It’s true that every time, Shefali Shah graces the screen, there’s a different aura about her which lets her rule the hearts of the viewers and the critics. ETimes got in touch with her to congratulate her on the historic win, and talk about the shooting experience. The actress also spoke at length about being type-cast, and breaking barriers, which has allowed her to make a mark in the industry.
‘Delhi Crime’ saw you in a completely different role. What is your take on the entire notion, that one someone turns beyonda certain age, there’s actually no role apart from playing a grand mother or mother ?
I was typecast a mother’s role very early in life. I didn’t even reach a certain age.. I was 20. I did a show where I played the mother of a 15 year old, I was 20 years old when I played a mom of 45. And then when I was around 28-30, I played mother to Akshay Kumar. So I got typecast very early, if I didn’t even have to reach a certain age point.
According to screen time, I’m probably 133 years or something. (Laughs)
What changed for me after ‘Delhi Crime’ is that…now, the kind of work that I’m being offered, and I’m doing…has put me into a central character. Earlier there was this hero and heroine, but on OTT there is no such restriction. Every character is a hero or heroine in its place. So that’s exactly how it happened and DC really changed it for me.
There were years where, I kept saying no to work because it was just being so unfair. And then ‘Juice’ happened. And then there was ‘Once Again’, that’s a very sweet and gentle love story. And then there was Delhi Crime. And all three of them put me into the centre of the frame. So it’s really opened up for me, and I’m finally doing the kind of work I desire.
The cop is one of the most stereotyped characters in Bollywood, why do we not see enough women police officer ? According to you how can a cop’s portrayal be improved. Because the cop you portrayed, was so real.
I don’t know how to improve it. Richie Mehta did it. We did it together. And we did what we thought was right for the story. It was real. It was gritty, it was raw. And it was absolutely honest. There were no performances, not just for me from anybody. And that’s why I became a real person.
How did it feel, when you wore the uniform for the first time ?
I walked taller. It felt like, suddenly I walked taller. You know that uniform commands respect. I remember when I used to walk onto set people used to actually move away, like they would make way for me. We were also shooting in a real cop station. And there were some times that the juniors would salute to not knowing that I’m an actor, and not a real cop, because we were in a cop station. But I just walked so much taller. And that uniform is something else. It makes your spine stronger. It gives you that sense of not just power, but responsibility.
You left your identity as ‘Shefali’, and brought ‘Vartika’ into yourself…
I take as a biggest compliment. There’s no point being known as a person, when you’re doing a character, it just has to be the character in front of you
. I remember when we were at the showcase, there were some people who actually asked the organisers that she’s a real cop. So it’s incredible that I think is, I mean, I’m glad that, this is the reaction.
How did it feel, to get into the headspace of Chhaya ma’am ?
There were a lot of things, creating ‘Vartika’. One is that Richie Mehta had done so many years of research, that the blueprint was ready for us. Secondly, he had interacted very, very closely with Chhaya ma’am. So he had all the information etc. Then I have the honour of meeting up but very, very briefly, like just for two hours or whatever. And it’s is not possible to soak in a personality in two hours.
And that’s exactly what she felt, that’s exactly how every human being felt. Emotionally, we were on the same page, the only difference being that she had the power to do something. We could only sit on the sidelines and make a noise. And she was so benevolent and so kind every time I had a query, no matter how small or big, she was there to answer it.
And of course, when Richie met me for the first time, he said, “I don’t want an actor alone. I want a collaborator. And this is what I created. But now on I want you to bring in Vartika, I need your voice. You now you have to create and I wasn’t replicating or replicating Chhaya Ma’am. We were trying to make Vartika, her own person with the right intent, with the right emotion with the right thought process. And of course, you have to know the police protocols, etc, it wasn’t one thing. It took a lot to put her together, and an endless amount of script sessions with Rishi just working on Vartika.
When you got the news of the big win, what was your reaction ? How excited were you ?
I was sitting in my Kaftan in my AV room, hair tied up with specs, watching the Emmys livestream, and I think around 10:30, they announced, and I couldn’t stop screaming, like screaming on top of my voice, I’m sure.
My entire team, which is spread across continents for me. And Vipul was with me, they wished me but I couldn’t hear. The first call I made was to my older one. And after that, the phone didn’t stop ringing. I mean, I wanted to talk to Rishi. But the phone just didn’t stop ringing.
You have truly made a significant mark for yourself in the industry? If I ask you to reflect on this journey, what were some of the fond memories in life which has allowed you to grow ?
Every single project I did, I learnt so much. I learnt so much on it. But one of the first things I learned, which I think was my biggest learning as an actor at that point of time, is that when I did Monsoon Wedding,…. you know, actors can be very mean. They want to be seen in everything they want to be like,
Mai dikha dunga…mujhe sab aata hai…I’m the focus… no you are not the focus..The point of being a character is that you should be able to submerge into a wall if need be. Every moment is not yours.
And the film is far bigger than every single person involved in it. So you have to know when to just step back and become a part of the furniture. Only then can the character become real. I am very glad that I don’t have that insecurity of ‘,mujhe sab aata hai…mai sab dikha dunga… I’ll come out there, I’ll do what I have to what is required of me as a character. Not because Shefali Shah needs extra points. Then it’s a failure.
I can’t do anything without being real. For me becoming the character being her becoming her is most important.
How do you deal with setbacks and failures ? In a society where depression and mental health issues have been so prevalent, what has been your approach towards this ?
I genuinely feel, this was something that nobody looked into for a very long time and decided not to talk about it. Mental health is equally and sometimes more important. So this fear of not talking to someone is ridiculous. It’s just ridiculous. Also, people are very easy to judge. And it’s really unfair to judge, you don’t know what’s going on. You’re standing in somebody else’s shoes. You don’t know what’s going on in their life.
Just have compassion, have the ability to listen and be kind.You know, don’t go out saying I can do drama. Don’t do that. It’s ridiculous. You don’t know what’s going on in people’s heads in their minds and their lives. It’s extremely important. The importance for mental health is should be priority.
And it’s not like it doesn’t mean that you’re nuts or local or anything like that. It just means sometimes certain things become too overwhelming to handle on your own. You need someone from the outside to give you that perspective.
What are the kind of roles, you said ‘NO’ to ?
I don’t remember. I really don’t remember. I just remember saying, if it didn’t touch me enough, if it didn’t drive me enough, I wouldn’t do it.
What were the biggest challenges in your career, how did you handle yourself mentally through it ?
Like I said, there was a choice I made of playing aged, because as an actor, I think the beauty of being an actor is to be able to play different people who you are not. Even if it includes gender, or race, religion, age. That’s the variety. That’s that’s the reason of being an actor.
I did this project where I played aged, and then I got typecast. I never really planned my career I never had anyone handing my work. I never went and asked for work. And after I played age, and after I did ‘Wakt’, which was very popular, I kind of got stuck. And it took me quite some time. What happened was…that the kind of work I was getting offered was not the
kind of work I wanted. It didn’t necessarily have to do with a mother, grandmother, sister, friend.
But I don’t have a very long resume. But I have a very strong resume. And I’m very proud of the projects I’ve done. I love what I do too much to just go and do a job every day. So earlier, it used to bother me that I’m not getting enough work. And I’m not working all the time. And then I’ve reached a point where I realised the kind of work I want to do comes rarely. I’ll wait. Even if it means I’ll wait for two years. I will wait. It’s worth it.
Who is your biggest critic back home ?
Actually me. I am extremely critical of myself and extremely very hard to please.
Especially for our generation, the series also created a terror in our minds. Not just girls, even the boys. Is there anything you’d want to say them ?
This is one reaction that you are telling me, but there were a lot of other reaction that I got today.I remember being in a restaurant… young kids have walked up to me and said, We didn’t know this part of the story. And thank you for for bringing this back to the forefront, because there are conversations that have started. And which is what was the purpose…The need to tell the story behind what happened, not just what we saw, sitting on sidelines, but also started conversations about it.
And as far as safety is concerned, well, it’s got a lot of things that contribute to it.. it’s not going to change because of one person saying something or one show coming in. it’s education. It’s social reforms, it’s government reforms, and individually as a human.
What the men of the house are raised as, young boys of the house are raised as, I’ve always maintained that our daughters will be safe if our sons are raised right. So it’s not just the government and the social system and education, the responsibility starts from home.