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Home»Interview»Exclusive! Darlings actor Shefali Shah: Just hoping there is not an overdose of me»

Exclusive! Darlings actor Shefali Shah: Just hoping there is not an overdose of me

Shefali Shah also said that she will always be biased towards OTT.

  • Aishwarya Vasudevan

Last Updated: 03.34 PM, Aug 05, 2022

Exclusive! Darlings actor Shefali Shah: Just hoping there is not an overdose of me
Shefali Shah/Instagram

After waiting for a few hours, I geared up to meet Shefali Shah for the fourth time (the second time in person). The moment I entered the room, there she was sitting and waiting for her next interview. When she saw me, Shah remembered and said, "This is the third time we are meeting, right?" And I reminded her that the first time I interviewed her, it was for her short film, Happy Birthday Mummyji, which she directed in 2021. With excitement, the actor said, "So I will be interviewing her for the fifth time during Delhi Crime Season 2 as well." Well, I hope so!

After having a tell-all of sorts interview during Jalsa, I was wondering what more I could ask Shefali Shah to make this interviewer meatier too. Little did I know that my efforts would be effortlessly fruitful with the bang-on answers the actor gave to each of my questions. When I reminded her of having multiple releases in 2022, Shah expressed concern that people would perceive it as an overdose of hers. Well, I assured her that it wouldn't happen anyhow.

Now, with Darlings, Shah is exploring the territory of dark comedy, and the icing on the cake is that she is joined by Alia Bhatt on this interesting journey. During an exclusive interview with OTTplay, the actor discussed how the genre does not dismiss the important topic of domestic violence, on which Darlings is based. Shah also said that she will always be biased towards OTT, given that the format gave her a new lease on life.

Excerpts below:

After Jalsa, now Darlings... How did you seriously choose the right script and just ace it effortlessly?

Well, I choose a project instinctively. So when I read a script, if the story or the character hits me, shakes me from the inside out, I'll say yes to it. Touchwood, my instincts work for me very well. So, there is no calculation to it. It's just a gut instinct.

You know, they say comedy is a tough genre to crack. Having done a thriller and a dark one, how do you find this space and make people laugh?

I don't know. Once y'all see the film, then we'll know whether I've been able to make you all laugh. I mean, I'm genuinely saying it.

But you were left in splits while performing...

I was left in splits because the script was so good. We were laughing our heads off. We enjoyed making the film. And yes, it is a delicate genre because it's very easy when you have such a good and funny and wicked script, it's very easy to go overboard as a performer. In my opinion, when you have a good line, you don't deliver it as a punchline. This character speaks in this manner, whether she or all of these characters are reacting to the current situation. It's not like they're deciding to be funny. They are just funny. As an audience, you sit and watch and you say, "Arre, yeh kya hai?" that kind of thing. But it's very easy to go overboard, and I didn't want it to be caricaturish.

How did you not laugh during these funny sequences because you knew an audience might just crack up even while looking at you perform?

There was this one scene, and we were just cracking up, like really cracking up, because it was so funny. You'll see it in the film. But there were a lot of moments like this. We both genuinely mean these dialogues; they're not being mean, or sarcastic, or anything. So it's not like we're finding it funny. We're like, you've asked us a question, you're looking through it, but there's nothing on it or maybe it got rubbed up. It's actually as simple as that. So it's for the audience to decide. But we had a great time shooting for it.

Even in Jalsa, your character is a cook and belongs to the lower middle class of society.

I signed Darlings first and Jalsa happened later. I remember distinctly one of the things I worked very, very hard on, and it was more for Jalsa than Darlings because by then, Darlings' look was set. I knew who she was, where she came from, how she spoke, et cetera. So when Suresh came to me with Jalsa, I kept saying, there shouldn't be anything common between both of them. She's a Muslim, she comes from the lower strata, she's a cook, and she's a fiercely protective mother. Of course, there are two very different kinds of characters. Shamshu (her character in Darlings) and Ruksana (her character in Jalsa) are different, but they can be compared very easily. So from the way she looks, she can't; they have to look like two different people altogether; their lingo is different, their behaviour, their walk, everything is different. So that was very distinct, like, I remember, I used to keep saying this to Suresh, I used to keep thinking of it. There can't be a single comparison because it would be unfair to both the films and both the characters.

This film belongs to the dark comedy genre, and it addresses a serious issue: domestic violence. How did you approach those scenes? Because it's a dark subject, but you're approaching it with humour, which is a fine line. And it's very important to not cross the line in any other way. Was it that challenging for you as an actor as well?

Well, one word to use is "challenging." The other word to use is just that you need basic sensitivity to understand the seriousness of what we're talking about, and it was not undermining that at all. That issue has been put out there the way it happens. But then there is also this other thing, which comes into the caption, "Auraton ko maarna haanikarak hota hai," and it becomes a comedy of errors. So none of us is laughing at that situation. We loath it and have strong feelings about it. But whatever happens around us because of the situation, that is funny. The way these characters talk, they're inherently what they say. They're not meaning to be funny. They are just like that. So all of it is and it's not sensationalizing. Neither is it undermining the sensitivity nor the importance of this conversation. It's a very delicate, very pertinent, and very important conversation. I wish we didn't have to have these conversations. I wish it just stopped. But unfortunately...

What do you do to break the ice when you work with an actor for the first time? How did you create a synergy with Alia Bhatt in this film?

It varies from person to person. It was lovely with Alia. We met at reading first. There is respect, and we love each other's work, etc. So I think the first day, I was trying to find my footing as Shamshu only. But when they all got down to reading it again, maybe for the second or third time, certain things just started happening between us. It was like chemistry that just happened, like we would end up saying the same thing or end up doing the same thing. I believe that chemistry can't be created; it's either there or it's not there. It's great that we share this chemistry because then it shows on screen. You see, they are mother-daughter and have been living together for years. They don't even have to talk to be understood between the two of them.

Do you think certain movies should be released directly on OTT, as Darlings is premiering on Netflix?

If you ask me, I'm always biased towards OTT. I am because of the opportunities and the reach of it. Secondly, you make any film, okay, it gets released in the theatre. For whatever reason, if it doesn't do well on Friday, all the efforts are gone in vain. That is not the pressure that OTT has. People might not watch it that Friday, but they will watch it. It's for posterity and it will be watched. It doesn't die all at once because some critics didn't like it, some audiences didn't like it, or nobody felt like going to see a movie this weekend. It's really sad; so much money and hard work. Luckily, that doesn't happen on the OTT platform, which is so great. There are stories. Content is king. I mean, some characters need actors, not necessarily stars. I will always be biased OTT. This film could have very well been a theatrical release, but that's not my call. It's the producer and the director's call. So it's their choice where they feel it fits. But I think it's great to be on OTT, even with Jalsa. The reach is great and people are going to watch it. It does not depend on that Friday collection.

In an interview with Film Companion, you said, "They will say, 'You are very good'." It does not translate to... nothing. So don't just tell me that I am good. 'Oh god we want to work with you,’ really? ‘I want to work with you too' and then nothing happens." Has that changed for you now?

Jalsa is a perfect example of that. Suresh said, "I want Shefali in this role." And thank God. When Jasmeet met me, she thought that I would be Shamshu. It's great when people say we want to write stuff for you.

In a month, you have two different releases and two different characters. Isn't it so exciting to have OTT and multiple releases back to back? In this year alone, you had Human, Jalsa, Darlings, and now Delhi Crime Season 2 too. Isn't it a great time to be an artist?

It's a great time because there is so much work also because of OTT with Netflix and other platforms. There's so much creative content being created, that it's not just an actor, it's the sound designer, costume designer, director, writers, so much work is happening, which is so fantastic. As a viewer, I can sit at home and watch so much stuff that I don't need anyone. I remember waiting for my husband to be free. The children would be free, then we would go out for dinner. I'm like, everybody go, great! I want to watch a big show. I have the full list. I am just obsessed with that. And I am a student of cinema. I can watch anything I want from the world, in whatever language. How fantastic is that?

I'm just hoping that there is not an overdose of me. Like people will think, it's happening too much for Shefali Shah. But I really hope it's not that and I've aimed to make them see different people.