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Shefali Shah speaks about the relevance of awards validation in an actor's life

‘I want to play parts which make a huge difference to the script. Don’t use me as a filler. Don’t do it!’

Priyanka Roy  Published 04.10.23, 01:00 PM
Shefali Shah 

Shefali Shah 

It’s good times for Shefali Shah who has landed an International Emmy nomination (for Delhi Crime) and an Asian Academy Creative Awards nod (for Darlings) in the same week. Shefali, whose career has rightfully been on an upward swing, spoke to t2 about how awards act as a validation for her and how doing Delhi Crime upped her game as an actor.

What were your first thoughts when you heard about the International Emmy nomination?


I couldn’t believe it! I started screaming! I was screaming on the phone with a dear friend of mine who works with Netflix. She called me to tell me (about the nomination). My first reaction was: ‘Are you serious? Is it real? Are you serious?!’ (Laughs) She was like: ‘Why are you doubting it? Why are you not believing it?!’ I don’t think it’s completely sunk in yet.

And right after that has been the announcement of your nomination for Darlings at the Asian Academy Creative Awards....

Two years ago, I won Best Actress at the Asian Academy Awards for Delhi Crime. It’s a whole slew of nominations that are coming in. I am very happy!

What do awards really mean to you? Do you look at them as validation for your work?

Yes, I do. I am very critical about my work and I never ever feel that I have done a good job. So when I get an award, I think: ‘Okay, I must have done something right.’

Do you remember what your reaction was when Season One of Delhi Crime won an International Emmy a few years ago?

Oh my God! They were live-streaming it and I was watching it. I was jumping and screaming my lungs out. What I miss the most was all of us (the team of Delhi Crime) not being together there, watching this happen. They didn’t have the International Emmy Awards in person that year because of the pandemic. We should have been together when they announced that. I went crazy! (Laughs)

Delhi Crime undoubtedly set the ball rolling for your career 2.0. How do you think the international recognition it received, and still does, benefits the Indian creative space?

This is a show that competes with the best from around the world. And that’s in every aspect, whether we are talking about cinematography or sound or music or performances, the direction, of course, all of it. Why else would it win the International Emmy? That’s a huge, huge thing. To be nominated itself is huge across the globe... just picking up a handful of people who they think are the best, and then going on to win is even bigger.

When you win an international award like that, you also know the reach of your show. Somebody sitting in some corner of the world has watched what we have created here. Sitting here I can watch a Caliphate, a Narcos or a Roma. I think that inclusivity in art is finally happening. I think talent from here deserves to be everywhere and I see it happening.

With most of the work that you do now present on streaming platforms for posterity, did you still get messages and calls from all over the world for your previous work, say, Delhi Crime?

Absolutely! There were a lot of people who did not watch Delhi Crime Season 1 because they did not want to relive the trauma of that case (the 2012 Delhi gang rape case). But when Season 2 was released, we found it trending (on social media) and we found Season 1 also trending because people, after watching DC 2, wanted to go back and watch DC 1. And also not just that they can watch it at any point in time, they can rewatch it. It’s for posterity and anyone, anywhere can watch it.

Recently, something really funny happened. This friend of mine was in Toronto. And I had told her to pick up some make-up from one of the brands there. So she went there and met the lady at the counter who was not an Indian. They started chatting and she said she wanted the make-up for one of her best friends, meaning me, who does series and films. The woman wanted to know who and when my friend said ‘Shefali Shah’, that woman was like: ‘Vartika?!’ (Shefali’s character in Delhi Crime). And then she said: ‘Can I please see her right now?’ And in the middle of the night, my friend called me. I was lying in bed with my triple chins (laughs) and my friend was like: ‘She just wanted to say hi to you.’ I couldn’t believe it!

Once we were in Vietnam and we were going into all these small villages. We stopped somewhere to have coffee. And the locals there screamed and said: ‘Delhi Crime!’ I was shocked, I was shocked. It’s really, really something.

So along with the awards and nominations, this is also a big validation, right?

Absolutely, absolutely! The love and respect I have got for it is tremendous. And it comes from the audience.

You have always been acknowledged as one of the finest actors we have. But would you say there has been a tangible difference in you as an actor after Delhi Crime?

Delhi Crime not only changed my placement in the profession, but it was also a big learning curve. I changed how I worked completely with Delhi Crime. Now when I look back, I wonder how was I even working before this.

I definitely do see a growth. You obviously read a script and you try to embody that character. But with Delhi Crime, what happened is because it was a story of five days and every minute was accounted for on screen, I had to know the script like the back of my hand. Like, even if I was not on screen, I needed to know what had happened before. How many hours ago did she have a cup of coffee? Because her energy levels would have been different. When did she have a dip? And when did she lose a clue? Because then it would have given her a dip. How many nights has she not slept? The minutest of details.

I used to read biographies of actors which said they read a script 100-200 times. Now, I shred every word and sentence of every script I get and I like. I have a thousand questions. My mind doesn’t stop working. I have lots of discussions with the directors. And then once the director says ‘action’, I forget everything! I don’t know what I do!

There has been a flood of shows and films after Delhi Crime. How are you looking at taking your career ahead in the next few years?

I am a very greedy actor, I want to do everything. As far as my career is concerned, I never really planned it, but I have depended on my gut and instincts in a big way. And it has worked for me always. Right now, I actually say ‘no’ more than I say ‘yes’.

Which is an excellent place to be in, right?

Yes. And I have the privilege of being in that place. Not everyone has that privilege. So I only do the stuff that I love and I am going to follow that.

But yes, I don’t want to play inconsequential characters. I don’t want to do it anymore. I want to play leads, fabulous leads, the primary cast. I want to play parts which make a huge difference to the script. Don’t use me as a filler. Don’t do it! I really won’t be able to do it. As far as genres are concerned, I want to do everything.

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