Tripti Dimri and Avinash Tiwary first shared the screen in 2018's Laila Majnu, in which they played the titular star-crossed lovers. They reunite for Netflix's Bulbbul, one of the best parts of which is the complex relationship between Dimri's Bulbbul and Tiwary's Satya, her brother-in-law. They told Anupama Chopra about the struggle to make a mark in the industry, getting through a year without work and what their pressures and priorities are now:
Anupama Chopra: It's been a long journey. Do you now feel like you're in a better place, that you've arrived?
Tripti Dimri: I think things are better now because people have finally noticed our work. That neither happened with Laila Majnu nor Poster Boys. One week before Laila Majnu released, I was buying vegetables in the market and I thought that after the film releases, I won't be able to do this regular stuff, I won't be able to go and buy vegetable outside. But nothing changed. Very few people saw the film. This one time, I was standing with Avinash and someone came to talk to him about his performance and said, 'Ladki bhi achhi thi.' I was standing right there. People didn't even recognise me. That was a bit of a shock because I was expecting a couple of offers at least and some recognition post Laila Majnu. I had no work for almost a year. Then I started auditioning again and I did get a couple of offers but nothing was interesting. I think it's really important to say no if you don't agree with the script or the characters. You don't want to waste your time or the makers' time and you don't want to do injustice to the script. So that phase was difficult for me but luckily, Bulbbul landed at the right time.
Avinash Tiwary: I always saw it as a career and a profession. They are two different things but they go hand in hand. A profession is a means of earning your bread and butter and a career is something that you chart out. So I made sure that I could keep my house running. I would do films to earn my bread and butter and at the same time, make choices that could make me feel like I'd arrived. I remember doing Yuddh with Amitabh Bbachchan and Anurag Kashyap, it felt that maybe this was the part that would make me feel like I'd arrived. Then I felt that about my Laila Majnu part. The same thing happened during Bulbbul – I felt that I could finally say that I've arrived. I don't know what that feeling is because it comes as an illusion and disappears. Probably what 'having arrived' means is 'keep going ahead'. So now I tell myself that I arrived 15 years ago. I have been working and trying to do my job as well as I can. What has definitely happened is more people are willing to talk about you and trust you. The light has finally started falling on you. I remember telling Tripti at one point, 'Tum heere hoge, chamkoge tabhi jab roshni tum par hogi'. You keep hoping that the spotlight falls on you.
AC: When you have to wait a year for the next good thing to come, how do you sustain yourself? What do you do in that time?
TD: It's definitely difficult and I won't say it was fun. There were days I felt useless. You feel bad when you wake up in the morning and realise you have nothing to do, and tomorrow also, you will have nothing to do. There is no motivation. Then you see your friends working in other fields and feel like you're just wasting your time. As actors it is very important to have patience and faith in your craft and in yourself. Especially for people who are living in Mumbai without their family and friends. My family is in Delhi. It's very important to stay connected to people who have always been there for you. That's the only thing that has kept me going.
AT: I have actually joked about this. I've said that we actors are habituated to being in lockdown anyway. We've been sitting at home anyway. I have done this for 15 years. There have been various long stretches of time when there's nothing happening and you're sitting in your room, waiting and hoping. You say to yourself, 'I will make it and I have it in me.' I get a lot of positive enforcement from myself – I keep saying, 'You are made for greatness'. But I don't know what that greatness is. Maybe it's just an ordinary life that I'm living but the idea that there is something greater has driven me and made me feel that I'm as good as anyone.
AC: You said an actor should be humble and arrogant in equal measure. What does that mean and how do you do it?
AT: That feeling of 'I am the greatest' happens when I'm standing and delivering and doing what I have to do. Then I need to feel, 'If you really think what you are Avinash, go and show it.' There's that kind of arrogance which exists and makes me believe that no one can do what I do in front of the camera. That's where the arrogance comes from. The humbleness comes from the fact that, as an actor, too much credit given to actors. A film is made by so many people together, by the script, the narrative, the light men, the DoP. All those people come together to make that performance. Whatever you do, eventually it is all these things coming together that really make you. That's what I mean when I say I carry humbleness and arrogance. It drives me and keeps me steady.
AC: As two upcoming actors in the Hindi film industry, what are your pressures and what are your priorities?
TD: I just don't want people to forget me this time because this has come to me after a long time and a long wait. With the lockdown, we don't know when shooting will resume. So I'm struggling with that right now. This is the pressure on me at this point. I want to do a project just for the story and not for the fame. That's the kind of actor I want to be. An actor who works for the love of films and for the love of the art.
AT: You realise that new audiences keep discovering you every time you work. I used to believe people who haven't seen the earlier work would end up believing that this was a fluke even though you're consistently working. That is what you feel after 15 years of work. It's a great pressure to have because every time, you make sure that you're doing something good and that people might expect something from you. After a Majnu, people expect an outstanding performance, but these are parts that come once in your lifetime.
There is a possibility that you can disappear again and have no work and stay in this lockdown. The priority is to do the work in hand in the best possible way and ensure that it reaches a larger audience. I know I've developed a decent career with the kind of work. I can look back and say, 'You know what? I have three films and I believe all of them will have more than a 7 IMDb rating, which is rare for any new actor.' So if I can build on that and carry on from there it will be amazing.
AC: Tripti, you've talked about doing many, many auditions only to find out that the role had gone to an established actor or someone from a film family. It's early but do you see this landscape changing?
TD: I think it's changing already. I have been in Mumbai for three years and this is my third film. I can't say that I wasn't given a chance. And people still want to work with me so I can't blame the industry for the condition. I think the audience has the power. One of my films released in 2018 and was in theatres for 7 days. I went to watch it every day and there were no more than 25 people in the theatre. On some days there were just one or two. If you, as an audience, won't support us, then why would any filmmaker want to make a film with us? If I have a sweet shop and someone is not buying my besan ka ladoo, why would I make that ladoo? Kartik Aaryan is famous today and is getting a lot of work and appreciation. He's a star. Even he's an outsider and people have accepted him, they watch his films and that's why he gets work. So it all depends on the audience.
AT: There are now more exhibition centres. Today, we have more platforms. Earlier there were 4,000-5,000 screens, where only the biggest of our films were shown, so it was limited to certain people. But now platforms are diversifying, there are more opportunities for other actors to be seen and for the audience to identify talent.
I still feel that in every industry, there are power centres. If you become extremely successful, you'll become the power centre. It's a completely capitalist system that needs a different sort of change altogether. Yes, there's going to be diversification of the so-called stardom we saw earlier because there will be lot more people. This is mainly because of the systematic change that has happened with the platforms – it's not the audience or the people in the industry who have made these changes. From here, the responsibility of being a good consumer shifts to the audience. The buck lies with you. There are these good products, you're paying money but are they worth it? Content is the king, but wasn't that the case always? I can't say the audience will grow smarter or things will change. We can only hope that since now more voices are being heard, maybe people will learn and grow.