QUEEN'S ROAD: The imperishable memories Shweta Tripathi gathered while playing a small-town girl in Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan include the night when she sobbed over the end of a beautiful story. She recalls, “I cried not for what was happening to my character but for what was happening to her story with Deepak. I just lay, looking up at the stars and my co-star Vicky Kaushal (who plays Deepak) quietly kept wiping my tears with the ‘gamcha’ he had on his shoulder. Nobody consoled me or told me not to cry. They understood what I was feeling as an actor and an observer and that is what made this film so special. This space, we got to just be.” But the journey to this point where she was both Shalu and the actor playing her was long.
She remembers Neeraj telling her, “To play Shalu, tu apni tarah ban’ (you just be yourself) but she says, “I am so many things..which self was I supposed to tap into? Then I visualised Shalu as a white cloud who floats above all negativity and darkness. She won’t carry a leather bag because she loves animals. She is far better than me as a person and yet an extension of me as all characters one plays are. Only the degrees vary. I had to connect what was common between us and start from there.” Shweta’s voice on the other side of the phone just like Shalu's, has both depth and light, gravitas and the most delightful laughter.
And there is the colloquial spice in her conversations along with exclamations like , ‘Aye Hai (can be roughly translated as, ‘’Oh no!”) as she discussing kissing scenes in Hindi films! She laughs, “Neeraj told me there would be a kissing scene in Masaan but that he would not shoot it if I wasn’t okay with it. That sensitivity made me think, 'main karoongi!' But on the day of the shoot, I was very nervous. I am a shy person when it comes to on-screen intimacy and this was supposed to be the most glorious kiss that Sangam had ever seen! And Vicky and I were constantly being told, 'magic nahin aa raha!’ Finally we got it right. My only request to the crew was, ‘please make it look good,’ considering the kind of kissing scenes we get to see in our films! But the feedback has been great so it was all worth it!”
Since the release of the film, Shweta has been living out of suitcases and learning another aspect of a life in the movies. That of the mechanics of film promotion. “It is hard to answer the same question 500 times with the same level of enthusiasm. I have worked in fashion communications and know that your hook has to be interesting but we are asked the same questions repeatedly, the answers of which can be googled. In contrast, when some school children grilled us in Banaras, it was so refreshing. I was asked how do I sustain myself between projects and it was a valid question because on most days, I wake up longing to shoot but with nothing to do. I do theatre, lighting,workshops and ads but I also know what kind of work I don’t want to do.”
It is always about the project, she says, and only then about her place in it. “I am so glad that Masaan has been appreciated and my work has been noticed as well. I would not like to be told, ‘Oh, the film was’nt great but you were.’ I want to learn new skills for a role. I want to work with people who can help me grow as an actor. So yes, there is a small but unmistakable voice that guides my choices and I will never ignore it because that is what sets me apart. Makes me who I am.”
She knows that films like Masaan are once-in-a-lifetime experiences. She says, “This film was magical. Every single person on this set was passionate about the story. I worked on Haramkhor with Nawazuddin Siddiqui recently where passion was perhaps the most pronounced in the director. In Masaan, things just flowed because everyone was committed and I feel a sense of loss now that my journey with the film and my co-actors is coming to an end. This was a film where there was no hierarchy.”
About the much applauded chemistry with Vicky Kaushal, she says, “Varun Grover’s lines are so beautiful that just saying them, changes something within. It was tough to be this poetic girl because I get dyslexic while reading Hindi and Shalu read Bashir Badr and Dushyant Kumar! I am a Delhi girl, a DPS rebel and way past the age of first love so to capture those butterflies was a challenge. But when we started shooting, the whole set fell in love with Deepak and Shalu!”Her journey as an actor began with Disney’s show, Kya Mast Hai Life in 2009 and the work she longs for has just begun to trickle in.
Working with Nawazuddin in Haramkhor was thrilling and she says, “Working with him was like being part of the best acting workshop. He used to discuss scenes with me and never made me feel like a newcomer. I definitely became a better and more confident actor after working with him.’’ Richa Chaddha is another one of her heroes.
About her own journey, she says, “Plans don’t work for me because if they did, I would shoot every day. Acting is my joy and my heaven and I want to pursue it forever. It is not only about making money but making something that is bigger than me.”
Recently a cab driver asked her if she was an actor and when told which film she had just finished shooting, nodded and said,"Haan suna hai, Masaan ke bare mein,” Shweta felt ecstatic because this meant that her film was growing bigger than the festival circuit and becoming a mainstream memory. This balance between serious content and popular connection, is what she yearns for as an actor. "All I want is work that touches a chord,"says the girl who made us cry and smile in the debut performance of possibly, the year.