Get 15% off + Free Shipping on your 1st App Order, Use Code: APP15
A Star is Born
She struck our screens as Bijlee and promptly snuck into our hearts. In conversation with Aza, the young star opens up on “that birthday post” from Salman Khan, her wildest adventures and how having TV icon Shweta Tiwari as mom/mentor is the biggest blessing ever.
Photographs by Amit Khanna; Styled by Anisha Gandhi & Rochelle D'sa Syiemiong; Makeup by Anu Mariya Jose; Hairstyling by Rahul Sharma; PR Consultant Think Talkies; Creative Direction by Arthi Medithi; Words by Sreemita Bhattacharya
The coolest part of shooting with a Zoomer (that’s a crisper new way of referring to a GenZ person, ICYDK) – they have ZERO inhibitions. But more on that later. Now, the best part about working with a Zoomer actor – an unimaginably wider scope for creativity because they are ever-willing to tread newer paths to write their own norms. Case in point: in her first on-screen stint, Palak Tiwari reinvented Cinderalla as a badass leather bodysuit/crop top/hot pants-wearing superwoman, who needs no rescuing. A year since Harrdy Sandhu’s Bijlee Bijlee went viral (as of November 2022, it has 451 million views on YouTube) and inspired celebs globally to attempt the song’s hook step, 22-year-old Palak has amassed over 3 million followers on Instagram. Well, with bijlee (pun intended) in the house (read: our studio), we pull out the flood lights to amp up the shoot’s vibe. A smoke machine is brought in produce a Bollywood-style mood for Palak Tiwari, who is all set to share screenspace with Salman Khan and Sanjay Dutt in her forthcoming projects.
At 9:00 AM on the dot – the shoot’s call-time - Palak’s manager calls to inform me that the actor has arrived (before her manager!). Impressed, I walk over to the Aza lobby prepared to meet the young influencer who catapulted to fame in almost no time. Tan flats adorning delicate feet lead the way out of the elevator, to reveal a girl-next-door dressed in a black full sleeved crop top and baggy olive cargo pants. With her hair piled up in a messy bun, Palak seems even taller, but as she smiles warmly and extends her hand to greet me, I get the feeling we have been friends for years. She is that rare combination of cute, pretty and gorgeous all at the same time, and it’s her smile – I realize later in the day – that disarms you and makes you feel like you’ve known her for ages. And that’s partially true because we have known of the Kasautii Zindagii Kay star, television icon Shweta Tiwari’s daughter since she was born.
When she steps out of the changing room to shoot the first look, a soft yellow Ariyana Couture saree, Palak resembles the quintessential Bollywood heroine. “Am I not looking like Miss Chandni (Sushmita Sen’s character) from Main Hoon Na?” she asks the crew, all of whom nod emphatically in agreement before someone blares Tumse Milke Dil Ka on the speakers. What ensues is only the beginning of the madness the day is full of. Palak slips comfortably into the role of Miss Chandni, tossing her hair and doing thumkas to the beats of the qawwali. At one point, she dramatically drops her pallu for the lens before swishing it back on her shoulders with a coy smile. A few minutes later, she shoots a boomerang with our videographer, draping her pallu on Amit Khanna (who also happens to be a dear friend of hers) and exaggeratedly gasping as she puts it back on her frame. Like I mentioned, zero inhibitions. The crew is in splits. Even as I’m convinced that Bollywood is in her genes, I approach her to ask if she always aspired to become an actor. Palak is gesticulating with her hands when she states, “I don’t think there was ever a time when I didn’t want to become an actor! I feel I came out of the womb knowing I’ll become an actor someday! Acting is what I know how to do and it’s all I want to do.” She then goes on to share an anecdote with me, “When I was younger, padhai-likhai mein I was never that brilliant. I was studying because I had to. (chuckles) So one day, my mom came up with the suggestion that ‘Why don’t you get edu-fied in a field that interests you?’ She started giving me these monologues to perform. You know how different actors perceive the same scene differently? Mom would keenly observe how I perceived a certain sequence or the dialogues. Then she would help me hone my acting skills. In that sense, mom is not just my first acting teacher but my only acting teacher. She’s my mentor, my guide, my everything.”
Mom is not just my first acting teacher but my only acting teacher. She’s my mentor, my guide, my everything. Someday, I want to be as intuitive as she is with her characters. It’s a gift that I hope to possess someday.
So, professionally, is it a boon or bane to be the daughter of a renowned actor? Palak’s hairstylist is fussing with her mane as she says, “It’s a bit of both, but the boons are more. I feel the best part of being around someone who’s so good at their craft is to be able to see and understand how they do it. Sadly, I don’t get a lot of acting tips from my mom. People might think I have this entire wealth of acting-related ‘secret advice’ from her, but I don’t. My mom is so effortless in everything she does in front of the camera. I’m constantly going, ‘How did you do that scene?’ And she’s all vague answers like, ‘You know, it just happens’ or ‘You learn with experience.’ (chuckles) But yes, living with her means learning something new every day. Someday, I want to be as intuitive as she is with her characters. It’s a gift that I hope to possess someday.”
Designer, Ariyana Couture;Earrings, Golecha’s Jewels;First & third bangle, Urban Thesaurus Jewellery;Bangle in the middle, Golden Window
Role: Shanti. Film: Om Shanti Om
Deepika Padukone’s Dhoom Taana is blaring from the speakers when Palak emerges from the green room saying, “Now I have to do the hook step for this song, na!” And yes, she goes on to gracefully perform the apsara-like moves of the Om Shanti Om song while decked up in a scarlet Mrunalini Rao lehenga set. Interestingly, Palak began her career as an Assistant Director for one of Shweta Tiwari’s shampoo commercials and the 2021 movie, Antim. On being asked if those stints equipped her to face the camera, Palak vehemently nods before saying, “Definitely! Those experiences have also shaped how I handle myself on sets. I learnt that while it’s 100% challenging to be an actor, everyone else’s job is So. Much. Harder! Once you understand that ‘I’m working hard but everyone else is too and then some,’ it really puts things into perspective. My experiences as an AD have grounded me in a way that I’ll never ever take a crew’s time or efforts for granted.”
The first time mom ever left me home alone was like 3-4 months ago. I invited all my girlfriends to stay over. The revelry lasted TWO. WEEKS. Let’s just say, those were the craziest 14 days of my life.
Dressed in a stunning pink Ridhi Mehra lehenga for the third look, Palak says she’s increasingly feeling like ‘Poo’ in the song Bole Chudiyan. Does she have any similarities with the K3G character unforgettably portrayed by Kareena Kapoor, I ask. After all, Shweta Tiwari did previously mention in an interview that Palak – at the age of 16 – once bought makeup worth INR 1 lakh 80K! So, what are some of the age-specific things you like to do, I enquire. Palak giggles as she confides, “Actually, I’ve just started stepping out with my fam! Before that I used to always stay at home or inside my head. But I have the best girl gang ever. About the craziest adventure I’ve ever had…” She chuckles into her palm before sharing, “So my mom has never allowed me to stay at home alone. Not that she doesn’t trust me.” She thoughtfully looks to the sky before adding, “Or maybe because of that! But jokes apart, she’s just very protective of my brother, Reyansh, and me. The first time she ever left me alone at home was recently, like 3-4 months ago. I invited all my girlfriends to stay over. The revelry lasted TWO. WEEKS. Let’s just say, those were the craziest 14 days of my life!” she nods convinced.
What Bijlee turned out to be – the preternatural success it got; I don’t think anyone could have foretold that. The attention I received was overwhelming. But I’m so utterly grateful for it. Bijlee was meant for me.
While on the topic of family, we can’t help but ask Palak about little Reyansh – her baby brother and the star of some of her happiest pictures on social media. “Oh, Reyansh is extremely naughty but conscientious. He’s super mischievous and a complete mamma’s boy. If mom’s around, nobody else merits his attention. Only when mom’s out for work, he might consider giving me a little bit of this time and attention.” With a fond chuckle, she adds, “Reyansh is the sweetest, most understanding and well-mannered little boy I’ve ever known. I’m proud to be his sister.”
Designer, Ridhi Mehra;Earrings, Radhika Agrawal Jewels;Rings & Cuffs, The Loom Art
Role: Bijlee/Cinderella. Music Video: Bijlee Bijlee
At this point, I decide to finally bring up the subject of Bijlee. Had she anticipated that the song would go viral, and her life would change overnight? “Oh, Bijlee truly changed my life – nothing has ever been the same. But no, I didn’t see that coming. I mean I prayed the song does well because I was obsessed with the soundtrack. But what Bijlee turned out to be – the preternatural success that it got; I don’t think anyone could have foretold that. The attention I received was overwhelming. But I’m so utterly grateful for it. Bijlee was meant for me. My mom will forever be indebted to the video’s director Arvind Khaira Sir, Harrdy and Jaani (the lyricist) for presenting me the way they did. Mom was the first one to see the entire video – she saw it before I did. It made her super emotional, but she was totally blown away.”
And what was it like watching everyone from Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and Vicky Kaushal to cricketing legend Kris Srikkanth doing the Bijlee hook step? Palak covers her mouth with her palms in amazement before saying, “There’s just one word for it – surreal. You know these are people I’ve watched and admired all my life. I have danced to their songs. The realization that they had seen the video, enjoyed it and remembered the hook step! It was I.N.S.A.N.E.”
The realization that Salman sir had wished me on Insta made me halt in my tracks. Right then he emerged from his space on the sets, and we came face-to-face. And I just stared at him in a daze for a few seconds. Then somehow, I uttered ‘Thank you, Sir’. And he was like, ‘Hmm… You are welcome.’ My Mind. Was. Blown.
Role: Kamna. Film: Salaam-E-Ishq
Palak has an infectious energy about her that, despite the work setting, puts everyone around her at ease. So, it wasn’t surprising to see her hairstylist and makeup artist join in when she was grooving to the title track of Salaam-E-Ishq, rocking a garden-print Arpita Mehta ruffle saree. Given how filmi she really is, I’m curious to know who her childhood celebrity crush was. She’s prompt to say, “Honestly, the amount of reverence I feel for, more than anyone else Salman Sir – but also Shah Rukh Sir and Aamir Sir – is beyond words. I can’t imagine having a crush on them because for me, they are gods. We all owe them one for making our childhood happy and memorable.” Significantly, she will soon be sharing screenspace with Salman in Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi Ki Jaan… I see Palak at a loss for words. “You know working with him is such a dream come true. He’s the most hardworking and kindest person on set. He’s magnanimous and benevolent. Salman Sir’s the most ‘present’ and dedicated actor on the floor. He got dengue during the shoot, but he was back on the sets within 3 days. He’s a marvel!”
So, what was the feeling like when the superstar posted a happy birthday wish for her on Instagram? Palak is gushing at this point. “I’ll give you an anecdote. I was on set, scrolling my Insta feed when I came across a picture of myself as Bijlee doing the rounds. I was like, hey it’s been some time since the song. Why is this trending again? Then I found Salman Sir had posted that image with a birthday message! The realization made me halt in my tracks. Right then he emerged from his space on the sets, and we came face-to-face. And I – at a severe loss for words – just stared at him in a daze for a few seconds. Then somehow, I uttered ‘Thank you, Sir’. And he was like, ‘Hmm… You are welcome.’ My Mind. Was. Blown. Oh my god! I took a screenshot of that birthday post. I’ll treasure it for the rest of my life!” Completely understandable, we agree.
I owe everything to television. It’s what gave us the house we live in, the cars we drive. But I won’t do television simply because my mom has already done everything single thing there is to it. I want to try and do something that can help me create my own, individual identity.
The young actress will also be working with Sanjay Dutt in the upcoming horror-comedy, The Vir-gin Tree. It will feature Mouni Roy and Sunny Singh too. Speaking of films, is it true that you look up a film’s climax before watching it, I laughingly ask Palak who promptly hides her face behind her palms. “Oh god! Yes, it’s true. I can’t take suspense. I get severely anxious. If I happen to be watching a movie in the theatres that I haven’t already Googled the climax of… oh my god. I shriek and I yell. I do realize in the back of my mind that other members of the audience present maybe cursing me. But I can’t help it!”
Role: Mohini. Film: Happy New Year
Palak is still shooting in that ruffle saree when Lovely starts blaring from the speakers. Between sips of some green detox juice, I see her multitasking as she does the hook step while reviewing her shots from the last three looks. It’s the sipper that prompts me to ask about her fitness regime. Palak laughs out loud. “I’m honestly telling you, I’m not at all into fitness. I’m forced to be heavily in fitness because it’s necessary for the field I choose to be in. I train 5 days a week – it could be 2 or 3 days of Pilates and the rest for strength training. I enjoy Pilates because it allows me to be flexible instead of rendering me stiff. As for my diet, I love ghar ka roti sabzi, but I also love avocado and some cheese. My dietician lets me have anything I want as long as I’m working out hard enough,” the goofy actor winks.
Designer, Rajat Tangri;All accessories, Radhika Agrawal Jewels
Role: Sheila. Film: Tees Maar Khan
As the shoot nears its end, Palak slips into the character of Sheila, gracefully belly dancing in a flowy tiered lehenga by Rajat Tangri. It has indeed been a marvel watching the vivacious star get under the skin of the characters whose songs she’s constantly grooving to. While repeated attempts to learn about her roles in upcoming film projects go unanswered, I enquire if Palak would ever be willing to follow her mom’s footsteps to work in television. With an earnest expression Palak concedes, “I owe everything to television. It’s what gave us the house we live in, the cars we drive. Everything we are today is because of television, so I’m highly obliged. But I would say that I won’t do television simply because my mom has already done every single thing there is to it. You know, since I already get so compared to my mom, I don’t think I stand a chance in television. My mom is a breathing legend of the medium. I want to try and do something that can help me create my own, individual identity.”
In recent times, Palak has been linked to everyone from Saif Ali Khan’s son Ibrahim to Vedang Rana, who is set to debut with Suhana Khan and Khushi Kapoor in Zoya Akhtar’s The Archies. Although Palak refuses to comment on these link-up rumours, she shares, “You know, at this point, I just want to work, work, work, work, work. Yeah, that’s probably what’s on my bucket list, too!” she signs off.