In Conversation with Shweta Tripathi: On Acting in Masaan and More

Shweta Tripathi is an Indian actor best known for playing the role of Zenia Khan in the Disney Channel Original Series Kya Mast Hai Life. She also acted in an ad of Tata Sky download and McDonald’s and most recently Tata Tea and Kinley. Her first feature film ‘Haraamkhor’ opposite Nawazuddin Siddqui has been selected for at the Opening Gala at IFFLA. She plays one of the protagonists, Shaalu Gupta, in Masaan.

Following is the excerpt of the interview between Shweta and the MadAboutMoviez team, when they caught up to discuss Masaan, her life and career plans.

Masaan Character-ShaaluWhat was the process of you getting cast in Masaan? Please tell us the back-story about how it happened for you.

Basically, Neeraj and I had both worked with Anurag Kashyap earlier, in the sense that I was the assistant director on a film called “Trishna”, which Michael Winterbottom had directed, and Anurag Kashyap had line-produced. That’s how I got to meet the people who were assisting Anurag Kashyap like Vasan Bala, Shlok Sharma and Neeraj Ghaywan. It was also during this time that Gangs of Wasseypur had just completed a major chunk.

I had no clue that Neeraj had me in mind, but later on I got to know that Neeraj was looking out for a girl who could seem very pure, untouched and innocent. Neeraj had already written a short story which was a romance between Deepak and Shaalu’s character. So, while we kept meeting each other, he decided to offer me the character of Shaalu. In a way, when he wrote Masaan, he kept me in mind while writing that particular role. So, I never had to audition for the film. And when he narrated the film to me, I loved the script as well as my character. At that point of time, there was no Phantom, Drishyam or Sikhya – all I knew was that Neeraj Ghaywan and Varun Grover were a part of this film, and I have always been very fond of their works. So, I just had to be on-board.

Were you ever apprehensive of the film or the other members who would get cast for the film?

No, that was never a scenario. I am in this industry and I have chosen acting because I love the art of acting. So, I love working with people who are very passionate about their work, and in a way I look up to both Neeraj and Varun though it is their first film. I firmly believe that if your intentions are true and you are hard-working, only good things will happen to you. So, I knew that irrespective of who was producing the film and who were the other actors, this was a story that needed to be told. Though it is unfortunate that there are some good films that do not receive a proper release etc, I really believe that good things happen to good films. Also, we had to be positive for any sense of negativity would have pulled us down further.

How much of this film was Neeraj directing you and how much was your own input to it?

I believe that every character in the end is an extension of the actor, be just 5% or as high as 80%. When Neeraj met me, he told me that he wanted Shaalu to be like me, but that was rather puzzling for I’m not completely sure how I am. After all, we’re different personalities of ourselves depending upon the situation and the people we are around. Also, I believe that Shaalu is a much nicer person than I am, for she has no grey shades. She’s from a small town and her ethics are always in the right place. Also, it is a two-way street, and I would always want my director and writer to guide me through the process of the film. When I spoke to Varun, he told me that Shaalu is very fond of poetry, and that’s how I started reading poems. When we stay in big cities, we almost forget to write in Hindi. So, I made a conscious effort to send one poem to Vicky everyday, and I used to type those messages in Hindi, even though they took hours to do. Also, the good thing about Neeraj is that he’s so sure about the script that he can let his actors become the characters, and guide them if they make any mistake.

Tell us something about any other home work that you do for any character.

One of the things I do is to gauge the thought process of the character – her background, her upbringing and things that could have affected her. So, I start with a very basic practice of making a playlist of the different songs, which that particular character would ideally listen to. Music helps me a lot in both my real and real-life, because it takes me to a different zone. During our workshops for Masaan, I started wearing Indian attire because I was sure that Shaalu is a girl who would prefer such dresses. Not that I went out of my way to buy new clothes for that character, but I took those out of my wardrobe and even discussed how small or large her bindi should be. And I had all these discussions with Neeraj as well as the costume department. It even went on to the detailing that her character will not use any leather bag for she is an animal lover. Though you will not get to see such things in the movie, they help a lot in building the character. I even thought about the books that she would read or the movies that she would watch, for our urban lifestyle leads us to a very different kind of reading and watching habits. So, I stopped watching English movies and tried to talk in as pure Hindi as possible. The other thing was that I contacted those girls who were playing my friends in the movie. I had specifically requested the casting department to get me in touch with them as soon as they were finalised, as those girls are off the real age bracket and they are from Varanasi. So, it helped me to understand their minds and the thoughts they go through in situations portrayed in the film. So, these were some of the small things that helped me get into the character, and once you are in Varanasi and in that costume, they just take you to a new level.

Shweta Tripathi NewA lot of actors have claimed in the past that they could sense during the making of the film that it was turning out to be great. Did you ever have such an intuition?

I actually believe a lot in the quality of the team. If you look at the team that we had in Masaan, it comprised Varun Grover, Avinash Arun – who directed the movie Killa, Neeraj Ghaywan along with Phantom and Drishyam as producers. So, while I had no clue that the film will win awards at Cannes, but with so many good people associated with it, I was always positive about the outcome. It is my first release, and as an actor there is nothing bigger than people buying tickets to watch you perform. And because we had put in so much of love and hard work into it, we did hope that the outcome was for the good.

Moving on from Masaan to your other film, Haraamkhor, tell us how similar or different was that experience, and what was the learning from the two films.

Well, as far as the similarity is concerned, both the characters in these films are about girls who fall in love for the first time. However, in  Haraamkhor, my character is anything but white. There are a lot of grey shades – she is a 14 year old girl, who is searching for a father figure or basically love of any kind. She’s too young to understand the differences among love, lust, care and other affections. So, she’s very lost and the events surrounding her are very different from the ones that we see in Masaan. Also, Haraamkhor was wrapped up in exactly 16 days, and it was a big learning experience. When you are working opposite Nawaazuddin Siddiqui, it’s almost like an acting workshop, and it was a dream come true because that was the first film that I shot for, though my debut will be with Masaan. When you’re working with Nawaaz Bhai, you automatically become a better actor and a better person. He never made me feel that I was doing my first film, and he used to discuss the scenes with me though he did not need to do that. I truly believe that I have become a far more confident actor after working with Nawaaz Bhai. On the other hand, I worked with Vicky in Masaan, which was equally great for both of us are newcomers who are unaware of the rules and methods, which meant that we were going to break them in our own ways. So, it made me less guarded as I knew there were people to rectify if I made any mistakes, which eventually helped as I could perform much more freely.

On a lighter note, how did you successfully managed to pull off these characters that are considerably younger than you?

(Smiles) Honestly, I don’t feel my age and it is not very difficult for me to behave younger. Obviously, it was a tough thing to portray a 14-year-old girl, especially considering the circumstances from which she had come – her upbringing and education and family. As a result, it was a bit more difficult to get out of the character in Haraamkhor, partly also because it was grey, and the film stayed with me for quite some time. But I believe that every character is like a relationship – you want a closure at the end of it, because as an actor we portray so many different characters everyday.

As you mentioned the contrast between working with Nawaaz and Vicky, Masaan also features senior actors like Richa and a veteran like Sanjay Mishra. So, how was it working with these people?

Fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t have a single scene with either Richa or Sanjay ji. Vicky and my track is a love story, and is very different from the other one. So, all my scenes are in fact with my friends, my family or Vicky. However, I’m really looking forward to the opportunity of working with both Richa and Sanjay ji in the future, as I really look up to them as people as well as actors.

We have heard a lot of actors say that they don’t revisit their past works or they mostly end up noticing the mistakes when they do watch. Does the same thing happen to you as well?

Well, I must confess that I love watching myself on screen. However, at the same time I do not go to the monitor or check a shot after it has been taken. I believe if there’s something wrong with my attire, hair or even my performance, it is the duty of my director and my cinematographer to tell me about the same. It is their department, they’re getting paid for it, and they are more equipped than I am to decide the same. My job is to stay in front of the camera and perform, and I prefer to do that.

Shweta Tripathi-MasaanSo, can you look at your performance objectively and assess its true merit?

Well, I definitely do not try to assess when I watch the film for the first time, for I am too happy to watch myself on screen. Maybe when I’m watching it for the second and or the third time, I start noticing a few things. However, I don’t want to get too analytical about it for if we start scrutinising everything with a microscopic view, it will get a bit mechanical. And, as a result, I may just lose my instinct. So, the next time I perform a scene, I will end up ignoring my instinct and relying more on the technique, though I believe there should be a fine balance between technique and instinct for any actor. However, I like to keep it a bit more organic.

While going through profile, we noticed that you have acted in a Pepsi advertisement for Pakistan. Tell us how that happened.

Well, the auditions for such advertisements happen here in Mumbai itself. The advantage of such ads is that they are shot neither in India nor in Pakistan, which means we have to travel and I love doing that. Generally, for an advert, I try to ensure that I have something to perform or the punchline. However, in this case, when I got to know that the shooting was going to happen in Sri Lanka, I agreed to do it without further ado.

Now that Masaan is about to release soon, what are your expectations from the film and its impact on your career?

Honestly, I’m not thinking too much about it, but I really hope that people come to watch the film and we make money out of it. If Masaan becomes a profitable venture, there will be more films like these, which is very good for the industry. So, more than for myself, I am concerned about the commercial success of the film, for if Masaan does well then all of us involved with it will also automatically grow and get our due recognition. So, I’m really looking forward to the reaction of people and I hope that they love the film and it does well.

At MadAboutMoviez, we wish Shweta and the entire team of Masaan the very best.

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