A radiant star effortlessly blending into various characters on-screen, Shweta Tripathi Sharma is a quiet force ready to take on all platforms available—with hair or without! Blessed with talent in abundance, no role is off-limits for the experimental artist. Whether it’s playing a 15-year-old dancer diagnosed with alopecia in Gone Kesh; channelling bravery as Golu in Mirzapur; debunking medical loopholes in the second season of Laakhon Mein Ek; or landing up at global film festivals for her movies, Masaan and Haraamkhor, the infectiously exuberant personality is sure to grab eyeballs and hearts alike. Among these many personalities is her travel-loving side, of which she gives us a glimpse in this exclusive conversation…all without shedding her signature smile!

As told to Bayar Jain
Photographed by Mallika Dua
Location: Bali, Indonesia

1. From television to movies to now web series…what has the journey been like for you?

I think the journey started many years ago when I was a child. Over the years, I’ve realised that keeping that child in you alive is extremely important. It’s important to make your own journey, and find and make your own rules. And then keep breaking them! Rigidity never helps anybody. I’ve also realised that balance is very important, be it between indie and commercial, cinema or web, or even work and travel. My family has taught me to keep dreaming and believing in myself. I believe in doing what I love to do. If you’re lucky enough to find out what makes you happy and can help you make a living out of it, you should jump right in! 

2. You’re known for portraying unconventional characters and being a part of experimental storylines on screen. Is this a conscious decision?

Wherever there is a good story, I will try to be there–be it on online platforms, radio, or on-stage. I get attracted to characters. It’s never been a conscious decision. In fact, there’s a parallel I can draw with my choices and travel. I love to travel, and yes, I would love to go to the most popular places. But I love to explore places that people haven’t been to even more because the place’s sanctity remains intact. I don’t like looking at pictures of places before going because I don’t want to have any expectations of the place. Same is the case with my projects. I try to give them my 100 per cent, and then what has to happen will happen. I like to be surprised, and cross the bridge when I come to it. I feel there is some purity in that.

3. Being an urban girl, how do you adapt to various roles, particularly when playing someone from a small town?

Earlier, people would often wonder how I would adapt to such roles stating that I am an urban girl. But that is the fun part! I don’t want to play a character that is like me. In life, I want to explore as many things as possible. In fact, my aim is to play characters that are as different from me as well as each other. This way, it stays challenging with every project. In the first few projects, there were no benchmarks or comparisons with any previous roles. After doing 15 characters, I want to ensure there’s little repetition. 

4. Your web series, The Gone Game, was shot almost entirely in lockdown. How was the experience?

First, we were very excited because my husband [Chaitanya ‘Cheeta’ Sharma] and I are both very ambitious people. He, specifically, is very hardworking and takes on every project. And he will give it his best! For me, I was doing something that I love doing—acting. But for him, it was doing something he had never explored before because he shot all my scenes in the show. We said yes to the project because this is something we’ll never do again. After this, it’ll be back to shooting on sets.

It was a great experience for me because ordinarily, you meet the cast, brainstorm on new ideas, or bond together. For this, there was none of that. It was all through a laptop with my DoPs always on a Zoom call. They were so positive and clear about the idea that the energy and vibe were passed on through these calls. That really helped.

Through the show, we saw our house through a whole new perspective. We could have never imagined using the angles used in the series for our regular photographs and videos before. Acting is never a one-person job. There’s so many people involved in the whole process. But for this, we were our own head of departments. It’s actually very exhausting! Because in some case, you’re playing a serious and remorse character, but you suddenly realise the fan is switched on so the noise will get captured as well. At the same time, it was a great learning experience and a fun DIY project in many ways. Meeting wonderful people, and doing something constructive and creative during lockdown was a huge blessing.

5. What do you miss the most about shooting on set?

The energies! What I love about the industry is that everybody tries to give their best. You can feel the passion and love for storytelling. I miss that the most! Besides, I think the divide between the home and set is very important. I also miss shooting on sets because a lot of people earn their living through cinema. Getting back on sets means many people will get employed again. For personal reasons, I miss being on sets because I love acting.

6. Amongst the various destinations you’ve shot at, which is your favourite and why?

Varanasi has to be right up there because of all that it has given to me. I think Koh Samui was special too. There was this moment while shooting the first season of The Trip where we were shooting on an island. Lisa [Haydon], Sapna [Pabbi] and I were on a boat where the sun had just set and the stars were above us. We were using our phones to figure out the various constellations. We had music, thanks to Sapna—who always has the best playlist! So, we had music along with people that we loved, and we had just finished a great day at work.

7. What’s the story behind your social media handle, battatawada?

There are things in life that you do on a whim, and then you later realise its significance. Battatawada (potato fritter) is one of those. I have realised that as an actor, I want to be like batata (potato). It is something that you would want, irrespective of which cuisine you’re eating. Batata always adds to it, be it fries or vada (fritters). Whatever flavour that you put, it takes that. That is how I want to be for my characters. I want to have that range. For Raat Akeli Hai, I put on weight and portrayed a pregnant character; I didn’t have hair in Gone Kesh; I had the weirdest haircut for eight months in Mirzapur because my character wouldn’t go to a parlour…all that doesn’t scare me. I like to go that extra mile for my characters and give justice to my audiences for their time. I want the audiences to see the character and not me. That’s what batata is too — it has flavour and spice and is mouldable for any flavour you like!

8. For your series, The Trip, you had to travel extensively. What was the experience like for you?

When I agreed to do the show, I had said ‘yes’ for just the first two episodes. The main reasons for agreeing was because they told me that we would be shooting in Shillong, Koh Samui and Bangkok. If I’m travelling for work, it’s two of my favourite things going hand in hand! Shillong was the first place we shot at, and the food, climate, and the people over there was just amazing. Before this show, somehow I always landed up in Uttar Pradesh! In the second season of The Trip, I got to go to Pondicherry as well. I love travelling because of the kind of people you meet, the places you see, and the food you get to eat. There is so much to learn from all these places, and as an artist, it is extremely important to have these different experiences. Growing and learning are very important. The more places you go to, the more stories you explore. In the process, you find out stuff about yourself as well. 

9. You’ve lived in the Andaman islands for some time. As a traveller, we’re usually familiar with the tourist-y side of the place. What is life like as a local there and what are some things we don’t know about the islands?

I lived there from 1995 to 1997, and every weekend we used to go on a picnic in a new place. Because of this, now I’m a certified scuba diver. At the time, professional scuba diving probably didn’t exist, but we used to go snorkelling and diving. The islands have a lot of history as well. We would live in a British-built house with three gardens. We would meet a lot of tribals as well, and people would come visit us often too. One thing that stayed with me is the people and the multiculturalism of the place. Caste and backgrounds were not given importance; the fact that everyone lived together on the island was important, instead. There was a sense of purity. To play cricket, we would make balls out of small coconuts. Although many islands got submerged because of tsunamis, I’m grateful I could see the islands at the time. 

10. When travelling for leisure, do you pick up on mannerisms, cultures, or even accents that you can incorporate in your work?

I wish I was that good with accents! But I think what is more important is what I learn from these travels subconsciously. For example, Vijay Verma had told me while shooting for Mirzapur that he keeps noting down observations while travelling. I wish I did that, but I’m an extremely lazy person. I do my hard work and homework when the time comes. But, I think subconscious learning is very important in these cases because somewhere it sticks with you. When shooting for the thriller The Gone Game, I not only watched other thriller content but even researched on other genres because you never know what might inspire or motivate you. There’s never a fixed ‘agenda’ when I’m doing this. Somewhere, specific mannerisms and behaviour come to you as memories later, and it is up to you expose yourself to such experiences.

11. Bali is known for its beaches and mountains, both. Which one of the two did you prefer?

Both! In the beginning, we were at Seminyak and then Gili Islands. Finally, we came to Ubud. I had never done a trip like this before; it was very fulfilling. I remember my best friend, Mallika Dua, was not very excited about going to the monkey forest. But once we went there, even she loved it. Since she wanted to shop that day, we did that too. Both the experiences were so much fun! We prepared our food baskets, went to the riverside, and had our own little picnic. I love Bali because it feels like home; I have been there thrice. It’s just so welcoming and warm that I would love to have a home there someday. Bali has good food, mountains, beaches, diving, snorkelling, and massages too…there’s no reason not to go there!

12. Ubud is famous for its traditional Balinese culture and handicrafts. Did you get a chance to witness it up close?

We were obsessing about the rattan bags in Bali. I think we ended up buying them in every shape, size and colour. Even their fans and umbrellas! Balinese handicrafts are extremely detailed. And, according to me, if there’s detailing, there’s love and thought in the crafts.

13.Your fondest pre-COVID-19 throwback trip?

Bali, for sure! This one was even more special because one of my best friends got married and it was a chapel wedding. It was an intimate wedding with 29 people under a glass chapel.

The trip to Cannes Film Festival for Masaan has to be right up there too. The kind of love and reception we got for the movie still makes me smile. The ‘red carpet feel’ at Cannes is truly an unmatched feeling. I was wearing a Payal Singhal lehenga and walking down the carpet. That’s the beauty of it. Stature didn’t matter there, and one can’t feel the hierarchy there. Everyone is an artist. And I met [Sir] Michael Caine! I was fangirling throughout the party. The feeling of seeing your name on a chair amid the people around you, thanks to your work, is amazing. At the same time, I even got to make the country proud. The three of us [Vicky Kaushal, Richa Chadha, and Sharma] saw Masaan for the first time there, and to get a standing ovation was unbelievable! Honestly, I couldn’t even understand what was happening around me. It was really special! I’ll cherish it forever.

And, of course, my honeymoon. We started with Amsterdam—where both of us had gone for our respective bachelor and bachelorette parties earlier—and then we went to Rome, Florence, Madrid, Venice and London.

Order wise, it’s Masaan first, then our honeymoon and then Bali.

14. How did you keep your wanderlust alive during the lockdown?

Cheeta and I are already making plans on where to go next as soon as the situation improves.

15. Any tips on how one become a conscious traveller, especially in the post-COVID-19 world?

What is happening right now is a red alert. All of us need to know that we are responsible for our actions. Even small steps like switching off unused power at home or carrying our own water bottle can help. Do not buy plastic bottle or order something you don’t require. Reuse, recycle and up-cycle. Yes, it could be more expensive but we need to do that. Buying the cheaper option may be easier on the pocket, but we need to be easier on the planet. That is priority.

When I travel, I use masks that can be washed and reused. Whenever I’m travelling, I try to carry my own food, even on the flight. I don’t like using tissue paper since that’s one of the main reasons trees are cut. When I do use them though, I take one! I understand that one can’t avoid them altogether, but reducing quantities can help. Reuse face shields by sanitising them. Besides, by recycling you’re not only saving the planet, but you’re also going easy on your pockets. Plastic use has to reduce! Being conscious is extremely important and the need of the hour. Every step counts. Just remember to explore in life and travel, while also taking care of our planet.

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