Playing a 15-year-old at the age of 27 not an easy feat but the vivacious Shweta Tripathi has done it with such conviction that bowls you over.

The vivacious Shweta Tripathi talks about her love for acting, her various projects and how she believes that good work will always get you more work.

Shweta Tripathi

Shweta Tripathi

Did you set out to become an actor?

I’m from Delhi, my father is an IAS officer and my mother is a teacher. There is nobody in my family that is even remotely close to the industry. Even though my parents were culturally inclined and I’ve been acting on stage since I was a child, I never thought of acting as a profession I would consider. I’m a design graduate from NIFT and there was no plan to act professionally but I’ve always loved acting. Every summer vacation I would be a part of some workshop, not to become an actor but to learn new skills. I’ve realized that workshops improve you as a person – you become confident about your self. But all of that has eventually contributed to my training as an actor.

It was during my third year at NIFT that I told my dad that I wanted to act. I was apprehensive of his reaction but he surprised me by saying, ‘Fine, go ahead’. But he also told me, ‘Don’t just say it, do something about it’. He suggested that I join NSD and get an education in acting. But I had already done three (it’s a four year course) years at NIFT and wasn’t sure about putting in another three years at NSD. I would have loved to join NSD but I guess that I wasn’t accepting the fact that I really wanted to pursue acting. So instead I did a six-month workshop that was curated by the then Director of NSD. I then shifted to Mumbai as I was interning at Femina and became part of a theatre group here. It was during one of those days that I was sitting at Prithvi when I was offered a show for Disney. I auditioned for it and got the part. When I told my parents that I will be on TV, it was a different switch even for them. None of us were sure about this (acting) move but they never held me back. Once that happened there was no looking back.

Did your television stint help you in the film space? How did you bag your first film?

After the Disney show, I started concentrating more on my theatre group. Even back then, I wanted to be choosy about my work. Everybody wants fame, and money, but acting is what makes me happy. I’m not worried about other things because they will come eventually. A lot of people have told me that I shouldn’t be picky, as an artist I should act in what I get. But I don’t agree. I think as an artist you are responsible for what you do and what people see. So fairness cream ads or fast food chain ads are a definite no-no for me. Though the money is good, I’ve decided that I’m not going to do these things and I will stick to it. It is a tough choice but some people need to be doing it. And like Nawaaz bhai (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) once said, ‘Kuch actors ko toh exclusive hona chahiye,’ (Some actors need to be exclusive) and I totally agree with it.

The first feature film that I’ve done is Haraamkhor directed by Shlok Sharma. I had done a short film called Sujata that Shlok had directed. When we were shooting for it, he told me that he would like me to be a part of his first feature film and that is how Haraamkhor happened. Because of Haraamkhor, I got Safar, which is a short film that won the Audience Award for Best Short at IFFLA. The Director of Safar, Pratyusha Gupta, was looking for a 15 or 16-year-old for the lead role and Sumit Gyanchandaney, the producer of Safar, knew that I’d played the role of a 15-year-old in Haraamkhor. So he suggested my name. Safar is about a prostitute who wants to leave her past behind and so she starts working in a lady’s house. But when I was told about the role, I felt that I wouldn’t fit the part physically, not that I would have a problem playing it. However Pratyusha was very sure and showed a lot of confidence in me.

Neeraj Ghaywan, the Director of Masaan saw Haraamkhor and liked my work and that is how I got my second feature. He specifically wrote the part of Shalu in Masaan keeping me in mind. As an actor, someone writing a part for you is the biggest compliment ever. So I truly believe that good work will get you more work. All these three films have been very special to me.


A still from Masaan

How did you prepare yourself emotionally and physically for your role in Haraamkhor?

I was 27 when I played the part. As we grow older, our experiences make us more aware and smarter about our choices. So to think like a 15-year-old is really difficult, logic is not the first thing that comes to mind. At that age, if you’re in love with somebody, you’re head over heels into it. It is very likely that it’s the first time you are falling in love. What really helped me prepare was that we did a five-day workshop in Gujarat where we were shooting. It was just Nawazuddin, Trimala Adhikari (who plays Nawaz’s wife) and I and we were just disconnected from Mumbai, from our regular lives and would just share stories with each other. I think that disconnection is very important and that really helped me to get into character.

Another thing that really helped me was that I spoke to many girls who were younger, about their crushes, about what they felt about boys and so on. And you simply take on their excitement. Since I look younger, I’ve been playing these really young characters and I can somehow relate to them. In fact I play a 11-year-old in one of the plays that I’m doing. But if I had to play a 16-year-old city girl who was all doe-eyed, falling in love with a boy her age and being all mushy, that would be more difficult for me. Sandhya, my character in Haraamkhor, was a more serious, sensitive role and so there was more responsibility than just being a girl falling in love with somebody.

Both your films, Haraamkhor and Masaan have been appreciated and awarded. Was such adulation anticipated? Does it make you more confident to continue with the kind of cinema you’re doing?

To be honest, the teams of both the films were very strong. With Haraamkhor, I had Shlok as Director, Siddharth Diwan as DOP and an actor like Nawazuddin, so I knew that the film would do something. Even with Masaan, Neeraj Ghaywan directed it while Varun Grover wrote it with Neeraj, Phantom came on board as producers, and the cast was stellar with names like Sanjay Mishra and Richa Chadha. Script wise, both the films really excited me. Somewhere I knew that both these films were destined to much more than just a release. I wasn’t expecting the Best Actress Award for Haraamkhor but was more than happy. And the very next day there was a message from Neeraj saying that Masaan made it to Cannes. So it was all too good to be true.

This recognition definitely makes you confident because it’s like a validation. If Haraamkhor didn’t go to the festival, didn’t win an award, then the current buzz that’s there around the film, wouldn’t have been there. It is through such recognition that people start taking notice of you, your films and your work. And I truly believe that good work will get you more work.

Having done indie films like Safar, Haramkhor and Masaan, are you open to commercial cinema as well?

I am open to them but my only problem is that I want to do films that are good. I don’t have a problem with commercial films, but I want to do commercial cinema that has a certain quality. That doesn’t mean that I want to send out a message with each film I do. But acting for me is very important. If I get a script that excites me, if I read a script and say that this is the film that I would like to watch, then I’ll surely do it.

With Nawazuddin Siddiqui

With Nawazuddin Siddiqui

Which are the filmmakers on your bucket list? Any dream roles that you wish to do?

Anurag Kashyap, Imtiaz Ali and Vishal Bhardwaj, are three directors I have to work with sooner or later. Every actor wants to work with them. And there are many other directors that I would like to work with. I would love to work with strong teams, as long as the script is good, it doesn’t matter if they have or haven’t done a lot of films. And if I get a chance in Hollywood, then the list is endless.

You’ve done a TV show, ads and films. As an actor do you treat every medium differently? Would you be keen to explore more avenues in television as well?

Every medium is different. I love doing ads because I love punch lines. But I love ads where there is a performance like a Vodafone or Tanishq, that’s why I’m choosy about ads too. It’s a different craft, even though it’s on camera, because the way you treat it is different since you are selling a product, a story, or a concept. In a film you are telling a story and theatre is again very different. I love doing everything. I really enjoy dabbling between all mediums because it is very exciting. I love gathering experiences and stories from everyone. I don’t have a problem with TV but I feel that we don’t do justice to television content. I’d love to do an international show because they treat it like a film. Also if I’m doing TV it needs a certain kind of commitment and everything else (films, theatre) will take a break. And that is not something I want to do.