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Six must-watch performances of Shefali Shah

With season 2 of Delhi Crime now streaming and Darlings proving to be a winner, The Telegraph spotlights some of her best

Santanu Das (t2 Intern) Published 29.08.22, 12:48 AM

Human, Jalsa, Darlings and now Delhi Crime Season 2. It’s been a huge year so far for Shefali Shah. t2 looks at some of the actor’s performances over the years that show that she has always been in top form, regardless of her time on screen

1. Monsoon Wedding


Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding has a rich ensemble of actors and traces the dynamics between the members of a Punjabi family coming together for an arranged marriage. Even with the likes of Naseeruddin Shah and Rajat Kapoor in the credits, Shefali leaves a mark as Ria, the confident cousin of the bride who chooses to be unmarried. We slowly get to know her through the course of the film, when it is revealed how she was sexually abused by a respectable family member who is now present, and is repeating the same thing with a child in the house. As Ria confronts him in front of everyone, Shefali owns the rage and reveals the internal struggles of her character with quiet magnitude.


Satya belonged mostly to the men — the ones who were constantly on the run. Bhiku Matre (played by Manoj Bajpayee) is the name that comes to mind immediately. Shefali played Pyaari, Bhiku’s wife, who we meet quite late into the Ram Gopal Varma film. She is mostly seen under the shadow of her husband, yet she is the only one Bhiku listens to. As Pyaari, Shefali lends an understated energy to Satya, away from all the rage and violence.


Shefali stood out as the aggrieved wife Neelam Mehra in this Zoya Akhtar film that boasted names like Anil Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Ranveer Singh, Anushka Sharma and Farhan Akhtar in the cast. Neelam isn’t always sane, even as she pretends to keep it all smooth during the cruise her family and friends go on. She is unable to grasp the suffocation of her daughter’s marriage. This is because she has barely found footing in her own, perennially scared that her husband will leave her. Shefali owns the smallest of scenes, and runs away with the film’s most rounded performance. The scene where Neelam binges on cake, on the verge of tears, spoke of a lifetime of hurt.


Rituparno Ghosh’s The Last Lear is a strange beast of a film, at the centre of which stands Amitabh Bachchan, who plays Harish Mehra, a retired Shakespearean theatre actor. Shefali plays Vandana, the woman of the house and also his caretaker. Hurting and hurt, Shefali lends an aching fragility to Vandana as we slowly come to know more about this woman and why she has spent so much of her life with such a narcissistic individual. Her desperate attempts to form an understanding with Shabnam (Preity Zinta) forms the beating heart of the film. For her performance in this film, Shefali won the National Award for Best Supporting Actress.


In Suresh Triveni’s Jalsa, Shefali essays the role of Rukhsana, a domestic help whose teenaged daughter is greviously injured during an accident. Also starring a stellar Vidya Balan, Jalsa handles the conflicted dynamics of class and motherhood with immense restraint. Shefali vanishes under the skin of a character who will never compromise when it comes to her family, and will get to the truth no matter what. Remember the scene where she goes into the repair shed looking for the man who drove her daughter and slaps him? In the hands of a lesser actor this could have turned loud, but Shefali injects so much pain and heartbreak into the moment that it turns unforgettable.


In this powerful 14-minute short directed by Masaan man Neeraj Ghaywan, Shefali burns up the screen. Her character spends most of the time occupied in the kitchen. Even as an exasperated Manju (played by Shefali) cooks, she is bluntly aware of the casual misogyny and familiar patriarchy within her household. The tension builds on to a climactic outburst, devoid of dramatic monologue. Manju steps out of the kitchen, picks up a chair and sits in the main room, facing the men. She pours herself a glass of juice. As she stares directly at them, Shefali’s eyes bare a lifetime of frustration. She is all sorts of stunning in a performance that reveals itself through deafening silences.

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