'I can be very critical with Vipul' Vipul Shah and Shefali Shah have gone back to their first love - theatre. Vipul is producing the Hindi version of the landmark Marahi play, Dhyanimani, which will have Shefali in the lead. Sandhya Iyer speaks to the husband-wife duo about what makes the stage so special. Meanwhile, Shefali also speaks about her film career and why she's taking it easy.
Vipul Shah, who is a well-know producer-director in his own right, and Shefali Shah, who is probably one of the most underutilised actress of her generation, are coming together with their new play, the Hindi version of the landmark Marathi play, Dhyanimani. The husband and wife jodi started their careers from theatre, and then went on to find success in both television and films. This play marks their comeback to theatre after almost 10 years.
Most of Vipul Shah's early work was for the stage. And he's happy to be producing this play, which will have Shefali in the lead. "I know 14 years is a long time to be away from something like theatre. But I was always connected to it emotionally. And also in these 14 years I did not get an opportunity or time to do something in this field. But I am glad that I am going to be associated with theatre again. Dhyanimani is one of the most critically acclaimed plays from Marathi theatre. Also Shefali wanted to get back to theatre and I am glad that it is this play that marks both our comebacks to what we love,” says Shah.
Shefali, who was last seen in Karthik Calling Karthik and The Last Lear, is excited to be back on the stage, and believes the play will offer her one of the finest roles of her career. The play - to be directed by Chandrakant Kulkarni - will be ready by August, following which it will travel to different cities in India and abroad. Shefali says theatre gives her a different kind of high altogether, because it challenges her on every level. "It affords you none of the luxuries that you have when you do a film. You don't have retakes, no close-ups or silences. You have to hold the play together yourself and ensure that you don't lose the audiences' interest for a second. It pushes you to your limits. I find the whole process of rehersals very enriching," she says. "In theatre, you are banking on your voice --- there is no other option, so it tends to become verbose. When I do films, there are so many ways of expression - close-ups etc - that I tell my directors, 'don't me a single line to say' . Doing a play is very different from doing a film, " says the actress, who came into the limelight with her power-packed role in Satya.
Shefali has mostly played parts that have portrayed her as a strong, opiniated woman. One gets the idea that perhaps her real life persona shadows her characters. But the actress believes she always puts her characters before herself.
"I am a strong woman in a real life too - that is true - but I don't think I consciously model my characters on my own strengths and weaknesses. I have always believed that the play or the movie are above me. Lot of actors have this attitude that 'yeh mera scene hai, main phod doonga' - even if they are in the background, they will keep doing something to get noticed. They do not have the grace to give the other actors their space. I have always believed that any creative venture is a joint effort. I am willing to dissapear into the set, if need be. That was the beauty of Monsoon Wedding. Till the last bit, you didn't even know my character existed. Each actor was a supporting character and each one had their moment. I have got over the insecurity of proving that I am the best. I don't feel the need to outshine anyone. I want to be true to my role," says the actress, who will soon be appearing in a film with Rahul Bose, called Kuch Love Jaisa.
The play, yet untitled, is tipped to be a grand affair. "Like other plays, I don't see myself doing 10-12 shows of it every month. It won't be possible, given its scale. But it will travel a lot, and Vipul is putting all his expertise and resources to make sure it turns out great," she says.
Meanwhile, Shefali is excited about her next film, Kuch Love Jaisa opposite Rahul Bose, which first-timer Barnalee Shukla is directing and Vipul is producing. The actress is extremely gung-ho about the film. “"The character is my age. I have mostly played older characters. Here, she dresses and looks exactly the way I do in real life. She is goofy and funny. I am very eagerly looking foward to the film," she says.
However, Shefali denies that her husband is producing the film, only to showcase her talent. "Actually, Vipul was nowhere in the picture when I got the offer for this film. Barnalee came to me with the script, which I loved. She was looking for other producers at that point. I discussed this script with Vipul and he asked me 'who is the producer?' When I said, it's not decided, he asked me if he could make the film, if all the terms could be worked out. From some time, he too has been wanting to diversify his company and make cinema such as this. That's how it happened," she says.
Vipul Shah has been mostly associated with complete masala fares and pot-boilers, while she has consistently done more subtle and niche films like Gandhi My Father, The Last Lear and on. Does that mean their sensibilities are quite different from each others? "It's true I've done more off-the-road cinema and he's done masala films. But that doesn't undermine his work," she says firmly. "Vipul's films are a creative expression of his, but it involves such tremendous hard-work from everyone, that at the end of the day, the film has to work' He does not make indulgent cinema. If a director wants to do that, he must make home videos," she says, adding, "Out of the films he's made, I loved Namaste London, Aakhen. And London Dreams, even if it did not work at the box-office, I saw a definite growth in Vipul as a maker. He is a great combination of commerce and creativity."
Shefali says she gets involved in her husband's work and vice versa. "When he writes a script or comes across one, he gives it to me to read. Also, I am the first person who gets to hear the music for his films. And gets quite nervous, because he knows I can be extremely critical. He knows I'll rip it apart. But finally, it is his interpretation and he has to take a call on what he wants to make and how. On my part, whenever I get a film, I run it by him," she says.
The actress - being a successful producer-director's wife- has the luxury to refuse work, but she says she wouldn't have accepted sub-standard work anyway. "That's how I am. I give my 100 per cent to anything I accept," she says.
While Shefali has done quality work, she admits that the roles she would like to do don't come to her often. "Why would a director take me when he has the option to cast mainstream actresses, who are all dying to do parallel cinema? Look, at Chameli and Raajneeti. These were roles done by leading heroines. They are saleable, so I don't blame the makers. I do realise that I don't do enough work, but I have also come to terms with the fact that the kind of work I choose to do doesn't happen every day. so in the end I might not have 25-50 films to my credit, but I will have a few landmark films that will be remembered. I had a seven minute part in Satya, but it was worth doing every bit of it. I have done just five films, but all of them have been solid, credible work I really prefer to wait it out for that one good film, than take up work I don't want to do. I'm not prepared to leave my house and kids and my space for doing stuff I am not interested in," she says.