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Exclusive! Shriya Pilgaonkar on being a girl on a mission and thriving on a streak of hits lately

Being the daughter of talented performers like Sachin and Supriya Pilgaonkar, Shriya Pilgaonkar has always been determined to prove her worth as an actor. She knows that she will always be compared to her parents and hence has always set a high standard for herself. The young actress has had a fantastic year in 2022, with shows like Guilty Minds and Broken News making the audience root for her. In her most recent series, Taaza Khabar, co-starring with Bhuvan Bam, she plays a sex worker. Shriya’s performance is both convincing and powerful. Talk about the show and she beams, “I was ecstatic that the writers and directors saw me in a new light. I want people, especially our directors, producers and writers, to believe that I can play a variety of roles, not just as a performer but also as a look.” She chuckles and claims that her friends have hyped her up by claiming she is the best part of the show.

She expresses gratitude for the flood of compliments but she is adamant about not being stereotyped, which is why playing Madhu in the show felt so refreshing. Says she, “It’s important to me not to be stereotyped. Taking on complex roles is a step in that direction because I know I won’t get slotted if I experiment with each outing.” Shriya has always been meticulous in her preparation for her roles. Given that actors have always stated that when approached for such roles, they visit red-light districts for their research, we’re curious if Shriya followed suit. Her reply is kind of surprising as she chose not to. There are two reasons for this. I didn’t feel safe going into the red-light district because of the COVID restrictions. However, unlike other depictions, you don’t see much of Madhu’s life in the brothel. What you see is more of her personality. It is handled with great respect and without prejudice. I read a lot of interviews that were available online. They showed me what living is a life like this can do to a person.”

Shriya Pilgaonkar

Madhu is one of the most layered characters Shriya has played. She is strong yet vulnerable. Having lived a life full of hardships, she might have become negative and suicidal but Madhu chooses to be positive instead and emerges as a survivor. She explains, “She chooses a life of dignity and respect, and that’s what makes the character so special. I think approaching the character without judgment was important in order to essay her truthfully. As an actor, I will do that for every role that comes my way. Because I can’t be judging my characters. If I do that, I will not be able to perform authentically.”

Shriya Pilgaonkar

Both Guilty Minds and Taaza Khabar, her last two projects, have helped her stretch the boundaries of her versatility. Thus, there have been plenty of positive reviews coming in, which might feel rewarding and overwhelming at the same time. She talks about how reviews definitely matter to her in certain ways. She narrates how her mother always told her to get better rather than telling her whether she is good or bad. And that is what is valuable. When asked about which one of her roles her parents would pick as their favourite, she says, “They enjoyed Taaza Khabar a lot because they’d never have believed I could pull off playing a sex worker. And to see me doing it differently from what has been done before by other actors has made them happy. But in Guilty Minds, I had a whole lot to do because it was out and out about my character Kashaf. Thus, it’ll always be special for them.”

Shriya Pilgaonkar

It’s not just the bouquets that are flying her way, she’s received her share of brickbats too. “Everything you do is not going to be perfect,” she points out. There will be flaws. I only follow reviews that I know are not written just for humor, to get a reaction, or to be clickbait. I read writers whom I know are genuine; and who I know have no agendas. Even if they haven’t given me a positive review, I still read them because I believe it strengthens me.”

Shriya Pilgaonkar

Anyone following Shriya on social media would be aware of the close relationship she shares with her parents. Recalling her childhood, Shriya reminisces about the glorious times she spent with her father, who used to make her watch a diverse range of films just for the sheer love of cinema. “Dad would always show me a lot of films. We used to watch a lot of animation movies, like The Lion King and Toy Story. He would also show me Guru Dutt and Dev Anand films, as well as English classics like Where Eagles Dare.”

Shriya Pilgaonkar

In comparison to what one might expect from a celebrity child, her childhood was quite blah. She laughs as she recalls how she was never taken to fancy Bollywood parties. She admits to being a nerd at heart with a strong interest in academics and sports. She’s also a trained classical dancer, which is what she thinks made her connect with the actor within her. “I realized that dancing has everything to do with your face only after my training as a Kathak dancer, which requires a lot of effort. In that process, I connected with the actor in me. I have never approached work in an entitled way because my parents are in the field.” Talking about the creative bug which bit her early on, she shares, “I have always had a performer’s instinct. I was always comfortable on stage when we had dramas in school or elocution contests. I happily took that leadership charge.”

Shriya Pilgaonkar

Her big Bollywood debut was with Shah Rukh Khan in Fan. And she gets all giddy as she says, “I am one of his heroines.” On asking her to elaborate on some special moments shared with the superstar, she adds, “SRK thinks as a philosopher and that is how he approaches his work. I remember him saying, ‘No matter what part you play, whether it is positive or negative, whatever part it is, play it with love’.”

Quietly satisfied with the kinds of projects she’s been doing and the recognition they’re yielding her, she waxes philosophical when asked whether she craves stardom. “Stardom is also a state of mind,” she observes. “You need to believe that you are a star. Today, my definition of being in a position of choice is something that actors constantly struggle with at various stages. It is also important to have a connection with your audience, when they feel that they are one of yours…when you are able to connect with your audience.” She does have a knack for writing and wishes to pursue it. She believes there is no right or wrong time to take that plunge. But she looks forward to expanding her horizons when she is sure she’s ready for it.

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