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Tillotama Shome on playing the antagonist in Season 2 of Delhi Crime

‘I can’t relate to her killing people, but I can relate to her desire of dreaming and wanting to do your own thing’, says the actress

Priyanka Roy  Published 02.09.22, 03:04 AM

Tillotama Shome throws a curveball playing the ruthless antagonist in Season 2 of Delhi Crime. As Karishma, who brutally hacks her victims but also has dreams like any woman, Tillotama effectively walks what is a very tricky tightrope. With her turn in the Netflix series — that’s frontlined by Shefali Shah as top cop Vartika Chaturvedi — coming in for praise, The Telegraph chatted with Tillotama on Delhi Crime 2 and more.

I would imagine that being a part of Delhi Crime would be impetus enough. Were there any specific reasons to sign on?


Doing an action sequence... all that I felt missing was a cape behind me! (Laughs) This part gave me the opportunity to experience playing a human being who has big dreams but is thwarted again and again. Playing Karishma was not about exploring the mind of a criminal. It was more about deconstructing things... does she not have the right to dream? The idea of humanising a life that has committed a crime, but dignifying it with questions like, ‘Why was the crime committed? Who is responsible?’ As women, especially, we experience rage in our lives. Men and women both do, but women have so much generational expectations. And rage is often an emotion we women feel paralysed by. Karishma’s rage paralyses her rationale.

The greyness between right and wrong is what drew me. The line between the guilty and the innocent is a very thin one, and is drawn by someone with privilege. If you don’t have food and shelter and you are being beaten black and blue... what will you do? I focused on that. I felt that was such a wonderful opportunity to explore.

I have played characters who are morally on the right side of things all the time... but even those characters were ambiguous. And that’s what life is... we are all a mixture of good and bad. For most of us, our education and privilege have sanitised us and ‘allow’ us to be innocent. I am not starving and so I don’t have to steal food. If I am hungry, I steal food and that is definitely a crime, but it is also the failure of the state. In Karishma’s case, it is the hunger to be someone, to make people see that she exists. I can’t judge what Karishma does by my standards... how can I?! When I was going through a rough time in my life, my family was there with me. Karishma doesn’t have that!

As you rightly pointed out, Karishma is the perpetrator, but also the victim in many ways. There is an attempt to humanise her, but one has to admit that the murders she carries out are very, very gory. How did you walk that tightrope?

The question is not whether it’s right or wrong to hurt someone or to take a life. That answer is a clear ‘no’. As I said, the question for me is why she did it. That was the tightrope for me to walk on. The way the murders are committed... the way those elderly people are brutalised... it doesn’t really make you fall in love with the criminal! It’s not making killing sexy. The show doesn’t glorify crime at all. What it talks about is the circle of crime and punishment and how we are all culpable in it.

Tillotama Shome as Karishma in Season 2 of Delhi Crime

Tillotama Shome as Karishma in Season 2 of Delhi Crime

What did you do to get into the psyche of such a complex character?

It was really all there in the script. And the discussions that Tanuj (Chopra, director) had with me. The circumstances of almost every character that I have played may be different, but their desires are universal. As an actor, you have to explore that. And in a script as well-written as this, it’s all there. My preparation was only about reading the script well... it was as simple as that (laughs).

Karishma is a complex character with not too much screen time. She had a past that wasn’t delved into too much, but it was that past that informed her decisions in the present. When she walks into that place for which she has given down payment for her own salon, she’s like a little schoolgirl. She can’t believe that her dream is finally coming true! I can’t relate to her killing people, but I can relate to her desire of dreaming and wanting to do your own thing.

What did you think of Delhi Crime when Season 1 released three years ago?

I watched it the day it came out because it has some of my dearest friends in it. Shefali (Shah) and I worked together way back in Monsoon Wedding (2001). To now see her own her space... to see Rasika (Dugal), Gopal (Datt), Rajesh (Tailang) — actors and friends I am so fond of — do so well.... Season 1 came out at a time when many heinous crimes had happened in our country and there was so much desensitisation to crime because of the frequency at which it happened. That season had a case (the Delhi gangrape of 2012) which kind of broke the nations’ consciousness. This was one of those rare incidents that brought the nation together. We watched the show for that, and also for the actors who gave themselves to the project. It’s such a pleasure to be a small part of this season.

In Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding

In Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding

Women are increasingly at the front and centre of stories and are pushing the narrative, both in front of the camera and behind it. How have you benefited from this change?

I started my career 20 years ago with Monsoon Wedding and after that film producers and directors were like, ‘Oh you played a maid, but you speak English so well!’ (Laughs) They didn’t know what to do with me as an actor because we didn’t have films then that talked about ordinary people and their lives. It was hard to come by work which I could stand by. I would be lucky if I even got to do one project in a year. Usually, it was one film in two-three years. And even then, it wasn’t easy for the film to get made, released or watched. After sometime, I realised that I just had to keep at my craft and hopefully, one day my craft would seduce the powers that be.

And now we have different narratives and languages and multiplicity of stories from different parts of India. That has opened up so many opportunities for me. I have worked more in the last two years than I have in the 18 years before that! (Laughs) This is all very new for me.... I remember Shefali and I talking between takes and saying,’ Hum kahaan pahunch gaye itne saalon baad?’ (Smiles) It’s a glorious time and it’s just the beginning. Now when there is a lot to eat, the idea is to pick and see what’s healthy for you. Pehle khana nahin milta tha. Ab bahut zyada mil raha hain toh eat healthy... otherwise you will get diarrhoea! (Laughs)

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