Mithila Palkar: It is Okay Not to Have a Plan at TEDxNITSilchar (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of Indian actress Mithila Palkar’s TEDx Talk: It is Okay Not to Have a Plan at TEDxNITSilchar conference. To learn more about the speaker, read the full bio here.

 

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Mithila Palkar – Indian actress

[Speaker singing]

Some of you must have seen the video of this song online, and I’ll tell you the story of how I made it. But before that, I have a question for all of you.

So how many of us over here have had celebrity crushes? Almost all of us, right? And I’m sure some of us must have done something crazy to reach out to these crushes.

This friend of mine, one day, decided to pack his bags and leave his home in Baroda and come to Mumbai to meet the love of his life. Ameesha Patel.

Well, OK, so he decided to do that. And he knew that he wanted to meet her in a different capacity, not as a fan, because of pride. And the easiest way to get in touch with her was to get into showbiz and he did.

Eventually, over the years he realized that this was actually something that he liked doing and he stuck to it. It’s been 10 years now since he started acting. And Ameesha Patel now is history in his life.

So, you know like this, life happens to you when you’re busy planning other things. This is a classic example of that. Things don’t always work according to plan. So let me tell you something: It’s OK to not have one.

I did not have a plan. I had a passion which I decided to pursue and eventually everything fell into place.

You know, when I was five, my family used to encourage me to sing and dance in front of guests at family gatherings. And I used to be shy at first, maybe even awkward. But I gave into their requests. I realized that I was enjoying being the entertainer. But this is the same family that conditioned me to believe that’s the mantra to live a successful ideal life is you grow up, you graduate, and you find a decent job.

This typical middle-class Marathi family of mine, as expected, was not very thrilled about my acting aspirations. And actually back then, maybe even I wasn’t very convinced about it, because I didn’t have a role model to point out to and say hey if she can do it I can too. Plus, I was comfortable with having a plan: you grow up; you graduate; and you find a decent job, remember.

So while pursuing mass media in my graduate school, I happened to volunteer at a theatre company and got to be a part of a youth theatre festival which I helped organize. I was happy, because I got to be around the theatre world. And my family was happy, because I was doing event management which was real work.

When I started working on this festival, that festival turned out to be a turning point in my life, because when I witnessed actors perform on stage, I realized that, that’s where I want to be. I realized I wanted to be the storyteller. I wanted to be the story and I knew that if I did not pursue it, I was going to be extremely restless and unhappy.

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So I gave into my gut and I decided to convince my family. But it took some courage and a lot of cajoling from my family to finally give in hesitantly so but they gave in. I thought it was not that bad a beginning.

I had a bumpy start, because I knew I wanted to be an actor and that was that. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do films, or if I wanted to be part of television commercials or daily soaps, or if I wanted to stick to theatre. So I decided that I’ll figure it out as I go along and I tried to do all the right things, like, I started looking for work. I started auditioning, made sure I was on the radar. You know, as Mumbaikars, we are trained to face rejection every single day, thanks to rickshawalas. Because no matter where you want to go, you will have to go through at least three rejections before some kind soul comes along.

Little did I know that these rickshawalas are preparing me for the rejections I will be facing in my life ahead. See, the thing with auditions is that no matter how good or bad you were at it, regardless of your performance you should know that if an audition has to translate into an offer, that is not in your control. What is in your control is to give your best. And let me tell you not a lot of those auditions actually translated into offers but it turned out to be some fantastic learning experiences for me. It was not just for my skills, it was because I also learned to build resilience. So I’m sure this is something that we all have experienced.

Failure makes it very easy to give up, and if failure strikes multiple times, it becomes even easier. But I realized that I shouldn’t give up, and I kept at it and I’m glad that I did, because like with the rickshawalas you never know who will actually give into your plea of taking you to your destination. But just because six of them said not to you in a row doesn’t mean you’ll give up on going home, right? You will have to find an alternative. You will have to hustle. Nothing is going to come easy.

Not having a plan actually turned out to be quite useful for me, because when I was in the middle of trying to figure out what to do, I chanced upon the internet. When I started with the Internet which was about a year and a half ago, we’ve all been used to watching comedy sketches online, but the concept of web series or web shows was pretty novel, not a lot of people had given into it yet. I thought it was a pretty interesting idea and I thought I’ll make most of this opportunity.

Over a period of time I had built my network of friends and mentors who have been and still continue to be my biggest support system. So they backed me up on this decision and I decided to take the plunge.

When I started my web journey with my first web show which was a news satire comedy show on a YouTube channel I still continue to work with, I realized the power of the Internet, because the show got a boost from all over the world. From different parts of the world people started writing to us. That cup song, that happened on a whim too. I was just chilling one fine afternoon at home and I was playing the cups and singing different songs on it. And I decided to make a video.

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So I called my friend and said, “Can you come over? I need somebody to hold the camera.” She got her phone camera and I’m sitting at my house and we recorded this, and I uploaded this video with the tring tring of the bicycle in the background. If you listen to it keenly, I don’t know what all other noises you would be able to hear.

But I put that video up anyway and the attention that it got was unexpected. This something that I did without too much planning, just for fun, turned out to be a game-changer for me. It opened so many more avenues for me, gave me so many new opportunities that it makes me wonder what it would have been like had I spent time to think and plan how to make a perfect video.

You know, a lot of us are forced to make very important decisions very early in life and we’re not even sure what we want to do; I wasn’t. And that is OK. The answer lies in experimenting and doing so fearlessly. Everyone does not have a chalked-out path. If you decide to be an actor, your journey and my journey is not necessarily going to be the same. You know, some prying uncles and aunties, or some family members or family friends had asked me this: “Your sister is a scientist; how come you chose to do this?”

I mean, my elder sister, I do look up to her and she does inspire me, but I didn’t have to become a scientist to prove that. In fact, I don’t think I’ve told her this either. But there was a point in my life where I wanted to do everything that she did. So she used to have long silky straight hair; she still does. But when I was a little kid, I used to have really short hair. So I used to tie a dupatta around my head with a hairband, just to pretend to have hair like hers.

I wanted to go to the same school as hers, same college. Eventually I realized that it was OK to not do what she was doing and she was still going to be proud of me. Albert Einstein once said, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb the tree, it’s going to spend all its life believing that it’s stupid.”

You might not be good at one thing but you will be better at three others. I learned this the very hard way. But you cannot make everyone happy. What you can do, however, is make yourself happy and that is very very important. So be brave, have faith in yourself, figure out what makes you happy and go do it. Get a job, leave a job, dance, sing, fall in love. Carve your own niche but most importantly learn to embrace the randomness.

Thank you.