Growing up, Shriya Pilgoankar was interested in several things. Whether it was sports, music, or dance, she had a finger in every pie. At one point, the academically inclined girl even considered a career in civil services. Her parents, actors Sachin and Supriya Pilgoankar, encouraged their daughter to go after whatever her heart desired. At the time, however, acting did not seem to be anywhere on the horizon.
What was there, was the performer’s instinct. As a trained kathak dancer, abhinay was an important aspect of her art. Then a combination of events took place that helped steer her thoughts towards giving acting a try.
“I was interested in film-making, and I took up a film appreciation course at Film and Television Institute of India. At the same time, a friend asked me to audition for a ten-minute play he was making for the Short + Sweet Festival at NCPA,” she recalls. For those ten minutes, Pilgaonkar rehearsed for a month, and it was those 30-odd days of training that made her feel more present than ever before.
Coincidentally, her father, the multifaceted Sachin, was making a Marathi film about a father-daughter relationship, and so impressed was he with what he witnessed on stage, that he offered the daughter’s role to his daughter. “I knew people would say ‘how convenient’, but my father told me that a number of actors have made their debut with him, and he would not have asked me if he didn’t genuinely think I was apt to play the part,” she says.
The other thing he told her that stayed with her was that no matter what people said, it was she who had to take the journey ahead. Pilgaonkar was ready for the dreaded nepotism comments but in her case, there was not even a murmur. “If you observe my journey, it has all been very organic. I have not been on covers of magazines even before my projects were released. None of the projects I have done have been via a phone call. It’s been with my work, and I think the audience sees if you’re working hard or not. So those things never bothered me, because I knew how I got the things I got, and what I did not get,” she states.
It is through her hard work and determination that Pilgaonkar bagged her first Hindi film, Fan, in 2016, and prestigious projects including French film Un + Une (2015), web series Mirzapur (2018), British TV series Beecham House (2019) and this year’s critically-acclaimed web series Guilty Minds, among others. Mirzapur gave her popularity and provided momentum to her career, but it was the courtroom drama Guilty Minds where she got the chance to really shine.
“I was waiting for something that I could sink my teeth into, and where I could be seen as an actor. I was appreciated for Mirzapur and there was an emotional resonance with my character, but if the script is not giving you a chance to fully milk something, then you don’t have that opportunity. Guilty Minds gave me that, and that is why playing Kashaf Quaze in the show was so special,” she adds. Coming from a family of artists, Pilgaonkar says she was always aware of how uncertain acting as a profession is.
“Here, it’s not just about your talent, but a combination of talent, luck, and opportunity and thankfully, I had accepted that from an early age,” she says, admitting that there have been times when she felt she wasn’t getting the opportunities she deserved. “I think a lot of actors work a lot on their perception and project much more than they are. I used to wonder if I am supposed to work on a certain kind of PR, but I made peace with it and decided to continue doing what I am doing and doing it well. I did not let that play with my mind too much. All I knew is that when the day arrives, I will have to be ready for it and make the most of it,” she says.
Post Guilty Minds, Pilgaonkar admits that even though she is being offered interesting work, it is still a process for her. She says, “These things don’t come so easily to me because today it’s still so much about positioning and numbers. You need someone who believes in you, wants to work with you and trusts that you can carry things on your shoulders.”
After proving her mettle in Guilty Minds, the actor says that she realises the value of saying no to work that does not value her talent. “People will value you as much as you value yourself. At this point in time, I’m more ambitious than I have ever been. There has always been an ambitious streak in me but now that I have made some progress, I am more stubborn about it,” she says, with a determined smile on her face. She can be very hard on herself too, which is why, she laughingly adds, her parents are not. “Luckily for me, they are very honest. They speak to me not just as my parents but as artists, and that’s my biggest privilege,” she points out.
Ask her if there is a genre she is looking to explore, and she says that she would love to do an out-and-out-commercial project. “I love to dance. That’s a side of me people have not seen yet. I would love to do a nice rom-com, something in a light-hearted space, just to show a different side of me,” she mentions. On that note, she shares the variety of roles in which the audience will get to see her in the near future.
“Apart from the second seasons of Crackdown and The Gone Game, you’re going to see me as a sex worker, a butcher, a RAW agent, an influencer, and as a single, pregnant girl. I’m also doing a film, which is a medium I really enjoy. I just hope at this stage that I am able to work with the filmmakers I want to, challenge myself and show different sides of me,” she says, adding that this is an exciting new chapter in her life and she is embracing it with open arms. “I am overwhelmed by all the critical appreciation and love from the audience. I hope all of this translates into better opportunities where I am trusted with more responsibilities,” she signs off.