“What Next?’ was the question that kept nagging at me as I stared at my Class 12 mark sheet. Everyone thinks of starting their careers at this stage. In my case, the difference was at 18, I already had 15 years of work experience! I started my career at the age of three, as an actor! As far back as I can remember, I loved the stage and it loved me back. My parents would drive me to hundreds of auditions and wait patiently with me.
At 3, I bagged my first acting role in a TV show called Kanhaiya. There was no looking back. Next, I got offered a project named Jhooth Bole Kauwa Katey opposite Rohini Hattangadi. The weekly show centered around the relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter. At the time, the director of JBKK was also working on Ekta Kapoor’s popular show on Star Plus, Kasautii Zindagii Kay, and the team was desperately looking for a child actor to play the role of Shweta Tiwari’s stepdaughter. They had already auditioned hundreds of kids.
My look test went well, and I was offered the role. But, my mother was particular about my education and declined the offer stating that shooting for 10-12 hours daily would hamper my studies. My parents, albeit extremely supportive of my acting dreams, were adamant that I must not neglect my education one bit. I belong to a family of lawyers and my parents negotiated hard with Balaji to bring down my acting hours to four. So, I would wake up at 7:30 am, finish school by afternoon, and be on set in the evening. I would return home at 10 pm. My mother accompanied me to all the shoots and made me study in between shots. But as grueling as my schedule was, I was happy doing what I was doing. Meanwhile, as more and more offers started pouring in, my father took up the role of my full-time manager and ensured that a perfect work-education-life balance was maintained.
At the age of 17, I was offered my first lead role in the Telegu film Gayakudu. This role taught me the importance of preparation. I looked up videos on YouTube to prepare for the role, especially how to enact emotional scenes. The language was also a challenge but I did not have time to learn it. There was an AD on set who would coach me in between shots, and help me understand what the other characters are saying and how I should react to them. It was a really fun and rewarding experience.
I wanted to keep challenging myself. Though I scored 91% in Class 12, I never considered being a doctor or an engineer. As I said, a lot of my family members, including my grandfather, are lawyers. So, it seemed like a natural choice for me. Also, I felt that law was more suited to my personality. I felt I was a good communicator and presenter and wanted to be in the public eye, speaking, communicating, or engaging with people. It is a profession where I could learn something new. I got into SVKM’s Pravin Gandhi College of Law and continued acting on the side. However, the demands of this profession were not easy, especially during the 4th and 5th years, when I was required to do internships. After 19 years of acting, it was hard to decide to take a break. But I had already achieved everything I had aimed for and got the creative satisfaction of a 50-year-old. It was now time for me to fully immerse myself in this new role. I worked hard and completed many internships. I also took part in several Moot Court competitions and won awards for my college. I guess my acting experience gave me an edge! I was taking to being a lawyer like a fish takes to water.
I joined Hindalco as a Management Trainee in 2020. After an initial culture shock due to the shift from a law firm to a manufacturing setup, I slowly started getting the hang of it. When I was told that I have to travel to Aditya Aluminium in Odisha, I freaked out since I had never travelled alone before. But Shankar Sir motivated me and I took a leap of faith. The townships and the people there were very pleasant and welcoming. I felt right at home. After brief stints at Aditya and then Hirakud, now I am back in Mumbai.
I believe there is no substitute for hard work. The film industry is extremely uncertain, I would never know if I will get a second movie or a third movie. So, I just stopped worrying about the results. My motto has always been to give my 100% to the work I am doing and not worry about the result.
The biggest learning from my 19-year-acting career has been to remain humble. I worked extensively in the South Indian film industry and there, the actors are worshipped like Gods. But what struck me the most about actors like Chiranjeevi or Nagarjuna is their humility – the way they treated everyone on set with the utmost respect and how they interacted with their fans. I tried to imbibe that as well. Being humble has kept me grounded, and did not get let me get complacent. It has taught me that there is always scope for improvement and made me work constantly towards perfection.
Your journey is your own I hate the idea of comparing oneself with others. Our journeys are our own and we should not be walking someone else’s path. I have always concentrated on what I was doing, and how I could do it best, not what others were doing. I will continue to do that. Now at Hindalco, from traveling alone to being inside a smelter, I have experienced many ‘firsts.’ I believe that there are no shortcuts to success and that hard work always pays off, even if you lack connections. I cannot wait to see where this journey takes me next. With many more firsts to come, many more territories to conquer, I am pressing on.”
Ms. Shriya Sharma is an alum of SVKM’s Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai and is Legal Counsel at Hindalco. She is also an Actress and a National Award Winner.