She’s the daughter of two talented artistes, Sachin and Supriya Pilgaonkar. One can say that Shriya Pilgaonkar was born to act. Like her father Sachin, who made a name for himself as a child artiste in both Hindi and Marathi cinema and then stretched that streak into adulthood, Shriya too started off when she was quite young. She appeared in the hit serial Tu Tu Main Main, playing a character named Bittu, when she was just five. She made her big screen debut with the Marathi film Ekulti Ek (2013), which was directed by Sachin. She won the Maharashtra State Film Award in the Best Debut Actress category for that. She then landed a French film called Un plus une (2015), which was much celebrated on the festival circuit. Her Hindi film debut happened with Fan (2016), where she was paired opposite Shah Rukh Khan. It’s to her credit that she stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him in the film and didn’t give off any newbie vibes. OTT beckoned in the form of the hugely successful Mirzapur (2018), she was even part of Gurinder Chaddha’s period piece Beecham House (2019). Her last release was the multilingual Kaadan (2021), whose Hindi version Haathi Mere Saathi, has been put on hold because of the spike in the COVID-19 cases and a partial lockdown in Maharashtra. Excerpts from a free-flowing interview with the actress who likes to work across genres, platforms and languages…
Fan recently completed five years of its release. What memories do you have of your Hindi film debut?
Fan will always have a special place in my heart. To share screen space with Shah Rukh Khan feels surreal even now. It tried to tell a different story in a different way. Kudos to Shah Rukh Khan for taking that risk and playing a double role in the film. Both the characters he played were poles apart from each other. It taught me that one should never be afraid to take risks. I’m proud of the film and proud of my work in the film.
Did Shah Rukh Khan give you any acting tips?
I loved interacting with him as he’s an intelligent man. He’s insightful and we had many interesting conversations. I shared with him that I wasn’t just interested in being an actor but wanted to be a filmmaker someday as well. I told him I’ve already made a short film and a documentary. He was very supportive of that and recommended a book on screenplay writing called Save The Cat, which I bought later.
What are the things you’ve learnt from your parents that make you a better professional?
I’ve seen the grace with which my parents have always carried themselves and that’s what I aspire to be. The goodwill they have is a result of not just their contribution and talent but their demeanour as people. They’ve always told me that no work is too big or too small and that the best way to be different is to be yourself. The legacy I want to leave behind is of being a solid human being who was kind to people and good at her craft.
Do you ever get impatient if work is slow?
Patience is a virtue actors need to have. There’s no way out. I don’t see my career lasting just 10 years, I want it to last 50 years or even more. So the quality of the work I do is more important to me. There will be a good phase and a not-so-good phase but the point is to be consistent and keep moving ahead. When
I feel like I have some free time, I take off and travel or learn something and prep myself for what’s to come.
You’re a swimmer, a kathak dancer, a theatre actor… what’s something new you’ve indulged yourself in over the past year?
I’m an explorer at heart and there are so many things that interest me. The best part of being an actor is that you can use all kinds of skills and experiences to build your characters. I love the process of filmmaking as well and this past year I’ve started writing a lot. When I feel ready and more prepared for it, I’d love to direct. But I’ll never stop acting. I love it too much.
What lessons did you learn in 2020, when the whole world was locked up?
To truly cherish and live in the present moment – as simple as that. I think I’ve learnt how to live a better life and not just be caught up with my desires. We spend too much time living in the past or the future. In 2020, I personally felt such a heightened sense of gratitude for existence and life in general with everything that the world was going through. I definitely got to know myself better and a lot was put into perspective. It’s the little everyday things that bring me joy that I now value so much more. Everything else is fleeting.
Did you reflect a lot on your life during the lockdown?
I’ve come to realise that as an actor, the only thing in my control is the process of filming. The journey is what I can hold on to. In the lockdown, I got the opportunity to be part of a virtual play called Lockdown Love which we performed online. And I also shot a thriller series at home called The Gone Game which all actors self-shot, and we were directed via Zoom. People really enjoyed watching it and it was empowering in a way to do everything on your own.
Has the pandemic and the lockdown changed things around for actors?
It’s the best time to be an actor today as there are so many more mediums of storytelling. Good writing is getting its due and as a result, diverse characters are being written, especially strong female parts. The female gaze is being noted. The traditional star system is gradually changing. It doesn’t matter anymore if you’re not headlining parts. If you stand out in a scene, people will notice. The gravitas of the character and the story is important. I have built a solid sense of self that is not easily defeated. It’s important to have a strong EQ and mental well-being is always a priority which just helps me overall as a person and makes my journey all the more enjoyable.
What are your expectations from 2021?
I just hope that the pandemic is under control and things don’t get worse. I have work lined up and some travel which I’m looking forward to. But as we all learned from the past year, just being in the present moment and making the most of it seems to be a better plan than excessively planning things.
What are some new things you wish to try as an actor?
I haven’t had a chance to do an out-and-out masala Bollywood film as we call it. I would love to do that. I recently did action for the first time which was so cool to try. I want to be able to surprise myself and the audience with the parts I play and stories
I chose to be part of. I really want to work with Zoya Akhtar, Sriram Raghavan, Anurag Basu, Shoojit Sircar to name a few.
Tell us a little about your upcoming projects…
My upcoming projects haven’t been officially announced yet but I’m super excited for what’s coming up. There are two series and a film in the pipeline. They are from genres that I haven’t done before so I’m crazy excited. I’m currently wrapping up a shoot for one of them. I want to maintain a balance of doing film work and series as both the mediums are fun and fulfilling in their own right.
Name one actor whose career graph you admire?
One is hard to pick. Different aspects of different actors’ careers have been inspiring but Alia Bhatt, Priyanka Chopra and Radhika Apte come to my mind. These wonderful actors have managed to do films in different genres and have surprised the audience with their range and versatility with each character. I like that they haven’t allowed themselves to be stereotyped and have made strong choices. Also, Priyanka Chopra is a powerhouse and has definitely paved the way for Indian actors internationally.