple in Amazon Prime Video's ads? We get to know Shreya Dhanwanthary, 25, through a quick chat over salad.
Shreya, a Hyderabad-born girl raised in Delhi, subsequently lived in West Asian countries (Qatar, Bahrain, UAE) for 17 years before moving to Mumbai and ad-land. She tells afaqs!, "I was always fond of films. One of my earliest memories of films is watching Terminator - Judgement Day. People in a 'normal' family, who are supposed to grow up to become doctors and engineers, don't think that a career in films is an option... especially because it turns out to be a family business in our country. So it doesn't occur to you to be a part of it. But when it did occur to me, Mumbai was the only place to be."
Shreya had enrolled herself in Elite, a talent management firm in Delhi (now defunct), before coming to Mumbai to pursue acting. But the person who convinced her to come to the land of Bollywood was none other than actress Bhumi Pednekar who was then an assistant casting director for Yash Raj Films working under Shanoo Sharma, casting director. "I was auditioning for Dhoom 3 and Bhumi had seen it and asked me to come down to Mumbai", says Shreya.
So how did ad films happen? "Oh it's just a part of earning my rent. Mumbai is an expensive city and one has to stay in Andheri if they have to attend auditions; you will hear a similar story from everybody..." Shreya says with a shrug.
Shreya has been seen in close to 20 ads. She has worked in Telugu films like Sneha Geetham and Josh, in a small role. She was a finalist at Pantaloons Femina Miss India in 2008, but got her first opportunity to act in a Telugu film while she was pursuing an engineering degree from NIT Warangal. She recollects, "I was studying engineering at that time and the director of the film I shot for was an alumnus of the same college... and that's how it happened."
We asked Shreya to recollect her top five ads and she replies, "... I thought the Fastrack Closet ad was pretty cool because it was a very clever take on a tabooed topic. The Samsung ad was pretty good because I love to play football and it (the ad) did very well."
"When I shoot an ad, even if I do three ads a year, you see me frequently on TV which is why one might think I am there all the time, but it is still just three days out of 365 days in a year. I have 363 days of nothing but rejection..." she says.
Talking about her initial struggles when she shifted from Delhi to Mumbai, Shreya says, "When I came to Mumbai I realized that you can't afford to look bad. You have to look a certain way and if you look a certain way, you can't take the local train or autos. So, I used to carry two sets of clothes - I'd take the train, reach the studio and then change. And the days I didn't have time to do that, I would take a cab... and if I took a cab, I wouldn't eat because when Uber and Ola weren't available, cabs were expensive. Once there was an auto strike and I was following that story for weeks and praying that they don't increase the fare because my budget would also increase!"
Today, most artists, even those struggling, have got their own Wikipedia page. But in Shreya's case, the first thing that pops up on a search engine is her Instagram page. She says, "I got onto Instagram recently... because I lost a bet. I am really 'anti' social. I know I should have a page (Wiki), but I am one of those people who believe that I don't have to do all this to get noticed. I feel my work should speak more. Unfortunately, these things don't happen in this day and age."
No opportunities in Hindi movies? She says, "I have been in this industry for 10 years and I have got nothing yet. It is not easy."
About Hindi TV shows she says, "Let me politely say that Indian TV shows are different from my taste. I can't be a part of something I don't watch. TV shows around the world are coming up with amazing content and they are rivalling films in terms of content and opportunities for actors. It's just that I don't think those opportunities are available on Indian TV."
Shreya has even written a book, 'Fade to White', a contemporary fiction novel. "I am now getting into writing scripts as well. People seem to like it, but there is a long distance between liking and actually buying that script. I would love to learn editing and direction eventually..." adds Shreya.