Sarah-Jane Dias on ‘Tandav’ and combating the nice combat on social media

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The actor talks about her role as Saif Ali Khan’s wife in the upcoming political drama, why she believes men’s mental wellness needs to be addressed, and looks back at the turbulent year that was

Fans down south still remember her from Theeratha Vilaiyattu Pillai, which released over a decade ago; such was the impact of Sarah-Jane Dias in her Tamil debut. Bollywood, naturally, came calling for the former VJ and beauty queen, who has since been part of acclaimed projects such as Angry Indian Goddesses and Inside Edge to name a few. However, there is always a persistent feeling that we just don’t see enough of the talented star on-screen, though she’s created a striking impact with her work surrounding mental health awareness, that has made her an Instagram presence to root for.

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Thankfully, 2021 will see her sink her teeth into what appears to be an interesting character in the upcoming political drama Tandav, releasing on Amazon Prime Video on January 15. Playing the role of Ayesha, Sarah appears as the wife of Saif Ali Khan’s character in the series, which is being pipped as a battle between student and national politics.

Talking to us on Zoom, Sarah is excited about her new avatar, which a far cry from her real-life personality. Excerpts from an interview:

It’s always a pleasant surprise to see your name on screen, whether it is a film or show. You’re quite picky about your projects…

When you put someone in a ‘choosy’ category, you need to remember that the opportunities also need to come my way. I take great pride in having been on every single platform since I started out: from TV to film, and now web-series. I have really enjoyed the choices I have made in my career, but they were also based on the opportunities that presented themselves.

When it came to Tandav, though, all I had to decide was taking on an audition. It was a really important scene between Samar (Saif’s character) and Ayesha. I also really wanted to work with Ali Abbas Zafar, the director of the show. It was only later when I read the script and met the rest of the cast at a reading session, did I realise the scale of the project, and the feeling of how relevant it was set in.

Ayesha seems to be a manipulative character on the show; very different to the kind of characters you have played so far. Is that a fair assumption?

I have never played anyone like her for sure, right from the way she dresses, talks or carries herself. She is more the ideal protective wife who wants the best for her husband, and who will do anything it takes for him to achieve his end goal.

You know, I read the script and every character has been etched out so perfectly. Every character is where they are supposed to be, painting this picture they are supposed to paint.

With Saif Ali Khan in the political drama series
 

So, you know exactly where everyone is going at. And especially with Ayesha, right from the very beginning, she may not say much, but she is very present. She is one of those people who just stands in the corner, like a cat, and watches. She can hold her own, but she is observing everything that is going on and processing it, without being noticed. The cogs are ticking in her head!

Last year, you did a lot of work on social media talking not just about physical fitness, but also about mental health and wellness, especially for men…

Firstly, I want to thank you for recognising the work. As somebody who has suffered through depression and anxiety, and as somebody who has recovered from it, it was something that I wanted to share with the world. That there is hope.

Today, there is so much talk about mental health. But it is such a big taboo for men to talk about it, as it comes from the place of saying, “You’re a man, suck it up. You’re a guy, guys don’t cry.”

We, as a society, are evolving. We are talking about inclusivity, equality and so on. How can we not talk about the things that men go through?

Personally, I have watched my father, who unfortunately is not with me anymore, go through things that affected his physical well-being. But he couldn’t discuss it openly because he was a man.

So I just wanted to throw open the doors for an open conversation. I have my own mental health awareness initiative, and the whole point was to build a community of people who came together and spoke, and found solace in the fact that you are not alone.

Everyone seems to be offering counselling sessions these days — from Instagram influencers to youth communities online. How important is it for people to find the right sources to get guidance on mental health?

I always make it a point to say that this is my opinion about what is going on and that this is my personal journey. I see a clinical psychologist and I also see a clinical psychiatrist. I believe in alternative healing as well, and I have explained the difference between them for people to choose from.

The actor-model has been lauded for her work surrounding mental health awareness

The actor-model has been lauded for her work surrounding mental health awareness
 

At the end of the day, I believe if you are feeling better, and you are not repeating a pattern or doing harm to those around you, then whatever works for you, it is fine. I try my best to inform, and that’s all I can do.

What would be your biggest takeaway from the rollercoaster of a year that was 2020?

Honestly, the one word that comes to mind is gratitude. It made me accountable. I felt I needed to show up for the people who believed in me, even if it was just on social media. But by showing up for them, I was also showing up for myself, and it had a wonderful positive snowball effect on me.

We still have fond memories of you from Theeratha Vilaiyattu Pillai (Tamil) and Panjaa (Telugu) from a decade ago. Will you dabble in cinema down south again?

I invariably get recognised for my south films. Recently, I was spotted on the way to Winter Wonderland in London, and they spoke to me about Theeratha Vilaiyattu Pillai (laughs). I was just like, wow. But the answer to your question is that it depends on the opportunity. I don’t know why I haven’t got offers from the South yet. But if I do, I will definitely take up.

Tandav will stream on Amazon Prime video from January 15

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