Director Prabhu Solomon’s Haathi Mere Saathi ( Aranya in Telugu and Kaadan in Tamil), the trilingual that’s scheduled to release on March 26, narrates the story of a ‘jungle man’ fighting to save the elephants. The film headlined by Rana Daggubati stars Shriya Pilgaonkar as a news reporter who decides to walk the path of truth and do her bit in the fight for justice.
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The film required her and Rana to shoot in all three languages, learning their lines so that the lip-sync wouldn’t be off in any of the languages. So far, Shriya has worked in a French film, Hindi and Marathi films, but this was her first brush with Tamil and Telugu: “I was particular that I won’t speak gibberish,” she says, referring to a shortcut that some film units and actors tend to take. “Dialogues are an important part of your performance and I would learn the lines from the Tamil, Telugu and Hindi writers,” she says, adding that she found the challenge exciting, rather than daunting.
The dense forests are familiar terrain for Prabhu Solomon. One of his earlier films, Kumki , was the story of a pet elephant being made to masquerade as a fighter/kumki elephant. Haathi Mere Saathi , Shriya explains, required the actors to surrender themselves to the director’s vision of narrating a story that talks about the need for humans to respect forest boundaries.
No mobile network
She joined the team when they had completed filming in Thailand and moved to Kerala: “The hotel was a good hour and a half away from the location. We travelled by road to reach the forest zone where there was no mobile network. Being one with Nature helped me get into character. I liked the character graph of Arundhati (her role in the film) who decides to stand her journalistic ground and not bow down to pressure.”
Letting go of urban comforts and roughing it out in the forest region, she says, was rewarding: “Prabhu sir was clear how he wanted to tell this story; he wanted actors who could take that leap of faith and do what was necessary for the film. Stepping into this film after Baahubali , Rana went through a transformation.”
Haathi Mere Saathi was scheduled to release in April 2020 and got postponed owing to the pandemic. Shriya says the wait will be worth it since this will be an “audio-visual sensory experience where the audience will feel as though they are inside a forest, watching things unfold.”
Shriya got noticed in the mainstream cinema when she acted in the Shah Rukh Khan starrer Fan . She then worked in both films and web series, including Mirzapur .
50-year career plan
In her growing years, she had observed her parents Sachin and Supriya Pilgaonkar straddling television, theatre and cinema. However, she asserts that she never took it for granted that she would be a performer some day. A competitive swimmer, she also began learning Kathak: “Performing in front of people came naturally to me. Then I took to theatre, documentaries and cinema. It happened organically.’
A look at her work so far and it’s obvious that it’s a diverse platter, not dictated by the need to be in a rat race: “Young actors are often told that their careers might last 10 years. I look at a long-term, say a 50-year career. So I don’t choose projects out of fear. I am open to working in films and series in different languages within India and internationally. The language-region divisions are blurring,” she says, signing off.