Indian television

‘Vani Rani’ star Tanvi Azmi: ‘It is the talent and not the medium that matters’

The actor will be playing twins in the Hindi soap, which is a remake of the popular Tamil serial.

A decade after the television show Sinndoor Tere Naam Ka, in which she played a strong-willed mother of two sons, Tanvi Azmi is set to make her comeback to the small screen. This time, Azmi will be playing twins in the Hindi adaptation of Raadhika Sarathkumar’s long-running Tamil daily soap Vani Rani.

Azmi made her television debut as early as 1988 with Mirza Ghalib, in which she earned acclaim for playing the wife of the titular poet (Naseeruddin Shah). Since then, Azmi has been a household name, headlining Hindi soaps including Lifeline (1991), Zameen Aasmaan (1995) and Family No. 1 (1999). In Vani Rani, which will roll out on August 7, Azmi plays twins as similar as chalk and cheese.

Azmi has also proved her acting chops on the big screen, often playing strong-willed supporting characters with ease – the latest being Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani (2015), in which she played Peshwa Bajirao’s belligerent mother Radhabhai. “It is what I get to do in the the medium, be it a film or television show, and how I get to show my craft in it that matters and not the medium itself,” she told Scroll.in in an interview.

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Vani Rani.

The 56-year-old actor made her debut with SL Narayana’s Pyari Behna (1985), a remake of the Rajinikanth drama Mullum Malarum (1978). She later went on to play significant characters in the telefilm Raosaheb (1986) and the movies Vidheyan (1993), Darr (1993), Akele Hum Akele Tum (1995) and Delhi-6 (2009).

“Where your Shah Rukh Khans come from: television has produced so many more actors like him,” Azmi said. “You know a lot of actors first say, let us try for films and then if we don’t succeed, we will go to television. I don’t think it is fair to look down on the medium of television. It is very heartbreaking.”

Azmi clarified that it wasn’t a conscious decision to work in television, and that she picks a feature film or a daily soap based on what it does with her talent. As she described the characters of the twins she is playing, she was smartly clad in a crisp cotton sari, posing next to a cutout of a dialled down version of herself. “I don’t think that much has changed as far as work goes, because pressures are still high,” Azmi said of her comeback to television.

While Vani is a self-made lawyer who is known for her obstinate opinions, Rani is a simple-minded housewife who wears her heart on her sleeves. The original Tamil show stars Raadhika and Venu Arvind, and has been produced by her company Radaan Mediaworks.

“While I have been used to that kind of pressure working for a daily soap, this time it is doubly so because I am playing a double role,” Azmi said. “We have to shoot the scene twice and I am there in the same scene as two different people. That is really what makes it more difficult and a little more exhausting physically. But it is so challenging and fun to play two different characters virtually at the same time.”

While the Tamil soap targets a regional audience, the Hindi adaptation is looking to broaden the story’s reach. “What excites me about a script is, if I feel as an actor it is going to give me something different to do, something I haven’t done in the past,” Azmi said. “In fact after Bajirao Mastani, I was very keen to do something very light and frothy. And now that has happened and I have managed to find that on television.”

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Tanvi Azmi in Bajirao Mastani (2015).
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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.