Radha Bhargava highlights a delicate balance of vulnerability and strength, says Shriya Pilgaonkar

In less than a decade in the industry, Shriya Pilgaonkar has had the opportunity to explore various genres, primarily in the digital space, with exceptional work in projects like ‘Guilty Minds’ and ‘Taaza Khabar’. Her recent portrayal as the resolute TV journalist Radha Bhargava in season two of Zee5’s ‘The Broken News’ received rave reviews. While in the first season she was falsely implicated as a terrorist and imprisoned, the new season saw her diverge from her moral standards and adopt a more aggressive stance, significantly intensifying her role.

Talking about the TV media series featuring Sonali Bendre and Jaideep Ahlawat in key roles, the young actor expresses her concerns about the current race for TRPs. She emphasizes the critical challenge of verifying the authenticity of news in today’s media landscape.

As someone who made her Bollywood debut alongside Shah Rukh Khan in the 2016 release ‘Fan’, Shriya believes that women on screen are portrayed best when they embody a combination of vulnerability and strength, showcasing their full glory.

In this engaging conversation with The WEEK, she discusses her journey, reliving a role, and future projects.

Q: With remarkable works like ‘Mirzapur’, ‘Guilty Minds’, ‘Taaza Khabar’, and ‘The Broken News’, you have ventured into new genres each time. Do you perceive this the most exciting phase of your career?

A: I prefer to see this not as a phase but as consistency in my career. My goal has always been to avoid being typecast. I strive to be an unpredictable actor and experiment across all genres. It’s easy for actors to get boxed in, and I continually aim to break every stereotype with my choices and characters. When shows like ‘Guilty Minds’ or ‘The Broken News’ do well, it’s easy for people to box you in. Actors often fear being pigeonholed, so I make deliberate choices to break any patterns. This will always be important to me. There is so much inspiring work happening, and it’s gratifying when actors are seen in a different light. An actor’s greatest desire is to be seen differently. One of my strengths is that I can mold myself into versatile roles.

I’ve been fortunate to play parts with intriguing female arcs. From portraying a lawyer, news reporter, and sex worker, to a double agent in ‘Crackdown’, and my latest role in ‘Dry Day’ with Bhuvan Bam, each character has been distinct, complex, and flawed. Living different lives within one lifetime is the exciting part. Despite the variety of characters I’ve played, I’m more ambitious than ever. There are still many genres and characters I want to explore. Sometimes, it’s about someone taking that leap of faith with you.

Q: Apart from ‘Mirzapur’ and ‘Taaza Khabar’, much of your work revolves around real issues. Do you perceive yourself primarily as a serious actor?

A: I don’t quite understand the term ‘serious actor’ (smiles). Every role I’ve played has had different layers. Yes, many have centered around a profession, like in ‘The Broken News’ or ‘Guilty Minds’. But an actor’s job is to be authentic to whatever the genre or role demands. I’d love to explore comedy more. I’ve done elements of it in ‘Taaza Khabar’, ‘Mirzapur’, and ‘Dry Day’, but dark comedy or an outright comedy or rom-com are genres I haven’t really delved into. Given the opportunity, I would love to do them. With good writing today, different facets of a character are explored. I don’t see myself as an actor suited only for serious roles. I would also love to work on more cinematic projects. Today’s projects are eclectic, mixing various genres.

Q: How challenging yet exciting is it to relive a character, both in terms of maintaining the old standard and adding some freshness to it?

A: Season two of any show is exhilarating because it builds on the established groundwork. It opens up new avenues for creativity and exploration. Radha’s character underwent a significant transformation in season two, which presented both a thrilling and demanding challenge for me. I strived to avoid predictability in my choices. We had the freedom to delve deeper into the story, enriching the characters’ depth and enhancing their narratives.

Q: Does reprising a role in a sequel also involve unlearning from the past and strengthening your weaknesses as an actor?

A: Watching my work gives me perspective and feedback, helping me understand what I can improve. Sometimes, you have to let go of control, especially in season two where Radha Bhargava evolves with numerous twists and turns, fundamentally changing as a person.

There was a lot of unlearning because I had to shed much of the old Radha and build new instincts for the character. Furthermore, the writing is excellent, and working with actors like Sonali Bendre (as Ameena Qureshi) and Jaideep Ahlawat (as Dipankar Sanyal) has been a privilege. Headlining a series with such incredible actors has been an amazing experience.

Q: Do you believe that TV media has become more TRP-driven than a platform for showcasing public opinion and social issues?

A: With the advent of digital media, everyone now has a voice and a platform, essentially, anyone with a phone can act as a journalist. There’s certainly a race for TRPs, and the real challenge lies in verifying the authenticity of news. The responsibility also falls on viewers and readers to ensure they are consuming news from credible sources. Platforms like WhatsApp can easily twist facts and spread false information, so it’s crucial for individuals to verify news from multiple, reliable sources.

Journalism is the fourth pillar of our democracy and holds a certain sanctity. I hope those in media positions realize their responsibility as intermediaries between the government and the public. ‘The Broken News’ explores these aspects, highlighting the human side of journalism and the pressures reporters face. This realistic, honest, and balanced portrayal likely explains why journalists and news reporters appreciated the first season so much.

Q: Would you consider Radha Bhargava to be the most intense role thus far, after lawyer Kashaf Quaze in ‘Guilty Minds’?

A: While Kashaf and Radha share ideals, morals, and ethics, they are two very different individuals placed in distinct circumstances. When portraying characters from specific professions, it’s crucial to comprehend their life stories and develop a unique backstory for each.

Kashaf operated with a weightiness and adhered to an extremely idealistic, black-and-white perspective. In contrast, in season two, Radha diverges from her moral standards and adopts a more aggressive stance, intensifying her role significantly.

Portraying Radha was genuinely challenging because her decisions diverged greatly from my own personal choices as Shriya. Revisiting Radha Bhargava was an enjoyable experience. In season two, Radha’s storyline takes her through a markedly different trajectory where her intensity is amplified by the circumstances she faces. Despite this, her portrayal also highlights a delicate balance of vulnerability and strength, presenting her character in a multifaceted light.

I believe the most compelling female characters on screen are those who embody both vulnerability and strength, showcasing the complexity and resilience of women in all their glory.

Q: Having portrayed Radha twice, was there any aspect of the process or the character that personally resonated with you?

A: Every human being expresses anger differently, and anger underlies many emotions. In season one, Radha’s anger stemmed from her friend’s death, driving her to investigate and push Dipankar Sanyal, her former colleague, to do the right thing. However, in season two, Radha is personally maligned and labeled an anti-national. She and her loved ones have endured too much, leaving her with no control over her emotions.

I can relate to the fact that when people with good intentions are hurt, it can generate a lot of anger. However, unlike Radha, I have people around me who help me maintain a certain balance. Radha, on the other hand, is completely out of control this time. One aspect I do resonate with is her determination to stand up for herself. In any situation, I wouldn’t hesitate to stand up for myself, whether or not I have support. That’s something I strongly relate to.

Q: What impresses you most about Sonali Bendre and Jaideep Ahlawat as co-actors and their acting process?

A: Sonali Bendre is a delightful presence, and I hold her in high regard. She’s not only a superstar but also a friend, making me both a fan and a companion. What truly struck me was her candidness about feeling nervous, given that this marked a second chapter in her acting career. Her approach to the character was brimming with freshness and enthusiasm, which was a joy to witness. In portraying Ameena, her character, she brought a layer of complexity that added depth to her portrayal.

Jaideep Ahlawat remains one of my favorite actors. The vigor he infuses into his work is exceptional, making the process of collaborating with him immensely gratifying. His commitment and nuanced portrayal of his character left a lasting impression, enriching the entire experience with its dynamism and depth.

Q: What’s next on the cinematic front?

A: I’m really keen to do more films because I haven’t done enough of them yet. My last film was ‘Dry Day’, directed by Saurabh Shukla. I enjoyed that experience, especially my first big Holi song, which was exciting because I don’t often get to dance on screen. That side of me hasn’t been explored much, so I’m seeking projects that offer that opportunity. I have two films in the pipeline that haven’t been announced yet, and there’s also ‘Taaza Khabar’ season two. For me, it’s all about working on different stories and genres. I want to continue with films, series, and theaters.