TUM LADKI HO.... Koi tumhein chaahe kuch bhi kahe, tum apni sunna. Apne usool banaao. Duniyawale toh ungli uthaaenge hi.... Par tum apne ummeed ke pul ko dagmagaane mat dena (You are a girl.... No matter what anyone tells you, listen to yourself. Make your own rules. People will point fingers.... But don't you let your hope waver).
Shweta Tripathi Sharma delivered these lines, penned by Priyanshi Bansal, in a compelling spoken word poetry performance on stage. A feminist and an adorable sentimentalist at heart, Sharma says her life as an actor is often inspired from poetry, which is reflective of the times we live in.
As someone who entered the Hindi film industry just eight years ago, Sharma's rise to prominence has been rather fast, despite not fitting into the stereotypical definition of a heroine. All her characters have been rooted in real India and embody women we encounter in our everyday lives. For this reason, her filmography can be termed gender-sensitive and female-driven. Take, for instance, her most memorable and challenging role―Golu, in the web series Mirzapur (2018). In the gangster drama, a fiery and intelligent Golu's victory in college elections and her being unapologetic of addressing her sexual desires through self-pleasure became emblematic of the emancipation of women in more ways than one on screen.
Sharma's fascination with strong and grounded characters was evident right from her first notable role as Shaalu Gupta in Masaan (2015), which begins with a woman watching porn. Even in a thriller like Raat Akeli Hai (2020), with actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte, Sharma’s performance comes into its own as the deceased patriarch’s pregnant daughter against the backdrop of a horrifying portrait of patriarchy.
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“My characters are also an extension of myself because at 5ft and with the kind of looks I possess, I do not really fit in, which I thought is absolutely fine. To not fit in became a successful life mantra for me,” says Sharma, 37, who started out as a photo editor with a national publication. She later switched careers for her love for acting and “simply followed my heart, which every woman must do”. “At 33, I got asked many times when I would marry and when I finally did decide to marry, they asked why, saying that my career has just about taken off,” recalls Sharma. “So, I think there has to be a time when we have to simply listen to our own heart.”
Despite her success, Sharma says she has faced discrimination on set. She recalls a project where male and female actors were given the same contracts. But, on the set, she was given a vanity van that was rejected by the male actor. “It was in a bad condition, with the wires falling off, lights blinking off and on,” she says. “During call times in the mornings after a late night shoot, I was the one called earlier. Of course, he was senior and more experienced than me but this bias was the result of something more than just that. It was more of a gender bias…. I think it is high time we claim respect for ourselves, irrespective of age, gender, profession.”