Shefali Shah on actors and characters .. in conversation with Roshmila Bhattacharya.
It's not easy getting the nod from you. So what drew you to Black & White?
It's a socially relevant film about a boy who comes to an unknown city where he befriends a professor and his wife Rama. His interaction with them influences his decisions and vice versa. It's about choices.. right and wrong.
Is Rama quiet and submissive?
No, she's feisty and fiery. For her everything is black and white.. lies and truth.. with no grays in between. She will take the fight to the highest level to get someone justice. (Smiles) Whenever anything needs to be fixed in the mohallah, everyone heads straight for Rama didi. <b1>
Did she remind you of anyone you know?
(Chuckles) Shefali Shah. I'm always getting into trouble because I'm not politically correct. It usually happens when we're called for a film preview. If I like the movie I don't hold back. But if I don't, as the end credits are rolling, I turn to my husband (Vipul Shah) and ask, "Kya bolna hai?" It seems wiser after all the faux paus I've committed in the past.
The film has a backdrop of terrorism. What's your personal take on this?
I think terrorism is a cruel waste of life. By killing people, you can't stop them from living. You make your point, sure, but hope lives on.
Anil Kapoor, your co-star in Black and White, was the producer of Gandhi My Father. Did the equation change with the change in roles?
There was barely any interaction with him during Gandhi My Father. I must have met him may be a couple of times. But during Black and White I got to meet a fantastic actor.
Where did Gandhi My Father go wrong?
We consciously refrained from taking sides. We did not project the Mahatma as right or Hiralal as wrong. For us what happened was a tragedy and we wanted to project that sense of loss. But I think viewers were unable to relate to the film because of the iconic stature of the family involved.
The Gandhis are not ordinary Indians. Bapu, Ba, their children.. they are a family we have looked up to for years, are still in awe of still. So the connect was missing. It was easier to relate with the Vermas of Monsoon Wedding. They were more like the guys next door.
Hey, child abuse isn't all that common? You think so? <b2>
I remember when Mira (Nair) had one of her private screenings, a close friend left before the film ended. Mira was surprised by her abrupt exit and later she asked her why she hadn't waited till the last song.
That's when the lady confessed that like Riya, the character I played in the film, she too had been abused as a child and been tormented by the experience for years. She explained that when Naseer throws the molester out of his home, earning him a look of gratitude from his niece, life came a full circle for her. Finally, there was a sense of catharsis. She didn't need to see more.
Monsoon Weddingwas a smash hit.
Gandhi My Fatherdespite all the critical acclaim was a commercial dud. Did that rankle?
For me the greatest high is the process of making a film. Those months of being paid to do something that gave me so much joy made the whole experience worthwhile. It's like a painting. For any artist it's the process of creation that makes the work special. The final product is not his to judge. That's the prerogative of the critics and the
You've been saying that Rituparno Ghosh's Last Lear is your finest work to date. But the film has been getting mixed reviews on the festival circuit.
I'll proudly repeat that Last Lear is my finest performance yet. It was such a brilliant script and had such a great cast that it would have been a pity if I hadn't done my job well. When Rituda first read the script to me, it seemed simple and straightforward.
But he is one director who digs deeper and deeper into the human mind and that made the experience fascinating for me. Before we started shooting, he picked up two saris for me, worked on the look right down to the size of the bindi I would be wearing, and clued me in completely on my character's background. After that he left me on my own. When on the sets, not once did he comment on my performance. <b3>
Once when I asked him if I was on the right track, since he hadn't said a word, he retorted, "If you were going wrong, I would have told you." The mixed reviews don't bother me. Reviews are relative and subjective anyway.
Weren't you supposed to do Dilli 6?
The film was offered to me but they needed a chunk of dates that was difficult to work out. So I'm not in it.
After Waqt you haven't done another film with your husband Vipul Shah.
There's no obligation to do every film he produces or directs. Tomorrow, if Vipul tells me he wants me to do a particular role, I'll take it on but I'm sure he respects me enough as an actress not to offer me something that's not me. Nor will he take offense if I refuse because I don't like it the role. <b4>
It's interesting that while Vipul is very much a mainstream film-maker you choose to do cinema that's more off-beat.
I never thought of it that way. He makes films I enjoy watching and I make films he's proud of. We've not drawn any lines. If tomorrow he gets a great script, he could produce it, even if the subject is not out-and-out commercial. And if he were to offer me a beautiful role like Waqt in a lavish potboiler, I'd grab it.
Off camera you look so youthful, even sexy. So why do you end up playing years-older characters on screen?
(Laughs) I may not be wearing jeans but I play my age in Black and White and Last Lear. And I can promise you that in my next three films, I'm playing contemporary young women.
Ah, so that's why you've been on a strict diet and lost so many kilos?
I'm still on a diet and need to lose a few more kilos. And it's not for my films but for myself. And now that Vipul is also into this dieting, I can never skip on my glass of doodhi juice. He's there to pull me up. And I'm there to pull him up when he's feeling lazy. (Smiles) We're a perfect match!