Indian actress Tanvi Lonkar first stepped into the limelight in the 2008 Oscar-winning film, “Slumdog Millionaire,” where she played a preadolescent girl kidnapped and forced into prostitution. The 22-year-old, who is now a student at Milledgeville, Georgia-based Georgia College, a liberal arts university, is once again attracting attention, but this time for another art form.
Lonkar is winning acclaim for one of her artworks in which she chose to paint women from around the world. Why women? “Because there have been times in my life I was told I can’t do certain things ‘because I am a girl,’” she answered on her Facebook page referencing her “Women of the World” project.
“Even though I know I am very fortunate to have grown up in a family that respected me and my decisions all the way, I know for a fact that not all women get that privilege. Because of this I feel connected to women all around the world. I know the struggle,” she said.
“Some stories are told, while some remain untold. It is to all those hidden stories behind walls, behind trees, behind clothes, and it is all those stories told over and over that make me want to show their beauty to the world because we’re more than just girls,” she added. “Whether privileged or not at the end of the day we are all in the same boat. Through my art I just paint their wings, because they already know how to fly.”
Lonkar, who is about to graduate with a degree in psychology, told the college magazine, Front Page, that the major helped her grasp the type of human nature that leads to sexual slavery – something she didn’t quite understand at age 11 playing the role of ‘middle Latika.’
“When I did ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ my role in the movie was a girl who was human trafficked. So, that really put me in a situation where I got angry,” she told the magazine. “It started me on this journey in my head that I need to do something that will empower women.”
“I want to change the way society looks at anything different,” she added. “I think it’s very important to show the world we have all these women as well – women who are not outcasts but who are strong.”
Lonkar also shared with Front Page that because of her role in the film she was bullied in middle school, with kids calling her a “prostitute.” Things, she said, weren’t very different in high school. All this, she said, made her “anti-social” and angry at her parents for allowing her to be in a movie like that.
“But as I grew up, I thanked my parents, because I realized how important that role was to the world. It was a world-famous movie and people still talk about it,” said Lonkar, who feels the experience made her stronger and ready to lead.
Lonkar said college made her “more passionate in a way that makes me want to contribute.”
Most importantly, Lonkar discovered art as a form of activism, and her creative “Women of the World” series will be showcased for Women’s History Month at the Georgia College Women’s Center in March. One larger painting, an 8-by-4-foot drape of an Indian woman, is displayed at Metropolis restaurant in Milledgeville. Her art will also be featured on the cover of Peacock’s Feet, Georgia College’s literary journal.
After graduation, Lonkar plans to get a year-long work visa and a nonprofit job helping communities, according to Front Page. Then she’d like to get a master’s and Ph.D. in special education and teach. She’ll continue to paint women, focusing next on South Americans and Europeans.