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Swaroop Sampat: Much more than an actress

Swaroop Sampat is one of top 10 teachers who has made it as a finalist for the Global Teacher Prize

By Bharathi S. Pradhan
  • Published 3.03.19, 1:02 AM
  • Updated 3.03.19, 1:02 AM
  • 2 mins read
Swaroop Sampat Picture by Fotocorp

There was a time when none of us had heard of Paresh Rawal. So when Miss India and very likeable actress Swaroop Sampat (whose socio-comic Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi was a huge hit on Indian TV) was getting married to this “Gujarati stage actor”, we wondered who he was.

Soon, her fame receded as she raised two sons and Paresh, after films such as Naam, became the more popular name.

Today, Swaroop would also be identified as Vicky Kaushal’s mother, the one with dementia, in Uri. Or as Kareena Kapoor’s progressive mother in Ki & Ka.

But last week, Swaroop was suddenly making headlines for something totally different. She was one of the Top 10 teachers who had made it as a finalist for the Global Teacher Prize which, in its fourth edition, carries a prize of $1 million.

When one really reflects on it, it wasn’t so sudden.

For those of us who knew Swaroop well, she was the chatty, amiable actress whose mother was a renowned oncologist. A little-known nugget was that Swaroop was the first daughter in her family after 120 years. So her birth was much rejoiced and she was pampered by everybody.

But she settled down well with Paresh. After her marriage, when I once dropped in to see her at their first apartment in Juhu, Swaroop had just learnt to make white sauce.

The world now knew her as Mrs Paresh Rawal. But one was aware that she quietly started working for dyslexic children and soon she too could attach Dr to her name after her PhD at Worcester in England. “I made the switch after getting my PhD,” she revealed, “to include all children”.

A trained teacher who has worked for Unicef and gone into remote villages in Gujarat and Maharashtra, Swaroop made it to the Top 10 out of 10,000 nominations that came from 179 countries. The countries ranged from the US, the Netherlands and other first world countries to the less prosperous. Fingers are crossed for when Swaroop goes to Dubai for the finals on March 20.

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The 10 finalists from different countries, each specialising in a different method of teaching, will hold a masterclass where 100 teachers will also be watching and gauging. Swaroop’s speciality is education through drama. “It’s such fun that it has brought students back into the classroom,” she states. She throws an open challenge that her method of teaching turns out the best students whose skills not only make them learn but also equip them with confidence to tackle any situation. “Why does learning always have to be serious?” she wonders and questions the tendency to take her method lightly simply because the students find it such fun. Or because she comes from a privileged background.

For actor and MP Paresh Rawal, it’s an immensely proud moment especially because Swaroop has worked very hard and made it on her own steam. One needs to tell the story of her success because it’s so easy to dismiss a woman like her as just another entitled star wife.

Fluent in Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi and English, which helps her whether she’s taking a class for Aziz Premji in Karnataka or teaching underprivileged children in a village in Maharashtra, Swaroop ruminates that it was acting which prepped her for this important, life-changing role in life. “Because I’m not afraid of the camera if it’s a virtual classroom and as an actress, storytelling is baaye haath ka khel.” Students also, “Freak out that their teacher was a Miss India however old she may now be,” she laughs. That touch of glamour always helps.

PS: That touch of glamour sat next to me at the special MAMI screening of Sonchiriya. When the national anthem was played, the man next to me stood erect and sang it word by word till the end. It turned out to be Javed Akhtar who had come to watch Sushant Singh Rajput’s new dacoit film with wife Shabana Azmi.

Bharathi S. Pradhan is a senior journalist and author