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Slumdog Millionaire actress paints 'Women of the World' at Georgia College


"I can finally show the world I was that kid in the movie, and now I'm grown up, and I'm ready to tackle these issues through my art and get people talking." — Tanvi Lonkar

Georgia College helped a girl from Mumbai, India, develop into a critical thinker – eager to use her celebrity and unique creative expression for women worldwide. 

In the multi-Oscar-winning 2008 movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” Tanvi Lonkar played a beautiful, preadolescent girl kidnapped and forced into the crime-ridden slums and brothels of India.

Tanvi Lonkar in Slumdog Millionaire.

Now she’s about to graduate with a degree in psychology. 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.’ College also helped Lonkar rediscovere her love for art. She painted “Women of the World” – a vibrant-colored series being followed by more than 16,400 people on Instagram and nearly 5,000 on Face Book.

“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,” the 22-year-old says. “It started me on this journey in my head that I need to do something that will empower women.”

“That’s why I started painting women from different cultures, whose stories remain untold. They’re kind of hidden from the world,” Lonkar says. “I’m hoping one day, when my art becomes famous, hopefully these women will notice it and see themselves the way I see them – looking very confident.”

As a young girl, Lonkar loved drawing and painting. She took art in high school. But it wasn’t until junior year at Georgia College – with a need to do more and a “craving for art” – that Lonkar realized she could minor in painting and use it as a mouthpiece.

Her art shows only head and shoulders – powerful portraits with expressive lips and eyes that look directly at the viewer.

Lonkar’s tribal Ethiopian woman is painted against a turquoise background with a bejeweled neck and beaded, cotton-tuffed hair. A Tibetan woman, against effervescent yellow, wears fresh flowers on her head and flowing jewels. A woman from India wears a large silver nose ring, beads in her hair and a veil with silken robes.

Lonkar hopes her paintings will embolden women and help society be more accepting.

"College does help with critical thinking, and so that encouraged me to think outside the box and take risks." — Tanvi Lonkar

“I want to change the way society looks at anything different," she says. "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 was bullied in middle school, after her role as Latika. Because of the movie, kids called her a “prostitute,” and she had only one friend. She became anti-social and angry at her parents for allowing her to be in a movie like that. Even in high school, it took kids awhile to adjust to their new movie-star classmate. They thought she’d be snobbish.

“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,” says Lonkar, who feels the experience made her stronger and ready to lead.

Senior Tanvi Lonkar hopes her paintings will help women see themselves as beautiful.

Coming to America and Georgia, Lonkar says she was surprised by the friendliness and “Southern hospitality.” Lonkar’s cousin lived in Milledgeville at the time. She told Lonkar about Georgia College’s small, personalized classes and its scholarships for international students.

Lonkar rejected other “big-name” schools she applied to. Instead, she chose Georgia College and stayed. Shy and nervous as a first-year student, she graduates a young woman eager to make a difference in the world.

“I love this school; it’s a perfect fit,” Lonkar says. “I love Millegeville. I love the people. Growing up in Mumbai, it’s a huge big city, and people don’t really care about each other. They’re just doing their own thing. When I came here, people just greet you on the street. It’s pretty awesome.”

Lonkar became good friends with other international students from Germany, Sweden, Italy and Albania. She danced hip hop for two years with Sassy Cats, worked at the library, promoted inclusiveness on campus as a diversity peer educator and did psychology research on what it means to be happy. She found satisfaction volunteering and helping others.

"College has changed me so much in ways of how I think about the world and how I perceive things. College made me more passionate in a way that makes me want to contribute." — Tanvi Lonkar

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.

Lonkar hopes her artwork will inspire people to see beauty in all women.

“Sometimes we only care about our own lives and our own happiness, but lifting others will raise you too,” Lonkar says. “The whole purpose of me doing these paintings is to lift women, and I feel that lifts me up in the end as well.”

After graduation, Lonkar plans to get a yearlong work visa and a nonprofit job helping communities. 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.

At the Academy Awards in 2009.

Lessons learned at Georgia College will guide her. Along with “Slumdog Millionaire,” the university shaped Lonkar into what she is today:  A “girlie” feminist, who’s ready to use her voice. 

“I think I can finally speak out about it. When I was growing up and still learning about these issues going on in the world, I was hesitant to talk. But I’ve reached that point in my life, where I think I can talk and represent women,” Lonkar says.

“I can finally show the world I was that kid in the movie, and now I’m grown up, and I’m ready to tackle these issues through my art and get people talking.”


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