On a Sunday afternoon, one of this country's more remarkable actresses is taking her two sons and husband filmmaker Vipul Shah for a swim.
Shefali 's been swimming against the tide, preferring marriage and motherhood to the solid career that awaited her after the pounding performance in Ram Gopal Varma's 'Satya' and Mira Nair's 'Monsoon Wedding'.
"I never thought of a career as a burning desire at that time. Marriage and babies are what I wanted at that time. Now I'm just getting back to work. And don't you think 'Waqt' and '15 Park Avenue' were an incredible way to re-start? Now I'm awaiting my third film 'Gandhi Versus Mahatma' where I've a role that any actor would die for. I'm lucky to be offered such roles after my comeback. The industry is showing me respect as an actor. After Waqt I was terrified I'd be offered all the mummy roles . But I didn't! That made me feel very special. It was Amitji who suggested I do his wife's role in Waqt. There were others who thought I would look too young. We did a lot of deliberation before I was in."
Currently she's visible on screen as Rahul Bose's wife in Aparna Sen's 15 Park Avenue. "It isn't much of a role space-wise. But to me, every role is special. Sometimes it hurts when I see my role being edited . But that wasn't the case with '15 Park Avenue' ….or 'Monsoon Wedding'. That was magical! The ensemble cast looked like one family at a wedding. No one tried to upstage anyone else. Now, in '15 Park Avenue' I was asked if I felt insecure about Shabana and Konkona. But it was a film, not a wrestling contest. I'm at battle only with myself to get the character right."
Shefali smiles at the mention of her second woman-director. "Aparna can actually put on screen the emotions within her characters. Konkona is incredible in this film. She's done it just right. Many of us tend to show all our abilities in every scene. Not Konkona in this film…You know,my endeavour is to blend into the larger picture. That was one of the strengths of my acting in 'Monsoon Wedding'. As an actor my struggle is to not allow myself to show off my talent."
Now Shefali is excited about playing Kasturba. "Though the film belongs to Gandhi and his son Harilal , my role is pivotal. I age from 30–my own age–to the time Ba dies. I've always laughed at actors pretending to be old. I remember the agony I went through when I played an oldie in a tv serial Salaakhen . Kasturba couldn't have been faked at any level. People say I look like Kasturba. I lost a lot of weight for that role. That made my husband happy."
But look at what happened to Rohini Hattangadi after she played Kasturba in Richard Attenborough film! Shefali is sure the same wouldn't happen to her. "'Mahatma Versus Gandhi' (or Gandhi, My Father) isn't a historical representation of Gandhiji's life. It's the story of the father of the nation who couldn't be a father to his own son. Kasturba is the most humane woman I've played…timeless and universal. So many women are caught between the husband and son and suffer for their dilemma.. When I read the script I felt Ba represented the emotions that the audience would feel. I really felt lucky to be doing it. Darshan Zariwala, Akshaye Khanna and I worked so hard during rehearsals. Mahatma Versus Gandhi is a life-changing experience."
Shefali has two sons, aged 3 and 4. "When I'm not in such a good mood I call them terrorists. Our home is a battleground. Vipul says to leave everything as it is. But I'm an incorrigible cleaner…I miss my boys when I'm working.When I'm at work my mother looks after the boys. Thank God for mothers." Shefali describes herself as an extremist. "Either I'm very happy or very sad…very displeased with my performance…or very pleased. Luckily I don't have much occasion to be displeased."
Is she going to be in Vipul's next film? "I don't think so. I'd love to. But there's no part for me…I've no other films on hand…But I'll be doing a talk show on the lines of Oprah for producer Anurradha Prasad. It'd deal with issues that make a difference to lives to common people, not necessarily topics that make headlines."
She ponders for a while. "I don't think the film industry knows where to place me. Even the parallel cinema has its own star system. I don't buy the difference. I mean are Monsoon Wedding and Satya parallel films? If not, then what am I, a mainstream or parallel actress? I'm doing work that I want to."