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Exclusive! Shefali Shah, Kriti Kulhari on their ‘complex’ characters in Human, evolution of OTT amid pandemic

Shefali Shah and Kirti Kulhari also opened up on being directed by two directors Vipul Amrutlal Shah and Mozez Singh.

  • Aishwarya Vasudevan

  • OTTplay

Last Updated: 08.51 AM, Jan 11, 2022

cover image

Still from "Human".

For the first time, two powerhouses of talent, Shefali Shah and Kirti Kulhari have come together on screen in the soon-to-be-released Disney+ Hotstar medical drama series Human. The show is produced by Vipul Amrutlal Shah, who has also co-directed the show with Mozez Singh. Ishani Banerjee has penned the script with Singh.

Ahead of its release, OTTplay caught up with Shefali and Kirti for a video interview where they spoke at length about playing doctors on screen, their complex characters, and more. Shefali also spoke about being directed by her husband, Vipul, after a gap of 15 years.

Excerpt below:

Human is a first-of-its-kind medical thriller, a concept that is still quite unexplored in Indian celluloid. Why do you think that has happened?

Kirti: Honestly, I don't have an answer to that. It's a good point that this topic is not much explored. But I think what happens in our industry is that if you explore a topic and it becomes an unexpected success, there are 10 more titles made on that topic. That's how we kind of function in terms of how things are done here. Yes, this genre is not explored much, and I think it's a very interesting genre actually, now that I'm a part of it and now that I've been through it. The theme of our show, the drug trial, is something that I think not many are aware of, and if they have, they might not have understood it properly.

Shefali: It's a very sensitive topic, and it's almost like what we don't know can't hurt us; it's that space. Someone's been brave enough to put it out there and say, "Okay, this is what it is." But it's not just a medical thriller; it's the underbelly of the medical world. You normally see doctors as saviours, which they are, no question, but they also have their own lives and their personalities. Finally, it can determine what happens finally because people's lives depend on it. So I just feel it's a very sensitive topic where a lot of people don't want to venture, maybe because, like the first thing I said, I don't even know the answer. But I'm glad that we are doing it.

In the past few years, we have seen trailers give away a lot about the plot. But that's not the case with Human, which has a complex trailer. So, without giving much away, how will you describe your characters?

Shefali: I'm still trying to figure out whether I'm on the pro side or the con side (laughs).

Kirti: The writing is so complex that we haven't figured out which side we are on. You're very right about that. A lot of trailers these days do give away a lot. I'm glad that the trailer gives little glimpses of what the show is about, but that's the beauty. A lot is happening on the show, and I am glad that viewers have more curiosity about it. I'm telling you again, not because it's my show, but, when you move from one scene to another, you don't know what's coming. From one episode to another year, you are like, "Now what?" There is so much happening in the show; there are so many tracks in the show. and there are so many characters and their layers. A lot is happening, and to grasp it, you have to sit with it and go through it. I think Human is an experience that you have to go through.

Shefali: As far as the character is concerned, I still haven't been able to grasp who Gauri Nath is. One thing I know is that I've never met or heard of a person like her. Everyone who was involved in the show said, "What is this woman?" It's something I haven't ever done. Shefali and Gauri have nothing in common. Secondly, she's extremely complicated, not just complex, she's complicated. I don't even think there's a fight; there's a form of conflict and something is synced about her mind or heart and what she does is unexpected. She takes me by surprise all the time. After reading the script 100 times after working on it, every time I went on set, I didn't know how she was going to be. Genuinely, she's unpredictable, and it was very exciting.

Shefali, you were directed by Vipul Shah after almost 15 years. How has the working relationship with him evolved since then?

Shefali: As an actor, I've changed a lot. As an actor, the way I used to work then has nothing to do with the way I work now. I really must have been much simpler and easier to work with then, when I just followed my instinct and I read the script. Also, when you're doing a show versus a film, it's a completely different ballgame because remembering the two and a half hour trajectory of a character versus remembering a 10-hour trajectory of a person is very different. Being human is a complicated script. Vipul has evolved as a director, which is necessary. We will give opinions. Whenever I get offered something, or I'm excited about something, he would be the first one I would discuss it with. The same goes for him, whether it's his other films, or whatever. I'd be the first one to read the script, or I'd be the first one to see one of his rough edits. But finally, to give an opinion, it depends on how people want to take it. To say it was the simplest, well, it's always a very delicate line, you need to tread it. Vipul and I have a comfort level. We can talk to each other the way we want and it's understood between us. But when you're with people, you just have to be very, I wouldn't say, guarded, because that's not my forte at all. But there is a certain amount of respect. It's not like we don't respect each other. But what we can say, very frankly, to each other in a closed room, you just can't do on a set.

On a script level, we worked a lot together. I have a lot of questions, thoughts, and ideas, and it's very important for directors. I genuinely feel that. Yes, we are the face of what they've created. But they have gotten these actors on board because they know this one's going to add something that even I haven't thought of. To give that freedom, I mean, all today's directors do it. If a director doesn't do it, it's like, "What, which world are we in?" But it's a collaborative process. So we liked each other sometimes, we hated each other sometimes, but then that was it.

Kirti, how was it being directed by two directors, Vipul Shah and Mozez Singh, on the same show?

Kirti: It's not the first time I've worked with two directors. I did the same in Criminal Justice as well. So, I kind of had the experience of working in such an environment. In this particular case, Vipul and Mozez are very different people. How they go about on a set is very different from each other, but a good common point was the fact that creatively, both were pretty much on the same page. There was an unsaid thing between them that if Vipul was shooting, Mozez would not be around and vice versa. Vipul is also the producer, which makes things complicated. But he is experienced enough to step back and let the other person do his job.

It's just a matter of a few days and then you get used to being directed by two people for the same show. So, this is exactly what it is. While they are both directors, they are different people. Just like every director has to deal with not just the actor but also the person as a whole. It was a smooth ride, and if you know your work, then there's nothing much to worry about.

Working with Shefali was just about letting her come in with her homework and me coming in with mine. What are we doing together to make something good out of the script? That was our ultimate goal. For me, filmmaking has always been a collaborative process, and now people are understanding the concept.

Shefali: I have never worked with two directors like Kirti. But I think they were pretty much in sync as far as the script was concerned. They had their jobs, but I'm sure they discussed before, after, or gave each other their points of view, and they were very different people to work with. Like, Mozez is more expressive, but Vipul is very chill. So I think the show became a bigger picture than anybody, and if that works, yeah.

How would you describe the whole OTT space in India since the beginning of the pandemic till now?

Kirti: Do you see the way OTT consumption has gone up from last year when you knew COVID-19 started till today? It's suddenly like people have found a treasure and have several options now. It's such a big option they have, and there is so much good stuff you can watch. You are at home, you can choose to live like the world is your oyster, man. So much talent has suddenly surfaced; it's a great time here for creators, actors, and anyone who's here for some good stuff.

Shefali: During the pandemic and the lockdowns, OTT was a saviour. I feel three people made a lot of money during that time as everybody else was working. One was divorce lawyers, one was shrinks, and the other was the OTT platforms because they were making it. But jokes apart, the OTT has opened your horizons completely. You're exposed to world art and you can watch it when you want. I don't think it's retracting anywhere soon. When you are stuck in the house, what is your window? You can't step out, you can't meet people. What is your view outside? You are just living in your mind with those five people in the house; it's crazy and insane. Here you're just exposed to the world and it's on your platter at any given time, which is fantastic. Of course, for any kind of artist, not just actors, directors, some music directors, costume, set, you name it, script. There is so much you can explore and experiment with without having to deal with the burden of a box office collection.

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