Mithila Palkar: From the Viral Cup Song Girl to ‘Karwaan’ Actor
It’s not an experiment if you know it’s going to work. Despite that uncertainty, most of Mithila Palkar’s professional life is a testament to trial and error. The wide-eyed digital star and actor who is set to make her Bollywood debut with Karwaan fits into the manic pixie dream girl mould or the girl next door archetype with her boisterous air and wild curls. But she is as untamed as her tresses to fit into neat boxes.
Detours and a willingness to embrace happy ‘accidents’ turned the 25-year-old into the person she is today - a YouTube sensation who traversed the chasm to be a Bollywood crossover. But that timeline may not be entirely accurate.
She stumbled upon her passion in her childhood when she gave in to her parents’ whims of putting up a performance for enthusiastic guests. She yielded to their requests to ‘sing and dance’ and realised then that she liked being an entertainer.
This epiphany though didn’t translate into a conviction. This Dadarchi Mulgi from a typically conservative Marathi family was conditioned to follow the template - graduation followed by a ‘safe’ job. During her mass media studies in MMK College, Bandra she worked for a theatre group and the portals of an alternative world opened up new possibilities.
The Thespo youth theatre festival that she helped organise became a turning point in her life. It was during this time that it dawned upon her that she didn’t crave the backstage life as much as the spotlight. She wanted to be an actor. Palkar’s family was not thrilled about her acting aspirations but gave in after a lot of cajoling.
In her TED Talk, Mithila Palkar lends a perceptive insight into how Mumbai’s autorickshaw drivers made her resilient while braving rejections following auditions.
Her first tryst with acting was a short film directed by her college friend – Majha Honeymoon (2014) – an ode to the hustlers who dream of making it to the city of dreams. The film was screened at 16th Mumbai Film Festival. A supporting role in Kangana Ranaut’s Katti Batti (2015) was her first outing in Bollywood. Palkar played Imran Khan’s domineering younger sister. It may not have reaped rich rewards at the box office but advertising offers poured in.
At the time, her career was gaining ground with Filter Copy’s News Darshan, and a couple of sketches on the same channel. A Priyanka Chopra fan, Palkar lives by the mantra of embracing randomness. A stray comment on the YouTube video of her first rendition of the cup song - the Frank Sinatra version, prompted her to attempt the Anna Kendrick cup song to the tune of the Marathi track, Chal Turu Turu using a plastic cup as a percussion instrument.
While commending her voice, the YouTube viewer requested her to pick a Marathi song too. Trained in Hindustani classical music, Palkar’s local touch worked like a charm. Palkar had her friend capture the video on her phone, on an impulse, on a lazy summer afternoon and it turned out to be a game-changer.
The video went viral raking in over 3 million views and catapulting her to internet stardom. 2016 turned out to be her breakout year. An avid social media user and the quintessential millennial, Palkar swears by the global reach of the medium. After appearing in a rousing, contemporary digital anthem in association with Bhartiya Digital Party (BhaDiPa) for Maharashtra Day, this poster child of the digital boom played the zestful and ambitious small town girl Meera in Bindaas’ The Girl in the City that opened to a thunderous response. She appeared in Arre’s Official Chukyagiri in the same year. With Dice Media’s Little Things, a web series on modern love, Mithila carved her niche in the space of breezy, slice of life content. The second season is set to be released on Netflix. Sumeet Vyas, Dhruv Sehgal and Mithila Palkar reigned the domain of Indian millennial web content that year and made it ‘cool’.
In 2017, Mithila Palkar bagged the role of the fiery go-getter, Indu in the Marathi romcom, Muramba opposite Ameya Wagh - a lighthearted film that follows the 500 Days of Summer stencil but shoulders the mantle of deeper familial and social observations.
In February 2018, Forbes India named Mithila, the empress of OTT platforms, in their 30 Under 30 list of young achievers among others like Bhumi Pednekar and Vicky Kaushal.
And we possibly saved the best for last - Mithila Palkar’s Bollywood debut as a parallel lead in Karwaan, starring Irrfan Khan and Malayalam heartthrob Dulquer Salmaan is set to hit theatres on 3 August. One of her recent projects also includes a play by Akvarious Productions.
Her triumph lies in her creed of not limiting herself to a particular medium. We do hope she similarly glides between genres - from sunlit idylls to surreal dimensions and darker directions with equal elan. You go, girl!