There are many ways to describe Shefali Shah - a gifted actor for one. And now with the release of the short films Someday and Happy Birthday Mummyji, a director to look out for as well. Shah, who has a great line-up of acting projects such as the web series Humans, the dark comedy Darlings – also Alia Bhatt’s debut as a producer – the social drama Doctor G and the second season of Delhi Crime, talks about turning director and her choices as an actor:
What would you say is your career-defining role?
I would say my career-defining role is Delhi Crime. It changed everything for me because it translated into the work I have been wanting to do. I’ve always been lucky to receive a lot of love and appreciation but it wasn’t translating into work. Delhi Crime changed that. People were ready to take a chance and put me in the central role. Writers want to write stuff for me and that’s fantastic.
You have been a part of some iconic movies such as 'Rangeela', 'Satya' and 'Monsoon Wedding'. Do you ever look back upon your career and reflect on your choices?
There’s no point looking back at something that has already been done. At that point of time, I thought it was right and it worked. Whatever I wanted to do is coming my way now. Der aaye durust aaye. I have a fabulous line-up of projects. I am doing the kind of roles I want to do. I am playing central characters in brilliant scripts and I am very excited about them.
'Happy Birthday Mummyji' is your first directorial that the Indian audience are getting to watch. Your first short film as a director – 'Someday' – is doing the rounds of film festivals. Did the acceptance of your first film encourage you to direct another?
I wrote Someday and the plan was to write three or four other stories about isolation, almost like an anthology. I worked on Someday and Mummyji almost simultaneously. It is a different take on isolation.
Your work in 'Juice', 'Delhi Crime', 'Once Again' and more recently, 'Ajeeb Daastaans' has been widely appreciated. Do you feel that this is an amazing time for actors?
Absolutely, OTT has opened horizons for all of us. It’s about creative content. It is no more about a hero and a heroine. It’s about actual actors and characters and performances. It has not only opened horizons for actors but all kinds of creative people. You can experiment, take chances, explore and exploit yourself and be driven by the fact that you’re going to be watched internationally. It’s fabulous.
So, then why take up direction at this point in your career?
I have been wanting to direct for a really long time. I did not want to restrict myself in any way. Even when I was acting, I went ahead and did an arts course.
These two stories came to me during the lockdown. Also during the lockdown, I realised, and I think a lot of people realised, that we have very little time. If you wait for the right time for something to happen, it probably won’t. So, one would rather do it today.
I thought I could carry a short film format better than a full-fledged feature because the latter takes a long time and is a lot of responsibility. It’s like a switch that went on in my head and I decided to direct now.
Does being an actor help when you go behind the camera?
No, direction is a completely different ball game. Just because I am an actor doesn’t mean I will make a good director. It’s a lot of responsibility. As an actor I can go on set, do my bit, focus on myself and come back home. But as a director, one is working on various aspects simultaneously. It’s not just the creative aspect, you also have to keep in mind the financials, logistics and time constraints. At the same time, I didn’t want to compromise on the vision of my film. Since it was a short film, it had to be crisp, and it had to be worked out to a tee before I went on the set. So, I wouldn’t say that just because I am an actor, it gave me any leeway as a director.