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Tanglin and Vetri actress Eswari Gunasagar likes to wear the pants

SINGAPORE — You cannot tell just from looking at the pampered, pink princess she plays in Tanglin, but Eswari Gunasagar is actually a self-proclaimed tomboy who can “conquer the world” — if you only give her a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. Of course, the character she plays in the 199-episode Channel 5 drama is a 17-year-old schoolgirl. But she is not much closer to the 32-year-old teacher she plays in the second season of Vetri that is currently airing on Vasantham, either.

SINGAPORE — You cannot tell just from looking at the pampered, pink princess she plays in Tanglin, but Eswari Gunasagar is actually a self-proclaimed tomboy who can “conquer the world” — if you only give her a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. Of course, the character she plays in the 199-episode Channel 5 drama is a 17-year-old schoolgirl. But she is not much closer to the 32-year-old teacher she plays in the second season of Vetri that is currently airing on Vasantham, either.

In reality, the 25-year-old is a real woman of her time: She loves sports, but was also a pretty and poised Miss Vasantham 2011 finalist; she confesses to being moody at times, but also describes herself as “ambitious”, “determined” and “independent”; she calls herself a hopeless romantic and a Nicholas Sparks fan, but does not want any excess mush in her relationships, thank you very much.

“My childhood dream was to be a police officer — the regimental life,” she recalled. It was a dream that was fulfilled when she received her first acting role in the second season of the Vasantham police drama Vettai. “Maybe I just wasn’t supposed to be a girl. I want to be the one in control.”

WEARING THE PANTS

As a child, she was a tomboy. “I wouldn’t even wear skirts. I always wore jerseys and shorts,” she said. “Until I was 14, I would be the only girl playing soccer on a field full of guys. Every time my brother’s friends called him out (to play) soccer, they’d be like, ‘Eh, ask your sister to come along’.

“I’m not boasting, but I think I was pretty good — I did score most of the goals, actually! Then my mother was like, ‘That’s it — no more soccer’. And she threw away all my jerseys. I think she was getting scared, like, ‘What’s happening to my daughter?’”

Eswari decided she would “try to be feminine”, but not just for her mother’s sake. “Also, in secondary school, guys started liking me, so I thought maybe I should try to look good a bit,” she said. “My mother took me to get my eyebrows threaded and I got my nose pierced.”

But, perhaps, old habits die hard. “I still feel uncomfortable wearing dresses,” said the actress. “My comfort clothes are T-shirts and jeans. You give me that, I can conquer the world.”

For this tomboy to get involved in the Miss Vasantham pageant show is what she calls an “accident”. Her brother entered her name in the competition without her knowledge. “Everybody was wearing saris and gowns. I was wearing a top and jeans with my heels,” she recalled.

But those jeans brought her to where she is today; and she is on her way to becoming a household name. “Making the crossover from Vasantham to Channel 5 was a big thing for me because I always thought to myself, ‘I’ve never really seen any Indian girl making that crossover’,” she said.

GIRL POWER

Since appearing on Tanglin, life has changed for Eswari — in particular ways. “When I don’t smile, I usually have a ‘don’t disturb me’ face — I like to zone out. But now, wherever I go, I have to make sure that I have a smile on my face,” she said with a chuckle, adding that that was something her father had regularly reminded her to do.

And she is thankful for his support throughout her career. “Indians are usually very conservative, and to see your daughter hugging or kissing a man on screen — I don’t think Indian parents would be okay with that. But my parents have never said anything,” she shared.

Her close-knit family — her sister is Oli 96.8FM DJ Shamini Gunasagar — helps her cope with being in the public eye. But instead of that exposure being a struggle for her, she puts a positive spin on it.

“If you ask me, I actually kind of like the pressure, because I think without it, I would go haywire,” she said. “The people I know are clubbing and getting drunk. But there are young kids who look up to me. That makes me behave better. It makes me more responsible and mature. It makes me realise what is right and wrong.”

She continued: “Sometimes, kids’ parents ask me to come to their birthday parties. When I go down to surprise them, they hug me and cry. The impact I have on these young kids makes me realise that I cannot be an ordinary 25-year-old doing whatever she wants to do. It gives me more reason to do my Master’s — to tell them it’s important to have education.”

Eswari has a degree in business marketing, but in addition to finding time to pursue a Master’s, she also wants to pursue a PhD — although she admitted that she had no idea what she would do with it. “I would want to have it just to have it,” she mused.

Even though her career is doing well now, she does not think she will be in it for the long haul. “When I stepped (into the entertainment industry), I was told it’s a cycle. You might be at the top, but there’ll always be someone to replace you, so you shouldn’t get it into your head that you’re the best,” she said.

“If people get tired of seeing me, I’ll probably get a corporate job, climb the corporate ladder and then 10 years down the road, I’ll be running a business, being in charge, travelling, meeting new people and seeing clients. That’s how I see myself — in formal wear, getting out of a convertible, and carrying a laptop and a cup of Starbucks.”

But what if people want to see more of Eswari instead? “If could hit the big screen, I would take that up,” she said. “Whatever I plan never goes according to plan! If there’s one piece of advice I have for people, it’s that you should never have any plans. You’ve got to try everything so that you never have any regrets in life.”

Tanglin airs on weekdays at 8.30pm on MediaCorp TV Channel 5. Vetri II airs Mondays to Thursdays at 10pm on MediaCorp TV Vasantham.

CREDITS

Photography: Jason Ho

Hair: Joanna Ang, Sono Bello (96953772)

On the cover

Studio A/W15 black leather dungarees, S$549; silver mesh top, S$59.90; both from H&M. Shoes: Artiste’s own.Jumpsuit, S$79.90; silver mesh top, S$59.90; both from H&M. Top, S$79.90 from H&M. Denim overalls and cap: Stylist’s own.

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