MUMBAI — Famous on television for serials like “Hasratein” and “Banegi Apni Baat” over a decade ago and in films mainly for her strong performances in “Rangeela,” “Satya,” “Waqt - The Race Against Time” and “Gandhi My Father,” Shefali Shah is now set to play Priyanka Chopra and Ranveer Singh’s mom and Anil Kapoor’s wife in “Dil Dhadakne Do.”
When we meet at Mehboob Studios, she comes dressed in a funky dress and hairdo, looking like a smart “today” woman. Right from the start, she nixes a question regarding apprehensions about playing a mother here. After playing Akshay Kumar’s mother in “Waqt” (as Amitabh Bachchan’s wife) and then doing the lead role in “Kuch Luv Jaisa,” why should she be afraid? Judging from her roles and performances, Shah cannot be stereotyped.
“In fact, it was Zoya (director Akhtar) who was not sure if I would do the film for this reason,” says Shah.
“I read the script, and it was one of my best roles in a long time. When she finally asked me if I would do it, I just told her, ‘Are you serious? How can I refuse this one?’”
The making of this film was an experience she loved completely.
“Ranveer Singh is totally mad, you know. He is such a hardworking boy, and his heart is in the right place. Priyanka Chopra is fun and a focused trooper. Farhan Akhtar has a fab sense of humor, and Anushka Sharma’s a very put-together girl. As for Anil, this is my third film with him, including his production “Gandhi My Father,” and he’s a lovely guy. In fact, in this film, I would say that he’s the hero, while I am the villain!”
The film takes a look at the dysfunctional Mehra family, of which Shah quips, “Our dog Pluto is the most important character in the film!” Getting a tad serious, Shah goes on, “It’s a myth that marriages are like fairytales — none are. Marriage is about compromise, and it’s no cakewalk. We see couples who seem to be rock-solid and with whom all seems fine, but what happens with them behind closed doors is anyone’s guess.”
Is that the case also in real life? Married to filmmaker Vipul Amrutal Shah with two sons, she says, “Well, we do have lots of arguments and our fair share of disagreements. Every weekend, when we go out for a meal, for example, all four of us want to eat at different places!”
She also nixes the view that great “mother” characters are being written now.
“I think there were some incredible roles written in the past. Women are and were, however, shown mostly in a stereotypical fashion like submissive to the point of being regressive without a life of their own or as single mothers. One such rare case was in “Vicky Donor,” in which Ayushmann’s mother, as well as her mother-in-law were awesome.”
Shah has no complexes about her part in this film. “The question one must ask those who call onscreen mothers supporting artistes must be, ‘Is your mother really a supporting actor in your life?’ Why should mothers in films be X, Y or Z’s mothers, instead of the children being called A, B or C’s children?”
Calling Zoya Akhtar a director with a vision, she says, “I do not think that such filmmakers think of me as a character artiste either. A sensible director always thinks of what the actor they want to sign will bring to the table in any role. That I have to be the character and give my 1000 percent to the role is non-negotiable, but the best thing about Zoya is the space she gives all her actors. In this film, there are 25 to 30 featured characters, and all have their space. Zoya would ask me, ‘How do you perceive that?’ after explaining each scene and would leave me to do what I thought was right. To let 30 people have their space in a film that you have written and are directing, you really must know what you are doing.”
Always choosy since her television days, Shah has lots of free time and occupies it fruitfully, writing, painting, cooking, spending time with her friends and kids, watching films and more. So in a way, the most difficult part of doing this film was the two-month-long cruise away from her family, because “most of the time, there were network issues, and we could not even be able to connect on the phone.”
Shah adds, “But on one level, it was therapeutic too, because I did not have an option and was forced to step back and reflect on life and change my perspective. When you are alone in your room like at bedtime or when you wake up in the morning and can only see the sea around you, you have little choice!”
Signing off, Shah feels that “DDD” will be an ideal family entertainer that can be watched with the entire family. “That’s the way I grew up: watching films at Gaiety Galaxy with my family while munching on samosas!” she smiles.