Shefali Shah, whose been a part of the industry for almost two decades, is currently enjoying the spotlight with leads and parallel leads written for her; a space that should have come many years earlier.

Calling herself ‘greedy,’ she says that it was the best phase of her career that was revived when she decided to play DCP Vartika Chaturvedi in the International Emmy Award-winning Netflix series Delhi Crime in 2019. Shah also drew applause for Kayoze Irani’s segment in the anthology film Ajeeb Daastaans earlier this year, and most recently she garnered a lot of praise for the web show and medical thriller Human. Her next is Suresh Triveni’s Jalsa alongside Vidya Balan, releasing on Amazon Prime Video on March 18th. Shefali Shah will be seen playing Ruksana, a househelp, who is pitted against the privilege of her news anchor employer Maya (Vidya Balan).

Excerpts from a chat with the actress:

Rukhsana seems to be someone who has nothing to lose but has a lot to say. Tell us something about your character and what attracted you to her?

It has to be the script and simultaneously the character. I don’t see Rukhsana in isolation. One incident changes everything for her. 

She comes from the lesser privileged section of society yet there is a sense of pride in her. She has aspirations for herself and her children. Rukhsana is fearlessly protective of her kids, and like you correctly said, this incident puts her in a place where she has nothing to lose. However, one accident makes her question her morality which is the case with all the characters in the film. She is not complicated but she’s very complex and that’s the beauty of the character. Jalsa is not just about the conflict between characters it is also about each character’s conflict with themselves. It is so intriguing and real. Anybody who watches the film will say — “What if I was there in this situation?”
It was mentally draining doing it, and as a mother, I wouldn’t wish this situation on anyone. My character is very layered, nuanced, and complex. Rukhsana is a very human character. She falters, she is made to question her own beliefs, her rights, and wrongs because of what happens.

The way you say your dialogues in the promo is commendable, especially, ’Toh kya thok dena ka?’ Tell us something about that.

So, it was never the part of the script. As per the script, I had to say, “Toh kya maar dene ka usko?” or something like that, and while we were reading it, I spontaneously said, “Toh kya thok dene ka usko?” and Suresh Triveni (director) was happy and it worked. Rukhsana would probably say that and it just came to me. I did not know the impact it will have but that line hits hard.

How do you approach a character and ensure that there’s something new every time?

When I get a script, I mostly go by my gut and instinct. I don’t have a calculation for it. It’s like an immediate yes or no for me. I don’t want to repeat myself so I pick characters that are different. Having said that, different doesn’t mean kuch hatt ke karna hai… mujhe kuch hatt ke nahi karna but I want to be a different person every time you see me on screen and that’s what I aim at. Rukhsana doesn’t stand out and she is not supposed to do that. When I read it, I told Suresh that she should be somebody in the background. Just like when you go to somebody’s house, you don’t notice the house help; it’s like that in the film for the longest time. It’s a conscious decision to not repeat myself. After Delhi Crime, I got offered all these cop roles and I was like I don’t want to do it; also how do you match up with Vartika Chaturvedi? I didn’t want to hamper her.

Do you think you were stereotyped? And have OTT platforms changed the game for you? Are you being offered characters you want to take on?

A big YES! OTT has changed it for me and because of Delhi Crime, where I was placed as the protagonist, I think everyone in the world watched it and suddenly noticed me. They realised that I can do certain roles and play a lead or a parallel. 

From Rangeela to Jalsa, how do you think you have evolved as an actor, and how things have changed?

Well, my entire way of working has changed, and when I look back I feel like I barely did any kind of work on a script. Today I sit with my directors, ask questions, understand their perspectives, and do my homework well. I also extensively work on the script; I question every word, every comma, every new thought, not only do I question the director, I keep questioning everything and everyone throughout. I create the character in my head and become her. I learn every day and I want to keep it that way. I don’t want to ever reach a point where I am comfortable with the script; I like to be nervous and anxious every day I go to sets. You won’t believe it, but I am terrified before giving a shot, and that works for me.

Do you think you’ve finally got your dues as an actor?

I am a very greedy actor. I am thankful that I am finally doing the kind of work I want to do. I am being put in lead roles but satisfied? I don’t want to be satisfied. I want a lot more. I don’t have a long resume, but I have a strong one.

You have given us some brilliant characters. How do you look back at your journey?

I did not think I would be an actor. I used to do theatre and someone said “Arey see that girl” and television happened and then I got Rangeela. While I was doing all of them, I still didn’t know if I would want to do it for my living or if this is my calling. I was happy with getting paid Rs 200 per day. With time, I realised that I want to do it for the rest of my life.

Coming back to Jalsa, were there any behind-the-scenes moments that have stayed with you? And how was it working with Vidya Balan?

We have mutual admiration, love, and respect for each other. Unfortunately, we have very few scenes together, and, they were so intense, we did not have time to chill between scenes. We are having a lot more fun during the promotions. I think there is a great chemistry between us. 

After winning hearts with your acting skills, you released your first short film Happy Birthday Mummyji as a director. How has that experience been? And are we going to see you direct more films?

Direction is addictive. I would love to do it, but right now I am enjoying this entire phase as an actor As a director, I would want to give all my time to the films I’ll be working on, and, for now, I don’t have that. I am finally getting the dues as an actor and want to enjoy that to the maximum and make the most of it.

What’s next?

There’s Darlings, Dr. G and Delhi Crime 2

(Featured Image Credits: Special arrangement)