Shefali Shah© HELLO! India

Shefali Shah On Her Love For Crime Thrillers And More

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Shraddha Chowdhury

Dressed in a cobalt blue power suit, hair slicked back in a pony and eyes wide as ever, she greets HELLO! with a warm smile, ready to dive deep into a project close to her heart — although her smile falters as she spots an injury on this writer’s arm, proceeding to question her about her well-being, the brief time allotted for our chat on the backburner. That’s Shefali Shah for you. Kind, empathetic, witty, sharp — and a powerhouse of talent who never fails to impress on screen. In a forthright chat, HELLO! unearths Shefali’s views on the growing content space, “reaching her prime” in her 40s, women’s representation in cinema and the kind of impact her character in Netflix’s Delhi Crime has had on her.

Watch: Crime Thriller Web Series

HELLO!: Season 2 of Delhi Crime just dropped, and — as expected — viewers love the nuanced writing and acting. When you read the script, did you think you’d be able to top the kind of acclaim Season 1 received?

Shefali Shah: It’d be entirely unfair to compare the two seasons. DC 1 and DC 2 can’t be in a race together! It’s one entity, but there are two different identities. They were both made with a lot of love, passion, obsession and hard work, but it was never about topping one. It was about making an individual show that was as strong and as good. I can proudly say we managed to do that (smiles).

H!: You believe that Vartika Chaturvedi and Delhi Crime changed the game for you...

SS: Well, the director decided to make me the lead in such a powerful show. I — touch wood — have always been lucky to receive appreciation, but it didn’t translate into the kind of work I truly wanted. Who’d have thought that at the age of 40, an actor would reach her prime in the kind of work she gets? That’s what happened with Delhi Crime. It put me in the spotlight. I led the show, and that changed people’s perspective of me. A lot of work came in; the kind of work I did last year, I hadn’t done in my entire career! I worked on so many projects I’m proud of. The role was a complete game-changer.

H!: It must have been incredible to win an Emmy. How did you react when you found out?

SS: My husband Vipul, my younger son and I were watching the live stream together. They were seated on my either side. When they announced DC as the winner of Best Drama Series, I started screaming. It was only after a while that I realised they had both put their hands out to hug me, but I was too overwhelmed to notice! I could only say, “Oh my god!” It was so well-deserved!

H!: You’re almost three decades into the industry now. Which was the most challenging character you’ve had to play?

SS: Delhi Crime! And Vartika! For a two-hour film, it’s easier to remember elements of the script after reading it a couple of times. But when you’re doing an eight-hour ‘film’, you have to revisit it a thousand times! With DC, I had to start from episode 1 whenever I got my scenes, even if it was episode 6 or 7. I had to go back to understand all she had gone through till that point. To maintain that consistency yet be unpredictable, to hold the audience’s interest for that long... It’s not easy. The learning curve that came with this character was my turning point.

H!: In the context of the Emmys, do you think overseas audiences are opening up to foreign-language content, and that recognition of Indian talent is rising?

SS: Yes, I do, and that has a lot to do with OTT. We now have a library of such amazing art from all over the world in various languages. When we do something for OTT, it drops in 190 countries at one go. The reach is phenomenal! And as a student of cinema, as a viewer, I just want to lap up whatever’s going on across the globe!

H!: Onto Darlings! You, Alia Bhatt and Vijay Varma made such an incredible leading cast, and the movie was quite well- received...

SS: It was a fantastic script and a through- and-through good film. This dark comedy genre hasn’t been explored a lot in Hindi films either. I don’t mean to be preposterous when I say it’s like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, or Parasite, or Fleabag. But it’s from that kind of a world. It’s witty, it’s wicked, it’s funny, it’s poignant. I perceived it as a mother- daughter film, but it could be any woman’s story.

H!: You’ve also moved behind the camera with a few short films. How did this transition happen? Any Bollywood direction plans?

SS: I’ve always wanted to direct but not had the guts to dive into it. During the lockdown, I thought, ‘Why not now?’ I loved working on my two projects. I was completely consumed by them. I vanished! It took so long to prep for these films, which were just 14 to 20 minutes long. I don’t know how long I’d go off the grid for a full-fledged film! There’s more to being behind the camera than just doing your job and going home. You’re involved in every single aspect of the production, and it’s addictive! I also thrive under high pressure. So altogether, it was great fun!

H!: Given that your husband Vipul is a producer-director himself, do you like to discuss your projects with him?

SS: Of course, we discuss the films he’s working on or projects I’ve been offered. We value each other’s points of view. When Vipul writes a script or rough cuts a film, I’m the first person to read it or watch it. When I’m working on something, he’s the first person I narrate to. Though when we share our opinions, it’s not to change our perspectives. Whether we accept each other’s views is our choice.

H!: OTT appears to have changed the game for women. Would you agree?

SS: Absolutely! I think everybody’s suddenly woken up and understood that women are really exciting, they have lives and aren’t just known for their relationships to others; they’re individuals themselves. It’s also widened the scope of work for everyone. It’s not all about ‘stars’ — and thank god for that!

H!: Yet, in Bollywood, we continue to see the same heroes from decades ago still romancing women half their age, while women become mothers or aunts early on...

SS: There weren’t roles written for women earlier. In the 70s, there were movies that were female-oriented, like Aandhi, Ghar or Aradhana. But unfortunately in the 90s, women were only accessories to films, with a shelf life of 18 to 22. But things are starting to change again with films being helmed by women — whether it’s Tumhari Sulu, Lipstick Under My Burkha, or Badhaai Ho.

H!: Which movie or show did you have the most fun shooting?

SS: Ah, I think Ajeeb Daastaans was a lot of fun. It was a fab crew. We were mental on set, cracking up and having a blast. Darlings, too. Shooting for DC was fun, but in a very different way. I loved that we were so obsessed with just one thing. 

H!: What else do you have coming up?

SS: So there’s Doctor G. It’s a really sensitive and funny movie. I loved the script so much that I agreed to the small part; it’s a guest appearance. I also have 3 of Us coming up with Jaideep Ahlawat. Another movie I absolutely love! It’s a beautiful love story, so delicate, fragile and vulnerable. It’ll release after a while because it’s going to do the festival circuit first.

H!: The filmmakers or actors on your to-work- with wishlist?

SS: Oh my god, so many! If I could be a spot girl in a Meryl Streep film, I’d do that. I’d even hold a glass for her!

This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s September 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!