*Warning: spoilers ahead*
Recently, Sakshi Tanwar made our jaws drop with her brilliant acting in Mai as the quintessential docile bahu gone rogue to avenge her daughter’s demise. We as viewers owe a major thank you to the OTT space for providing a platform for actors like Tanwar whose exceptional talent would’ve otherwise been sidelined by Bollywood and mainstream media.
Portraying the subservient and passive Sheel, both Tanwar and her character discover a new side to themselves. When Sheel is denied the opportunity to process the grief of her dead child and urged by her model nuclear family to simply move on, for the first time in her life she refuses. Instead of quietly accepting her daughter’s murder, she embarks on a quest for vengeance, morphing into a ferocious assassin along the way. Tanwar eloquently embodies the duality of mankind by simultaneously essaying the loving traits of a homemaker along with the cold-blooded, vicious instinct of a murderer.
Seamlessly juggling the soft-spoken meekness of Sheel as she pours sizzling hot water over a man’s head as if it’s chai, Tanwar showed more range and versatility in one show than most actors do in their lifetime. Her ability to portray the dichotomy of grief, a predominantly homogenous emotion, sheerly through her expressions made viewers bow down in silence.
Tanwar made her TV debut with Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki decades ago, and while she delivered back-to-back commendable performances, the entertainment industry did her dirty by confining her to the roles of a ma or bahu. They never saw her as someone more than a love interest. She made her big Bollywood debut with the Amir Khan starter Dangal which was an utter waste of her talent.
It seems like Bollywood is also prey to the nationwide phenomenon of denying women the agency to exist beyond the margins of motherhood and companionship. Much like the rest of the country, they tend to forget that we are not characters who serve the sole purpose of uplifting men and families but also complex individuals with depth and layers.
Mai is Sakshi Tanwar screaming at the industry that she is worthy and capable.