The surprise factor of ‘D-Day’ has just warmed up

Nikhil Advani wanted someone new, someone who wouldn’t be weighed down with an image. As the unsuspecting wife of an Indian RAW agent based in Pakistan, Shriswara walked away with all the praise for holding her own against Irrfan. “I didn’t give the character much thought. Personally I needed to feel the character, events and situations. On the sets, Nikhil sir would brief me about the thoughts going on through Nafisa’s mind. That was enough for me and I’d react to my co-stars Irrfan and Nissar and expressions would follow on their own,” says Shriswara.

The Lucknow-bred Shriswara waited for years for such a break. “My father is fond of old films; so they’ve always been a part of our living room. We grew up listening to soundtracks on audio cassettes. My sister and I would go to movies and concerts,” she says. Shriswara watched a number of movies screened at the neighbourhood cinema hall and “life would be surreal for me the next 72 hours. I would watch films on VHS at home repeatedly.”

Shriswara studied science but her heart was in performing arts. “Initially I performed on stage, mostly semi-classical dance. In 1997, I decided I wanted to act in Hindi films and nothing else,” she says.

With no training in acting and no film background, she waited like hundreds of other aspirants, going to studios with her portfolio and being turned away. Finally, she was cast in two films — Bhaag Milkha Bhaag as Farhan’s wife and D-Day. By then, Nikhil Advani and his casting director Aakash (who also essayed the part of Aslam in the film) had auditioned a number of aspiring actresses, including those from Iran and Iraq. “My audition was simple. I was given a narration and had to enact a scene from the script,” she says.

Acting is all she wanted to do but through her struggling years, Shriswara didn’t take up formal training. “I used to enact scenes from old and new films and emulate both male and female actors,” she says.

Watching herself on screen was “awkward” she says. “I have a long list in my head right now of what I should do next time.” Her family is happy for her big break but is yet to watch her on screen.

D-Day is her passport to bigger things to come. Her role in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag came under the axe, given that the film was already lengthy. “This character, Nimmi, was the opposite of Nafisa. Nimmi was an extrovert, team captain with a bhaghawat against the belan streak given the time. Due to the length of the film, the part of Nimmi was shortened completely. However, it was fun shooting for the film.”

Shriswara is too excited to brood over BMB. “People in the industry and the film-going audience know I’m alive thanks to Nikhil sir,” she says. As for her future projects, she says philosophically, “I'll leave my life and films to Him to handle.” There are dreams though. She’s like to play a Lucknowi courtesan “nazaqat, shair-o-shayari aur ada ke saath”, a psychotic, neurotic, an over-righteous stickler sort of teacher, a mute emotional simpleton, Indira Gandhi, Meena Kumari… the list is long.