Since we are still in the midst of a pandemic, it’s a telephonic rather than a face-to-face interaction, yet Shefali Shah makes it interesting, her voice reflecting excitement and introspection, fear and heartbreak in equal measures. Excerpts:
Your short film, Happy Birthday Mummyji, offers a different take on these crazy times. When most of us are craving companionship, here is a woman wanting some ‘me’ time…
This is something I felt myself from time to time, the need to let go of all responsibilities. During the lockdown, all I was doing was taking care of the family and the house. Initially, it was family time, but the honeymoon lasted for a short time. After a while, it got exhausting and overwhelming!
I have the luxury of being able to go to work, take off if I want to. But a lot of women don’t and are doing this 24x7, it can drain you.
Also, when you are being recognized by your relationships, be it as a mother, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law and homemaker, you tend to forget who you are, your own needs. Not only do people take you for granted, you take yourself for granted. That’s where Happy Birthday Mummyji came from.
What is the one thing you missed most during the lockdown?
I missed meeting the people I love and that kept pinching, hurting. My directorial debut, the short film Someday which is showcasing at Stuttgart Film Festival, encapsulates this in one line: If the disease doesn’t kill you, the distance will. I’m hoping to release it by the end of the year.
Is there something you really prepared for, had been looking forward to, only for it to fall flat?
It’s happened plenty of times. Recently, I had ordered a home-cooked South Indian meal, no occasion, just that I was meeting my parents after a long time and I was looking forward to it. I told my mom we would both wear saris and all of us would sit together and eat on banana leaves. But on the day of the gathering, both Vipul (husband, filmmaker Vipul Shah) and I started feeling unwell, so had to cancel it. Luckily, none of us have got Covid.
You turned director during the pandemic. Is there something else you have always wanted to do and managed during this time?
I have written a manuscript, a love story. I am a hardcore romantic.
You plan to publish it? Or turn it into another short film?
I have not contacted a publisher yet but, yes, I want to turn it into a book. Also, convert it into a script and make a feature film, but I’m not sure if I want to direct it. I will however direct the two other scripts that I’ve written, both are love stories. But it took me two months to prep for Someday, and Happy Birthday Mummyji. Directing a full feature will take a lot more time and I want to give it that time. There’s so much I want to do...Direct a full-length feature film, a third short and just travel, anywhere, and never come back (Laughs).
Are these love stories the happily ever after kind or slightly off-track like Ankahi in the Netflix anthology Ajeeb Daastaans?
I don’t know how to be conventional, so my love stories will always be different and end up being heartbreaking. I believe that the finest love stories are stories of unrequited love.
You have seen love through various relationships, how would you describe it today?
I believe love can hit you in the gut at any point of time and it doesn’t necessarily have to be sexual and between two people. It could be a book, something I saw, life itself! When I do a Once Again or an Ankahi I fall head over heels in love with the character I am playing, and the one in front of me. I become Tara and I can feel the chemistry between Amar and her. I become Natasha who is madly in love with Kabir and in that last moment, when she shuts the door on him, I am completely destroyed.
Another character which will stay with us for a long time is DCP Vartika Chaturvedi from Delhi Crime, which has won plenty of accolades and awards, including the International Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series. When you look back on DC, what is that one thing you will always remember?
Everything, every day, right from the moment Ritchie Mehta (writer, director, creator) spoke about it till that last day in uniform. Every single moment is etched on my mind, forever. I don’t think there will ever be anything like Delhi Crime again. We have a few days of patchwork left on Delhi Crime 2 which got pushed because of the pandemic. I hope it will release by the end of the year.
Given how selective you are, what is it about Darlings and Doctor G, two upcoming films, that connected with you?
Darlings is a kickass script, a dark comedy and a genre I had never been offered. It’s wickedly funny and while most of the characters I’ve played have been very restrained, this woman is very animated. It will show a different side to me, I’m not serious and subdued all the time, you know. Human, being directed by Vipul and Mozez Singh, is gritty and raw, complex and complicated, and deals with human trials in the medical world. I have never met a person like this character before. Doctor G is a sweet, social drama. I really liked the script and I wanted to be part of the amazing ensemble cast. I’m in talks for a couple of other projects, I hope they work out.Did you know? 'Delhi Crime' fame Shefali Shah rejected 'Neerja' and 'Kapoor and Sons'
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