As Shweta Tripathi awaits the release of her first Tamil film, Mehandi Circus, she talks to Titas Chowdhury about her love for acting and her upcoming projects
You started your career with the sitcom, Kya Mast Hai Life. You have also done films, web shows and short films. Did regional films seem like the obvious next step?
I dreamt of becoming an actor when I was growing up. And I have never wanted to restrict myself to any medium or language. I have done stage and that developed my voice and I do voiceovers now too. I knew that I wanted to be part of animation films, where my voice could be used.
Acting is so much more than what we think it is. It is also about your body, which is like an instrument. I wanted to do radio shows as well. I want to explore as much as possible because acting is my playground. If the character and the story are interesting, I want to be part of it, irrespective of the language. I would love to do a Bengali film and hopefully an international film some day. I don’t think language should be a barrier. In fact, Saravana Rajendran, who directed me in Mehandi Circus does not speak English or Hindi, and I do not speak Tamil. So he directed me in an entire film without employing language. If you want to narrate a story, language is not a prerequisite. It definitely helps but it should not restrict you.
Tell us how Mehandi Circus happened.
Masaan is a tree whose bounty I am still reaping. It is because of Masaan that I got films such as Gone Kesh, Mehandi Circus, Lakhon Mein Ek and everything that I am doing. There is Haraamkhor that is always mentioned, but the ‘Masaan waali ladki’ tag is something I am very happy about. The writer of the film, Raju Murugan, is a National Award winner. He saw Masaan and wanted me to be part of this film. We had a meeting. They expected me to arrive with my manager, my mom and dad and an entire entourage, but I went alone. I went without any make-up because they said they wanted a real look.
We did a week-long workshop and then started shooting. I had been prepping for the film in Bombay itself. You obviously cannot learn the language so quickly but you need to be able to understand the words being spoken by your character. That was important for me. In fact, I have dubbed for the film.
We have also learnt that you have done some risky stunts for the film and have rehearsed with a real circus troupe. Can you shed some light on that?
I play Mehandi in the film. My dad has a circus. Circus life is very difficult. The girls and the boys there are very hardworking and dedicated. When I had gone to Chennai for my workshops, where I had to rehearse my scenes with my co-actor, director and writer, there was this finale stunt we had to enact where I had to stand in front of a board with knives being thrown at me.
It is said that you have to trust the people you work with. I think I had shown a bit too much trust (Laughs). I wanted to know more about the stunt and so I was part of the knife-training process although my character only had to stand before a board. Our teacher was throwing knives at me and I stood there… trust me it is difficult! Later, I proudly sent the video to my family and friends and they were, like, ‘What is wrong with you?’ I thought they would appreciate me for being so gutsy but I got scolded at badly. Even if you are hit by dummy knives, you will be injured. The other challenge is that I had to keep smiling because my character enjoys it and she is very confident. So even when I could see things being thrown at me, I had to focus and not blink. I started getting the hang of it with time.
A lot of people say they associate you with niche films. Do you want to break that image and venture into the commercial space?
People are funny. Before Masaan and Haraamkhor, people used to say, ‘Shweta, you look very upmarket, you speak English, you are from Delhi and you are from NIFT, how will you portray yourself as a small-town girl?’ Now after these films, they are asking whether I will be able to look urban. I was shocked; I am the same person. Sometimes we become too lazy to imagine things. It is very important for actors to show what they can do – be it wearing a sari, looking like a 15-year-old or a 28-year-old.
I am very proud of the projects I have been part of but I also want to explore as much as possible. Acting makes me happy; everything else is just a by-product. I would love to be directed by Zoya Akhtar. I was recently shooting for Lakho Mein Ek, where I play a doctor. For the first time, I have a profession (Laughs). I was supposed to look tense and exhausted and so they created dark circles on my face with make-up. I was a little disappointed because I wanted to look good. But I am not worried about that. Good work will fetch me more good work.
You have your hands full in 2019. Can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
Cargo is being directed by Arati Kadav, a debutante director. It has Vikrant Massey and me. It is a very sweet and simple story. Arati believes that our lifestyles have evolved so much, but our fables are still where they were. She feels that our stories and fables should also evolve. Cargo is her fable set in a sci-fi world, where we work in a spaceship. Hum raakshas hain but we look like ourselves. I have been dubbing for it. It is a very special film.
Then there is Gone Kesh. It is about a girl who at the age of 15 finds out that she has a condition called alopecia and she ends up losing all her hair. It is her story of coming to terms with it. While alopecia is not a life-threatening condition, it affects your confidence. Beauty is associated with healthy hair. Our heroines are shown with long hair. It should be out in the next few months.
The shoot of Mirzapur 2 will commence soon. I love being directed by female directors. It is good to see Arati and Nitya (Mehra) take charge on the set. They have so much clarity. Lakhon Mein Ek is a very, very special project; it is very close to my heart. Though it was taxing, I enjoyed doing it emotionally and physically. It is coming out in April. It is very unlike what I have done and how I usually look. It is one of my favourite projects. (Smiles).