(L to R) Shefali Shah; Farhan Akhtar and Tahira Kashyap
“At the height of the pandemic when there was so much paranoia and we were all cooking and cleaning for everyone, I just wanted to be heard. I didn’t want solutions. I just wanted someone to listen to me,” says Shefali Shah, actor-turned-director of two short films, Someday and Happy Birthday Mummyji, set during the pandemic and starring herself. Shah, known for her iconic roles in Monsoon Wedding (2001), Dil Dhadakne Do (2015) and Netflix’s Delhi Crime (2019) says both films are her story, but they are also universal tales that everyone can relate to. Indeed, as in Someday, we have seen health workers struggle with their own traumas while handling the lives of others, and as in Happy Birthday Mummyji, we all know/or are those superwomen who want to do it all and please all. “I am known as Annapurna among my friends,” says Shefali, “because I love to feed them.” But even the most hospitable of women require me-time and Happy Birthday Mummyji is all about that. Shefali is vocal about the need for therapy when one is not feeling mentally well. There were days during the pandemic-sparked lockdown when she would just break down and lie down because she was so tired. She just wanted to talk to her therapist, to her best friends. “I love my husband and he loves me, but I was looking in the wrong direction. I was looking to be heard and he was looking to solve things for me,” she says. Shefali will soon be on our screens again, in a series of roles worthy of her talent. She is a “character you’ve never seen before” in Human, her husband Vipul Shah’s medical thriller for Disney+ Hotstar; she reprises her role of Vartika Chaturvedi in Delhi Crime Season 2; and she will be with Alia Bhatt in the black comedy Darlings. And there’s much more to come. Good things come to talented people who wait.
The Boxer As a Metaphor
Since his debut as a director in 2001 with Dil Chahta Hai, Farhan Akhtar has defined what it is to be a 21st century man in India. As an actor in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011) and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), he has reinvented the bromance and the sporting biopic. Now, with his latest release Toofaan, he has rebuilt his physique with rigorous training for 18 months, to play a boxer who loses it all only to try to win his respect back. Off-screen, though, Farhan is as disciplined with his workout, training five days a week. He’s an early sleeper and is up by six. His party days are long since over, and he’s realised now the older one gets, one has to take care of oneself, stay fit mentally and physically. And how does he deal with the negativity that comes with him speaking out on issues that he feels strongly about? Well, haters are going to hate, he says. “You just have to surround yourself with the right people and keep yourself sane.” He does that, which may explain his prodigious output as actor, director and producer. “We are so wounded right now, so fragmented and pulled apart at the seams that the only way out is love and understanding,” he says. Which is why, at the end of Toofaan (spoiler alert), when his character finally wins his match, he starts weeping. “Originally, I was supposed to be jubilant but when I saw Paresh Rawal’s character and saw his acceptance finally of my character, despite the difference in faiths, I just cried.” Sometimes, the best moments are the most un-orchestrated.
Tahira Takes Control
Tahira Kashyap’s short in Netflix’s anthology Feels Like Ishq is unusual as it enables the boy to come to the realisation that he is stalking the girl without any intervention. Usually, Hindi film heroes are tone deaf to the idea of stalking itself and think it is a cute way of expressing love. But even if they don’t, the realisation is usually brought to them by an external force. In the “Quarenteen Crush” episode of Feels Like Ishq, the young Sikh boy realises his interest in the neighbour, a young woman who is quarantined in the house opposite, is unhealthy. He apologises to her and promises to improve his English before presenting himself again to her. And he isn’t doing it from a place of being woke or cool. Shot over three days in her hometown of Chandigarh, it has a lovely song running through it, courtesy her talented husband Ayushmann Khurrana, but that is the only hat tip to him. As it should be for a young woman who has been open about her struggles with fame, happiness, motherhood and work.
Did You Know?
Arya, the actor who plays a boxer in Pa. Ranjith’s Sarpatta Parambarai, underwent a 45-day workshop, along with the rest of the cast, training in north Chennai diction, boxing and body language. The result—a marvellous piece of living history from the Emergency era, the film covers politics, sport, identity and individuality.