Her Instagram bio reads, 'Baby beluga in the deep blue sea.' Just like these lyrics from Rafi's nursery album, Shriya Pilgaonkar believes in swimming wild and free when it comes to her passion- cinema. Daughter of veteran actors Sachin and Supriya Pilgaonkar, Shriya has made her own mark within a short span of time.
After a cute debut on television at the age of five as Bittu in the popular sitcom Tu Tu Main Main, which also starred her mother Supriya and late Reema Lagoo, acting was nowhere in the horizon for this spunky girl until she bagged a role in the ten-minute play Freedom To Horizon. Since then, there's no looking back for Shriya who continues to pop surprises with her versatile roles. Currently, she is gearing up for the release of her upcoming film Haathi Mere Saathi.
In an exclusive tete-a-tete with Filmibeat.com, Shriya Pilgaonkar bares her heart about taking up a trilingual film, the pressure of hailing from a supremely talented family, doing Marathi cinema and much more.
1. How did Haathi Mere Saathi come your way? Also, it's your first trilingual film, so what were the major challenges before you?
A. The biggest challenge is the fact that it's a trilingual film. But, I was also keen to explore work down South. I watch Tamil, Telugu films and am a huge fan of some of the story-telling that's done there. So for me, it was something which I was open to. When this project (Haathi Mere Saathi) came my way, I was specially drawn to the fact that the subject was really beautiful and quite relevant. I personally love elephants. I had a strong connect to what this film was trying to say, and of course, Rana Daggubati is amazing. I have seen him in Baahubali. He is an extremely hard-working person. So every direction was pointing me to do this film. I am really glad that I am a part of it.
2. Your co-star Rana Daggubati had once said that it's not easy to work with director Prabhu Solomon because he is a perfectionist. How was your experience when you worked with him?
A. Prabhu Sir is incredibly passionate about this subject and his way of working many a times is surprising. We were not shooting in normal circumstances. It's like we were shooting forests. In fact, my co-stars Rana Daggubati, Pulkit Samrat, Vishnu Vishal, Zoya Hussain had a much more intensive experience that what I did. But, Haathi Mere Saathi was not an easy film to make. There are animals involved and then many other factors also come into play. Visually it's beautiful, but there is a process that they had to go through while making the film. But, I personally liked the way Prabhu Sir dealt with everything with immense process and commitment. He is someone who likes to make his actor rough and tough. He will always challenge you. So, I really enjoyed this way. For me, the personal challenge about this film was the fact that I had to speak two languages. Sometimes, it used to be stressful, but it was also a fun and a filling experience at the end of the day.
3. It is said that as an actor, you grow with every film. So, what has been the biggest takeaway for you from Haathi Mere Saathi?
A. That's so true. With every project, you grow not just as an actor, but also as a person. For me, on this project, more than as an actor, it was about the sense of being aware of my responsibility as a person towards the environment. It's just very humbling when you are filming with animals, although I didn't have any scenes with the elephant. I think nature is the biggest teacher. There are things that being out in nature can show you about yourself which nothing else can. So, while shooting, there was an introspection about a lot of things. I felt that as people, we have so much responsibilities towards the environment. For me, it was more of an internal journey of asking myself that yes, we want to go out and change the world, but in my capacity, what can I do?
4. In a recent interview, you said that the common thread that has dominated your life is that you have always been a performer and believed in communicating through emotions. Does this fact play a crucial role when it comes to giving your nod to films?
A. For me, the number one priority is the story. Of course, you want to play a part that can stand out in its own way but, it's equally important for me to enjoy the story as a viewer when I am listening to it. Even today, I feel that when many people are exposed to many different kinds of content whether it's on OTT or films, you want to be part of things that are memorable. I like to pick up things that I would like to do differently and people might enjoy watching it too. But I largely make choices based on my instinct. I don't have to overthink. I know when I want to do something immediately.
5. But Shriya, do you also look at the commercial viability of a film before saying 'yes' to it? Because it may happen at times that you may like a subject which is close to your heart, but you know that it won't appeal to a larger section of the audience. Will you still agree to do it?
A. That's a good question. I started my career with a Marathi film, worked in a French film, did a pan-India commercial film, worked on OTT shows like Mirzapur and Gone Game. My choices are not based on commercial or not commercial. As an actor, I want to be a part of a good story. But, I do understand the advantages of being a part of a commercial film. Haathi Mere Saathi is commercial; at the same time the treatment to the subject is as authentic as it can get. The priority was not to make it massy. I don't look at my projects as commercial or non commercial. But I do understand that for me as an actor, it's important to be a part of a film that will be widely watched. Having said that, if I really like something, I will back it even if it is with first-time filmmakers or a completely new subject. People are doing different things and you never know what will work.
6. When you hail from a supremely talented family, does things get easier for you as an actor since you have your parents to watch your back and guide you if you do a mistake, or is there an extra pressure on you because you have got to live up to their legacy, yet maintain your own identity?
A. It's not the pressure, I just feel a sense of responsibility. I have not been brought up to feel any pressure. I am been brought up to be my own self and my parents have always encouraged me to pave my own path. But, as a person, I know that what my parents have been able to create for themselves through their hard work, I must continue that legacy with how I am carrying myself as a person. That's more important. When you are a part of this industry, your highs and lows will be constant; what will not change is how you are as a person and how you deal with your successes and failures. Of course, I want to constantly work on my craft and I want to perform my best every time. I do seek advice from my parents. They give me their opinion as artists and not as parents. I know that they have always got my back and if I need anything, then they are always there. But, I also feel that they want me to learn from my mistakes and explore things on my own. That's how it has always been and I wouldn't have it any other way.
7. Are they your harshest critics?
A. Oh, I am my own harshest critic (laughs). If there's something that I like, I will acknowledge that to myself that I did a good job. But, I am also very honest about where I need to pull up my socks. I don't think any actor is ever satisfied. I don't think that you are an artist if you are a satisfied person.
8. You started your journey with a Marathi film, did a French film, starred in commercials, dabbled with theatre and web series. Do you think this is the best time for you to be an actor? There was a time when cinema were the only way for an actor to connect with his/her audience. However, things have changed with the advent of OTT platforms. Today, even if you don't have a film coming up, you will still be visible to the audience through commercials and web series.
A. This is truly the best time to be an actor because you have so many opportunities. The OTT platforms have opened up employment for so many people at all different levels. The star system is changing. The definition of being a star has changed. That's the best part because this will encourage people to chase the right things.
9. Do you have any plans of doing a Marathi film?
A. If I am doing Tamil and Telugu films then I am absolutely open to doing Marathi cinema as well. But my decision is always based on the script. If I like a script and if it's a Marathi film, I will ofcourse take it up. In the past, the kind of Marathi scripts which were offered to me, were of a certain kind that I wasn't keen to do. I am not rigid when it comes to making choices, so I am open to doing a Marathi film. I am just waiting for the right kind of Marathi film to come to me.
10. Do you believe that it would be double the pressure there for you because your parents have an amazing body of work when it comes to Marathi cinema?
A. Not at all. In fact, I get a lot of love from the Marathi audience because of my parents and they have also watched my other work. They are following my journey. So, my competition is only with myself in terms of me trying to be better with every project. I have already done one Marathi film. If there were to be any pressure, it would have happened then only. But, I am not that kind of a person who will be distracted by these kind of things. I don't allow myself to be pressurized by these aspects. I just focus on what I need to do.
11. Do you keep a tab on what your contemporaries are doing in terms of the kind of work they are taking up or you just have your blinkers on?
A. No, no, it's very good to know what other people are doing because they might be taking up projects that might be the kind that even you would want to do. There might be things that I would want to do. But the way things function, it's not just about acting. It's also about positioning. I would love to do an out and out Bollywood film. I would love to have some of these opportunities which I am sure, will come in time. But, I also have to respect and understand that this is not something that happens only if you are acting well. There are several factors. But, I think today everyone gets the opportunity to grow. I personally like to see the work of my contemporaries and the films that are being made because it's healthy. It helps me to understand what kind of filmmakers I want to work with and the path I want to go. While I do that, I also do my job. It's not a negative feeling.
12. Lastly, are you satisfied with how your career has shaped up in the last seven years and what's next in the pipeline?
A. I am not someone who looks back. I feel whatever ups and downs that have happened, is always a process. There's a lot more that I want to do which I will eventually do with my upcoming projects. I am really looking forward to them. I am getting opportunities that I wanted to do right now. I am positive that things will get better. Like I said, no actor is ever satisfied. They are always greedy. (bursts into laughter).