In the recently released web series Made In Heaven and Delhi Crime, a young actress made a mark amid a host of seasoned performers. In Amazon Prime Video’s Made in Heaven, Yashaswini Dayama played Mitali Gupta, a teenaged student who strikes up a friendship with wedding planner Karan (Arjun Mathur). Dayama went back to school in the Netflix original series Delhi Crime, this time as the 15-year-old daughter of Shefali Shah’s police officer Vartika Chaturvedi.
In the Richie Mehta-directed series that highlights the police investigation into the December 2012 Delhi gangrape and murder, Dayama’s Chandni is a stand-in for people disillusioned by the administration’s failure to ensure women’s safety. Chandni finds herself torn between her concern for her mother and the anger of her peers towards the police.
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Chandni was a welcome change for 24-year-old Dayama, who has played predominantly light-hearted characters in films including Phobia (2016) and Dear Zindagi (2016). “I was getting a little exhausted mentally by trying to be happy all the time,” she told Scroll.in. “It was a very welcoming process. I was really looking forward to being a real person like that. I was quite an uninformed, spoiled little girl when I was 15. Chandni, on the other hand, has a very strong sense of reality.”
Dayama’s character in Delhi Crime is in some ways a more serious avatar of Mitali in the wedding-themed Made In Heaven. Mitali fights her parents on their homophobic views about Karan, their tenant. “There’s only so many ways that I could be 15,” Dayama observed. “But my only conscious thought was to make sure that at least in my head, I made a real distinction between the two. What helped was that the stories were very different.”
Dayama’s father, Ramakant Dayama, appears in films and television. Her brother, Prabuddh Dayama, is also an actor. She attributes her own journey to happenstance. She is also a singer, and her performances can be seen on YouTube. “Growing up, I always want to be a triple threat of a performer – I wanted to be able to sing and dance and act and everything. I wanted to take over the planet,” Dayama said.
The shift to acting was spurred by a good haircut. “I had finished my third year and I just wanted to shed my skin,” Dayama recalled. “I wanted to go bald, but chickened out at the last minute and got a short pixie cut. Mom liked my look and suggested that I should also try my hand in the industry.”
Dayama met a casting director through her brother, who told her that the telecommunications company Airtel was auditioning for a new advertising campaign. The commercial was followed by a role in Pavan Kirpalani’s psychological thriller Phobia, in which Dayama played the bubbly Nikki, who comes to the aid of Radhika Apte’s agoraphobic Mehak. Dayama was the ever-reliable friend again in Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi, the Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan-starrer about a woman’s journey to self-discovery. Next was the popular YouTube web series Adulting (2018), in which Dayama was one half of a duo navigating the challenges that come with adulthood.
Despite her on-screen effervescence, Dayama says she is an introvert. She describes herself on Instagram as a “closeted comic”, a reference both to a YouTube mini-series of the same name that she worked on with a friend as well as her personality. “I come from a big family, so it’s difficult to get your voice heard by everyone,” she said. “When I’m with my own little group of people, my comfort space, I like to believe I’m funny.”
The camera similarly brings out a more fearless side. “I don’t know when the transition happened, but I discovered I could be comfortable in front of the camera,” Dayama added. “I still struggle to act in front of an audience. If I have to do workshops to prep for a project, I will perform horribly. But in front of the camera, something takes over. It becomes easier to become an extrovert.”
Dayama will don the school uniform again for Megha Ramaswamy’s The Odds, a mini-series that follows two students who strike up a friendship after bunking school during the day of an important exam. Also starring Karanvir Malhotra, Abhay Deol, Priyanka Bose and Monica Dogra, The Odds will be premiered at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles on April 14. Previously planned as a movie, The Odds was made before Made in Heaven and Delhi Crime.
“Initially I was terrified [about doing three successive school roles] because I was afraid I was going to do this for the rest of my life,” Dayama said. “But I honestly loved getting the opportunity to go back to these past times. This is my god-sent gift of being able to go back to the time and live what maybe I thought I could have done differently.”
The young actress is happy with her trajectory. “I set out to do a Masters in Political Science and working on my music career,” she said. “I was aiming at maybe making some YouTube videos and eventually playing some gigs at restaurants. It’s been a very welcome surprise, and I’m just taking it as it comes.”
Her upcoming projects include the second season of Adulting. “I’m looking forward to do any kind of roles,” she said. “Whoever’s reading, please cast me in a musical or anything you like.”