Insta Star-Suhani Dhanki
Image credit: Simon Richardson
Suhani Dhanki is a bharatanatyam dancer and actor. Stunningly beautiful, modest, sweet natured, she hardly seems to belong to the cut and thrust that one would associate with an ‘Insta Star’- yet she does have a following of 55K. Suhani attributes the size of her following to her secondary profession, that of a TV serial actor. She started out by playing the small part of Madri in the Mahabharata serial by Swastik Productions for the Star Plus channel in India. Without that kind of mass exposure, Suhani doubts that she could have garnered such a vast number of followers.
Born and brought up in Mumbai, Suhani was taken to dance class aged four by eager parents – first to a ballet class which she rejected, then settling happily into a bharatanatyam class taught by a local teacher. She recalls the fun and friendships in the dance class which were sustained over the years, so much so that even today the dance partner she makes reels with is from her first dance class.
Suhani’s eight-year stint with her first teacher came to an end when her mother was advised that Suhani needed a step change in fact she would have to seek out the best guru of the form in Mumbai. Enter Dr Sandhya Purecha, foremost academic performer and teacher, discipline of Guru Acharya Parvati Kumar. Suhani was accepted by Dr Purecha on the understanding that she would have to go back to the basics; for the next four years Suhani would re-learn adavus in class with six and seven year olds. Once she had done her ‘tup’ tapasya (art of self-control), her teacher moved her to an advanced class and soon Suhani was on the path. She did her pre-degree and diploma at Bharata College of Fine Arts, founded by her guru and affiliated to the Kalidasa Sanskrit University.
Her teacher kept an eye on Suhani, recognising the young student’s desire to follow dance as her professional career, helping her to make a seven-year plan. She travelled and performed extensively with her guru, completing her arangetram in 2012. Somewhere within that, a meeting with a casting director arranged by her guru, led to Suhani being casted in a small role for a TV serial based on the Mahabharata. After her debut stint, she secured more work in television, which opened up acting as another source of income.
Suhani had been hesitant about entering the film industry, tainted as it is by stories of abuse. However, her guru assured her that if she remained true to herself, no one would have the power to corrupt. In the event, Suhani found support and camaraderie on the set. If she had a performance offer, the cast and crew bent over backwards to accommodate her schedule, sometimes filming late into the night. She found she enjoyed acting and could do it well. Her most high profile role was that of Laachi in Porus. Suhani had to turn down further offers to accept a Government of India scholarship for Young Artists. This gave her two years of undivided training and the opportunity to assist her guru in research.
It was around the time of the filming of the Mahabharata that Suhani was advised by a friend to start an Instagram account. Most of her followers, she believes, are there because of her TV and film profile. Like Eshani Sathe (the kathak Insta star also from Mumbai), Suhani believes that she can use her Insta fame as a tool to inform her followers that this beautiful form of dance, bharatanatyam, exists and is worthy of their attention. Although Insta has not brought her any dance work, she believes that it does help raise audiences for shows. Of course, a large majority of her following is in India, so it will be interesting to know if this translates to the UK. Marriage brought Suhani to the UK and this is where she will establish herself as a dancer, although touring in India remains an option.
It has been suggested to her that there are opportunities to monetise the Insta presence by uploading a certain number of reels that Insta would pay for. Suhani enjoys making reels and these are diverse, from free form and Bollywood to purely classical. As well as making a reel with the best friend from her first dance class (who has opted for commercial dance with Shaimak Davar), she also had the pleasure of meeting up in person with an Insta-made contact from the States, Sophia Salingeros and they recorded a reel together in Regent’s Park, when she was visiting London.
The joy and delight of dancing across all platforms, live and digital, is apparent in meeting and conversing with Suhani. She is confident that she made the right decision and is rising to meet the challenge of the life of a full-time dancer. Speed well on the path Suhani!