mid-day Lunchbox: 2 girls, a stage and a camera
Over an Asian meal, Yuki Ellias and Shriya Pilgaonkar discover that it isn't just love for food that they share. The artistes on why it's an exciting time to be a performer, how their artistic backgrounds define them and why they will travel for food
The stage is where theatre artiste-director Yuki Ellias belongs, and for actor Shriya Pilgaonkar nothing beats the ease of being in front of the camera. But that's the thing about belonging to the arts fraternity. You may be different spokes of the artistic umbrella, but you play a part in holding it together. And you may have only known of, rather than known, each other, but the journey you share as artistes gives you a vocabulary, which can keep the conversation going for well over an hour and a half.
That's what happens on a Wednesday afternoon, when Ellias and Pilgaonkar meet over a pan-Asian lunch at Chin Chin Chu in Juhu. Known for her critically acclaimed plays, Ellias has just wrapped up shooting for Love, a web-based adaptation of the play Pygmalion. Pilgaonkar, who made her Bollywood debut with Fan (2016), has been much appreciated for her roles in the web series Mirzapur and more recently, Gurinder Chadha's Beecham House. And this paves the way for the first question.
Snigdha: Is it an exciting time to be in theatre, and the web?
Shriya: It is an exciting time to be an actor in general. There are so many more avenues today; theatre, film and web. And what's great is that people aren't pitting one medium against the other.
Yuki: The fact that there is one more platform like the web allows for a lot more work to be made, and for more experimentation. And therefore, actors are getting more diverse roles.
Shriya: Also, what's interesting is that the focus has shifted a bit from the typical notion of a hero-heroine to a character. Everybody is a character and every character is loved.
Yuki: Characters are being written better as well.
Snigdha: Are people becoming more accepting as an audience?
Shriya: People are being bombarded with all kinds of content, but they are able to identify what's good. What the digital medium has done is that it has made a lot of information accessible. We are seeing mediums interconnecting. But with theatre, though, there is scope for more people to come and watch it. Am I right?
Yuki: Theatre has always had a hard time, and with the coming of film, television and web, it gets harder for us. It asks people to get out of work, take a cab or train to a theatre, so it is physically harder. The computer is just making it easier for people. But I am going to say that the spirit of the theatre community is such is that we are still going to keep making work, and squeeze it into some theatre and if we don't have a theatre, we'll do it inside a bar. You will always be fighting for an audience. And that's okay. I like that it's competitive.
Snigdha: Both your parents — Sachin and Supriya Pilgaonkar, and Bina Sarkar and Rafeeq Ellias — are in the creative fields. What was it like growing up?
Shriya: It was beautiful. I mean, I don't know any other way of being. But it was very normal; it wasn't filmy. The beauty of it is, because this environment was always there, my frame of mind of wanting to become an actor wasn't very surprising. But it's something I never took for granted. It wasn't like one fine day my father came and said, 'Come, I will launch you.' So, despite being a celebrity child, the route that I took wasn't conventional. It's great to have parents who are actors and filmmakers, for they understand my journey. I aspire to have some sort of legacy like they have.
Yuki: For sure, you're going to! At 11, we were subjected to watching Tarkovsky films and Satyajit Ray.
Shriya: I was watching Pyaasa and stuff.
Yuki: I took bansuri, film appreciation, sculpture, and Rabindra Sangeet classes. Every Saturday, we did a museum and bookshop tour. I didn't quite understand all of that, but mum made sure I was fulfilled artistically as a kid. While my friends were figuring out their career options in the 10th standard, my parents gave me the benefit of time.
Shriya: That is a big, big blessing. When I was encouraged to take up tabla and violin lessons, it wasn't assumed that I would take that career path.
Yuki: Yes, it wasn't about excelling, but exploring.
Pokchoy chicken and black schezwan dim sums, chicken yakitori and turnip cake arrive.
Yuki Ellias and Shriya Pilgaonkar at Chin Chin Chu. Pics/Shadab khan
Snigdha: Do you like pan-Asian food?
Shriya: I love food in general. I am that person who travels for food. I was once craving lamb chops and I travelled for three hours to eat that.
Yuki: This is hard core. We have a little Asian-ness in the family; my parents lived in Japan for five years. I grew up in a mixed family — my grandparents were Kutchi Muslims, and another set, Bengali Hindus. So, I grew up on food from both sides. My boyfriend and I do a lot of bike rides, and stopping to eat at every dhaba is a big part of it. I have had some of the best food on the highways of Madhya Pradesh.
Snigdha: That brings me to another shared love of yours; travelling.
Shriya: Travelling is a necessity for me. Fortunately, work has taken me to several different places. Recently, I took my mom for her birthday to Istanbul. But even if it's not for work, I need to travel. It's important for me to disconnect from Shriya the actor and to learn to rejuvenate myself. Bombay in general is very stressful and I try for it to not get to me. It is so easy for actors to be in their little bubble. When you travel, it just pops.
Yuki: Travel is one of the best things to do in life. The encounters that we have with people, the kindness of strangers, the hospitality with which they feed you, the wonder of being in a new place... Our family savings were not put in jewellery, but in travelling. Sitting at the back of my boyfriend's bike allows me to think of stories and helps me write. A lot of premises for work have come from the back of the bike. Going far is important to value what's back home.
Your favourite play.
Shriya: Ila by Patchworks Ensemble, and Bayaan.
Your favourite web show:
Yuki: Mirzapur; it made me so proud to see the kind of work we are doing.
A project you would love to be a part of:
Shriya: Some day, I would like to be a part of a superhero movie.
Yuki: To make public art available to people who don't go to theatre or the museum.
One thing you would like to change about your respective industries.
Shriya: Pay parity; male actors tend to get paid more than their female counterparts.
Yuki: It's been my pet peeve — plagiarism in theatre. You can't just take a script, tweak it to a Bombay set-up and call it your own.
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