She is a powerhouse of talent and one of the few actresses who can hold her own when pitted against the messiahs of acting! She is Shefali Shah, who made her debut with the smash hit Rangeela. Even though her role was small, she was noticed.
But what really set the ball rolling was her powerful award-winning performance in Satya. The good news is that she is back with yet another cracker of a performance in The Last Lear.
We caught up with her for an exclusive tÃªte-Ã -tÃªte. Here are excerpts from it:
After your intense act in Subhash Ghai's Black & White, you are now seen in yet another 'different' film, The Last Lear. Tell us something about it.
The Last Lear is based on a play that Utpal Duttji had done a long time ago. It's about this ageing Shakespearean actor who quits theatre [in spite of being completely in love with theatre] because of a personal, emotional reason. After many years, a young director convinces him to act in a film. How he goes about acting in the film and how it changes his life is what The Last Lear depicts.
What is your role in the film?
I play the character of Vandana. I am paired opposite Amitji in the film, but I am not married to him. Vandana can be a temptress, a seductress and is a complete woman according to me. She is a very impulsive person because she goes to watch a play and falls head over heels in love with this man whom she sees on stage. He is much older than her in age, but without bothering about what the society would say or think, she just goes ahead and decides to live with him. Images: The Last Lear--Decoding the film
The whole relationship is very interesting and unique because a lot of it is unspoken and unsaid. They do share a lot of passion, but there is no name or word ever used to describe the relationship that they share.
You and Amitabh Bachchan worked earlier in Waqt. How was it working again with him? Do you both have many scenes together?
We don't have that many scenes together, but working with Amitji is always an honour and a complete pleasure. He is an incredible actor and a very nice person. Even though we have few scenes together, it's very important that the relation between us is depicted well because till the end of the film you keep wondering what relationship do Vandana and Harry [Mr Bachchan's character] share.
Is she his daughter? Or is she his wife? There is an element of intrigue to my character and to our relation in the film. The chemistry is more relatable because whatever is seen is understood, it's not spoken about much.
How did you bag the role?
Actually Amitji called me for this role. He said, "Rituda is making this film and I want you to do this role." Post that Rituda also called me and he narrated the script. When I read the script, I thought Vandana's role was the finest written roles in the film and said yes immediately.
The Last Lear is a film in English. How different is it working for an English film apart for the obvious linguistic differences?
Honestly it isn't because English is the language we almost think in these days. Besides, I have done films in English like 15 Park Avenue, Monsoon Wedding, Gandhi My Father and now The Last Lear. In fact, I have done more films in English than Hindi. Also, there couldn't have been another language for this film because it's very difficult to translate Shakespeare in any other language. The essence should be retained and I am glad it has been.
You said the film is about this ageing Shakespearean actor. So what references do we get to see of Shakespeare in the film?
See the role that Amitji plays is that of Harry, a Shakespearean actor. His biggest dream in his life is to play King Lear. So yes the Shakespearean element has a very strong pertinence to the film.
What's with the title The Last Lear?
I guess it's about him being the Last Lear even though not actually getting to play that. And his dream and vision and desire is to play that one part which he doesn't play in his life.
This is your first time with Rituparno Ghosh.… How was the experience?
Incredible! The Last Lear has been one of my most creative and rewarding films. The entire process has been extremely enriching. We just met once before the shoot for the narration and the second time we met was to discuss Vandana's character. He gave me his point of view and asked for my inputs. We just spoke about her likes, her dislikes, her passion, her love, her fears and her hatred elements. We just worked on building her career.
Once I went on the sets… he didn't stop me even once. In fact, after shooting for two- three days, I wondered if he was doing fine. Hence, I went and asked him "Rituda you are not saying a word when I do a shoot. I am clueless as to how I am doing!" He said "You are bang on… if you were not in sync I would have told you."
For me The Last Lear is my best performance. I have grown as an actor after doing this film. It's been a turning point in my career as a performer and I hope people feel that way too. The film is extremely dear to me.
The Last Lear also has some talented actors like Arjun Rampal, Preity Zinta and Divya Dutta. How has it been?
Lovely. They are great people to work with and are immensely talented. I think all of us have pushed ourselves as far as this film is concerned. Every performance is a revelation.
The film has been appreciated by people in the festival circuit. Do you think it will find mass appeal?
I personally feel that a film cannot suffice everybody's requirements. Certain films have a certain kind of audience. Whoever understands this kind of cinema is going to appreciate and love it. It's like world cinema. But to expect a rickshaw guy to understand it and enjoy it is a little too far-fetched. It's not a film which you can ignore. People will either love it or they will be critical about it, but it will certain be a topic for discussion in the days to come.
Many people who have seen the film believe it is Bachchan's best till date. Do you feel the same considering his repertoire of films?
Mr Bachchan is brilliant in whatever he does. I don't know if this is his best considering his vast repertoire of amazing performances. I wouldn't want to undermine his other performances considering the fact that everything he has done is so rich, but I can say that you have probably not seen him do a role like this. Watching him perform Shakespeare is another high altogether.
Your husband's film Singh is Kinng is the biggest grosser this year. How do you feel?
I am so excited [laughs]. We are still reeling under it. In fact, just a couple of days back, one of my friends went to watch Singh is Kinng and said that the theatre was 80 per cent full. I guess for a film which is in its fifth week, this is simply amazing.
A lot of people feel you are choosy when it comes to picking up your roles. Is that true?
Yes, I am very choosy. When I get offered a role, what I look at is the fact that it has to be something which really pushes me as an actor to give my best. The kind of work I have done, somehow knowingly or unknowingly, I have always picked special work.
I may not have 50 films to boast of in my career, but the 5 films that I have are probably something which a regular heroine would not have done in her entire career. So, I am enjoying the way my career is going and I love acting a lot. At the end of the day that's what matters I guess, not the number of roles I do. Films like The Last Lear are special and I would rather wait for a while to get a chance to be a part of such special films.
So how long do fans have to wait to you see in action after The Last Lear? What's in store after this?
Well, I would love to do 10 films a year [laughs], but it really depends on what I am offered. I am starting to shoot another film around November-December this year. It's a very sweet, simple love story about a man and a woman who come from two completely different backgrounds and land up spending one day together. It's being directed by Barnali Shukla [a first time director] and is produced by Vipul Amrutlal Shah.
Finally, what is the USP of The Last Lear?
The film has an incredible cast, it's directed by the super-talented Rituparno Ghosh and, lastly, my character of Vandana is one of the finest and most intriguing roles that I have ever done.