Dil Dhadakne Do is the best script and role I was offered in recent times
She is choosy about her work. She shines every time she is on the big screen. That’s Shefali Shah, who will be seen as a modern mother in Dil Dhadakne Do. In a freewheeling chat, the National Award-winner (Best Supporting Actress for The Last Lear) talks about the latest onscreen family drama and future plans.
Did you have any apprehensions playing a mother in Dil Dhadakne Do?
When Zoya offered me the film she had her doubts whether or not I would play a mother. Yes, I had apprehensions because it was way away from the real me; PeeCee (Priyanka Chopra) and Ran (Ranveer Singh) are younger than me but closer to my age. But it was a film I couldn’t say no to. After I read the script, I told my husband that it was one of the best scripts I had read in a long time and my character was the best role in the film. He cleared my confusion and told me to just do it. So, that’s how DDD happened.
But why did you have reservations, you had played a mom to Akshay Kumar and mother-in-law to Priyanka Chopra in Waqt?
I did that film because I had seen the play, loved the role and wanted to work with Mr Bachchan. But I did realise that it did have an effect on my career. Everyone just offered me roles of a mother post Waqt. I wanted to correct it but then came this once-in-a-while role (DDD) so then I decided to do it.
DDD has a huge ensemble cast. What was the experience with so many actors?
I have worked with Anilji before, he was my producer in Gandhi, My Father and we played husband and wife in Black & White. He is professional, a wonderful person and it was lovely working with him. I am totally in love with Ranveer. He is mad, totally mad and a really good guy. His heart is in the right place, is a good actor and hardworking. I have worked with PeeCee before. She again is extremely focussed, dedicated and a fun trooper. Farhan (Akhtar) has a fab sense of humour and is a great actor. Anushka (Sharma) and I didn’t have a lot of scenes together but whatever little we worked together I think is a lovely girl. Not just these six main characters, the entire cast of 25-30 actors was a fantastic ensemble. DDD is a very difficult film to make if you don’t have sporting people around. If there is someone who has issues or ego hassles or throws a tantrum then you can’t carry an ensemble. But DDD has been lovely.
In DDD, your character has a dysfunctional marriage. Can you talk a little about marriage?
Fairy tale and marriages don’t go together. Every relationship has its ups and downs, and compromises. This relationship too is not a cakewalk. In DDD, there are a lot of compromises between Kamal Mehra and Neelam Mehra. As it would be or happens in a lot of families, in front of people the couple are rock solid and everything is fine, but behind closed doors they have a really difficult relationship. Every marriage has their own equation. Marriage is not only positives, it can’t be. Even in a mother and son relationship there are difficulties, arguments and disagreements.
What do think about the evolution of mother character in Hindi cinema?
There have been some incredible mother characters in the past, in fact, it was a far more prominent personality in a film. Then came a phase when there was only a hero and heroine in a film, rest were hero ki friend or behen, very clichéd characters. And it happened with mothers too. I think women in our society have evolved and changed over time. Earlier a woman was a dedicated housewife, a mother, submissive, regressive and didn’t have a life of her own. Then, she became someone who had a voice, then came a single mother phase and now she is a multi-faceted personality. If you talk of Shefali, she is not just a mother, she is an actor, a wife, a daughter, a friend, she writes, paints et al. So, there is a lot that goes into packaging one person. Unfortunately, mother in films got put into this block of a character actor. My question is in your real life is your mother really a character actor? She is probably the most prominent personality in your life. She shaped you to being who you are. In DDD, she is not just a mother. Every single character, from the smallest to the biggest, are all individuals and have their own equations and complexities with various people. At least in DDD I see that change. I really liked the mothers in Vicky Donor and Dolly Ki Doli.
While the gender doesn’t determine the person’s talent but is it easier to connect and communicate with a female director on set.
It would be unfair to categorise a female and a male director. Either you are a good director or not. Every director has a different style of working. Some directors blindly trust me and let me take the character the way I perceive it and some directors act and show. So, I think it’s person to person.
Coming back to Zoya, I really got along with her. I could talk to her and, probably, even if I didn’t say something she would understand what I am thinking or feeling. I don’t think it has anything to do with gender. But when we were talking it is like girl talk. And there would be no misinterpretation of any sort.
What factors do you consider before choosing the film?
The role, the script and the director. Because if the director is right then he/she won’t compromise and would present you in the best possible way.
Since your husband has a production company, any plans of handling production roles?
Absolutely not. I am not interested. I don’t understand production. I am a creative person.
What do you do when not facing the camera?
I write. I would love to direct. I have written a script – a romantic story – which I want to direct but I understand it is a different ball game altogether to direct. It’s a lot on your plate and I am not sure if I am ready for it yet. I just can’t get into it and say, “Oh sorry galti ho gai, now somebody help’.
I paint. Touchwood, I have a full life. I have my kids. I have my home. I enjoy cooking. I love travelling. I have friends. Vipul and I watch three-four films a week. My kids are a really big part of my life. That’s why films work better than television.
DDD is shot entirely on the cruise and it was a long schedule. Was it difficult to be away from the kids?
Vipul, my mom and mother-in law took care of the kids, otherwise it wouldn’t be possible. The film shoot went on for two months. A lot of them (co-actors) did travel back and forth but I was on the ship for two months at a stretch. Initially, it was difficult because there were network issues so I couldn’t call them regularly. But I knew the kids were safe and fine. And exactly around the same time they had gone for soccer camp in the US. That was crazy.
But, on a certain level it was therapeutic because I didn’t have an option but to step back. Once I was at shoot I was doing two things I love the most: travelling and acting. One of the most beautiful things of being on that ship was waking up and watching the sunrise and sunset every day. I was just Shefali, not a mother, not a wife, not a daughter-in-law or a homemaker. Believe me, it’s not easy to live alone with yourself for two months at a stretch.