Understandably, Shriya Pilgaonkar is in a good place these days. Her two most recent projects, Guilty Minds and The Broken News, have both been huge hits and received rave reviews. It’s been a good year for Shriya, but she took the time to be here. She made her big screen debut in Ekulti Ek in 2013 and Bollywood debut in 2016 in Fan opposite Shah Rukh Khan. Since then, the actress has had a string of successes in the OTT space. What makes her stand out is her willingness to take on different roles and try out different genres. Plus, she’s a real warm person – which is a miracle for her. In an exclusive interview with Filmfare, the actress talks about The Broken News, social media, the success of being a “star kid” and why she’s eager to make a Masala Bollywood movie.
Broken News offers journalists a very balanced view of…
Thank you, I think even the manufacturers have that intention to humanize everyone. Because it’s easy to discredit someone or make strong judgments about who’s right and who’s wrong, there’s a lot of pressure on so many levels that I feel only people in that position can fully understand. So I’m glad, as a journalist, if you feel that way.
You’ve had a great year – Guilty Minds was an immediate success. And I’ve always believed that the best success comes through word of mouth, and that’s what Guilty Minds has.
When you win quietly, you know? Guilty Minds is a show that is very close to my heart. This was one of the first opportunities I had as an actor to really get into, and Kashaf Quaze is not an easy character to play, she’s a very complex person. Even her private life, her relationship with her parents, her relationship with colleagues she likes; her concept of right and wrong is so clear that it is very difficult for someone like Kashaf to survive in this world. However, she is very persistent. So for me, playing that role as an actor was very fulfilling.
We breathe a sigh of relief when Guilty Minds gets all the love because sometimes even if you work hard, a project may not succeed. But when it happens, you feel the circle is complete. For Broken News, the characters are ideologically similar, Radha and Kashaf are similar in what they are passionate about, they stand for the truth, and they give people a voice. But as people, the two of them are very different. Radha is someone who can manipulate the situation to get what she wants, but Kashaf is not that person. So I know people might say I’m doing a similar role after the first one, but I hope the differentiation is gone. I’ll be doing different parts in the future, so hopefully no one’s going to stereotype me any time soon.
When I read some of Guilty’s reviews – some of the reviewers never give good reviews, I was like ‘Oh my God, if this guy likes it, then I really have to watch it. “
Sometimes the filmmakers or actors put details and nuances into the characters, and many times they go unnoticed. But I like the way a lot of the comments are able to grab hold of this stuff. Of course, anything you do will have flaws and imperfections, but the fact that you’ve tapped into the soul of the project is what counts the most. I think the best thing is word of mouth because that’s how people trust it. Usually when you hype a project. . . we’ve seen that hype can also go in the wrong direction. To me, nothing is more important than being called a good actor, because I often say that being a star is not in my hands, but being called a good actor is.
Radha is so faithful to her ideals even when she leaves Awaaz Bharati and goes to Josh 24/7. Are you the same when there is no wiggle room?
I don’t think I’m as impulsive as Lada. Sonali (Bendre) joked with me that Radha has a lot of temper tantrums and she reacts a lot to emotions. For her, the whole point of her going to Josh 24/7 was that she felt powerless in Awaaz Bharati, she was very frustrated. But when she went to Josh, she realized it was wrong, and it was enough to let her go. I don’t think she cares what people think. But I personally always carefully weigh my pros and cons when making a decision. The only time I’m impulsive is when traveling or doing something adventurous. But in life, decisions are tough and you have to take responsibility for them. So no, I’m not similar to Lada in that sense.
Would you choose a full masala movie just because it might be more of your opinion or more followers?
Well, it’s not about followers or fan following, but as an actor, I’m eager to explore all aspects. I feel like I’m someone who loves the legendary Bollywood Masala movies. I love to dance, I love to sing, and I don’t feel like that side of me is being tapped. So definitely agar mujhe kal aisi koi film milti hai, why not? I would love to do so. As a viewer, I love watching different genres of movies, and some great filmmakers are very good at that genre, and they do it well. I want to be an actor who can adapt to many things. But sometimes I feel like you have to spoon feed a little. In order for people to see me in that larger-than-life commercial space, maybe I also have to try to project myself in a way that I have to convince the manufacturers that I can do it. Sometimes just being a good actor isn’t enough.
Growing up, we saw stars differently, did you feel like “vo big screen wali baat” or that stars don’t exist anymore?
I think the definition of stardom is evolving today. You know, some people might think I’m an OTT star, some people might not use that word to describe me. For some, influencers are seen as stars, but for others, they may not. I think the lines are blurring today, it’s all about being consistent or relevant – if you perform well, you stay. For example, Shah Rukh Khan or Kareena Kapoor Khan will always be a star, but at the same time for me, Ali Fazal is also a star. You look at Pratik Gandhi; he is also a star. You can’t really define it right now, and that’s the beauty of the OTT space. Once you’ve done a great job with a project in which you connect with people, it’s entirely possible that you’ll be that shining star.
I don’t think social media should define anyone’s motivation. Some of the biggest stars in the world aren’t even on social media. I think what’s happening is people are trying to create a perception rather than an actual substance, and that’s where you can go wrong. I love social media as long as it doesn’t stress me out, and of course some of it is work. But I never figured out how to increase my following and how to get me a different type of job. That’s just a dangerous line, and I hope the casting directors don’t make the actors feel that way.
Are you facing charges of nepotism because of your origin?
I don’t – maybe – fall under the typical star child umbrella. I wasn’t on a magazine cover until any of my films came out, I had to work systematically towards it, I mean that’s exactly the route I took. There is no judgment on other routes people take, on their own. So before my first Hindi film, Fan, I made a Marathi film and a French film. Being a fan has been a wonderful experience for me, I work with Shah Rukh Khan and it’s been a special start. You’ll find it funny, even though I’m in a Shah Rukh Khan movie, I didn’t know I was supposed to do PR. I could have exaggerated like so many.
The nature of the industry is to do so much to package actors, I didn’t know it at the time. So the route I took was ‘let me be patient and audition a few times’. Mirzapur changed the dynamics of my career. After Mirzapur, I shot the British series Beecham House. Slowly, when Guilty Minds came to me, I realized that this was a script I could fully commit to. So hopefully after Guilty Minds and Broken News, all fingers crossed, I’ll be able to attract more work that I can do in different types of headlines and let’s see.
Do you feel the image of a powerful woman in the film has changed? Because before when you gave a woman a cigarette and made her wear short clothes, she was a capable woman. When I see Lada, she wears the same dress half the time…
(laughs) But Kashav is dressed elegantly, you know.
Now that you’re bombarded with scripts, are you feeling “thank goodness, it’s not like that”?
Luckily, now that I’m playing these two leads, Kashaf and Radha, I feel like I’m spoiled by them, they’re so well rounded. My director Shefali Bhushan knew Kashaf well and thanked her for writing her in such a nuanced way. Even with Radha, Sir Vinay (Waikul) is very careful and wants her to be free from clichés. For my boss, the editor-in-chief, Amina, played by Sonali and Radha, disagreeing with each other, being short-tempered, manipulating others, or talking behind each other’s backs was predictable. But the writers made sure they put such a soft touch in it that they could be vulnerable to each other, which, to me, was a huge win. They can collapse in front of each other, they can disagree with each other, and they can see themselves in each other.
There’s a stage where you’re either this pretty sweet girl-next-door, very simple, or a smoking urbanite with an affair and ambition. But today, in the movies, you see a lot of evolution in writing, and a lot of it is also because you have such a good female writer. This also plays a very important role. When I see characters played by Shefali (Shah) Ma’am or Neena Gupta and Sakshi Tanwar, I think about how actors explore different aspects of themselves across ages. Their desires, fears, strengths and vulnerabilities. This is exciting and hopefully it will get better and better.