After winning accolades for her performance in Delhi Crime, the talented Shefali Shah is set to star in Disney+ Hotstar's Human. The medical thriller deals with the malpractices involved in the business of medicine and the dark world of human trials. Ahead of the show's release on January 14, the actor talks about her role, the stereotypes attached to her for being a passionate performer and the satisfaction that comes with finally getting her due.
Sneha Menon Desai (SMD): How would you describe yourself as a human? Give me one good and one not-so-good trait.
Shefali Shah (SS): I think there is one trait that works either ways, which is my pro and my con, which is my strength and my weakness: excessive passion and excessive emotion.
SMD: How's that a con?
SS: Because I give in way too much, way more than anyone can match up and I probably do not get enough on return. I'm a passionate person so so the way I talk [often gets misinterpreted]. People are like, 'Please calm down. Why are you getting hyper?' And I tell them, 'I'm not hyper, this is just the way I talk.'
SMD: When you come to be known as such an immersive actor, what are the stereotypes that get associated with you? Do people assume you can't possibly run around trees?
SS: I don't want to run around trees. I realized that there is a persona that I carry, I have seen that on multiple sets that I have gone to. The first impression the ADs, directors, etc. have about me is that I'm very serious and don't like talking to people. This illusion, however, lasts only 15 minutes because after that, they know who I am and realize that I can be a goofball.
SMD: Let's bust three myths about being Shefali Shah. What would you say?
SS: Firstly, I'm not only serious. Secondly, I'm not an an incredibly confident and self-assured woman. I question myself all the time.
Finally, this might sound completely unreal, but it's a fact that I do not know how to act. I just know how to feel and become. I don't have a pattern or a craft. Sometimes, I wonder what would happen if I don't feel the role instinctively and become that person? I wouldn't have anything to fall back on.
SMD: I want to ask you about the rules of engagement when working with one's spouse. You're co-directed by your husband on this one. Do you guys have a little safe book that makes it work?
SS: Maybe I should have had it. But you probably need to be a little more aware. Like I said, I'm extremely passionate in the way I speak and express. So, when I'm having an honest conversation with any other director, it might be perceived as a back-and-forth healthy conversation without any emotions involved between an actor and a director. But when it happens with my husband, or if he says something to me, it will always be perceived as, 'Oh, he spoke like this to his wife; she spoke like this to her husband.' So, there's a protocol that you have to maintain.
SMD: You're playing a doctor on Human, and I know that this is a profession that is very easy to come across as fake. Knowing that you never take a role lightly, what were some of the stereotypes that you were sure right from the start that you would not resort to when it came to being a doctor on screen?
SS: Honestly, my character, Gauri Nath is a doctor but she is another person in entirety. Being a doctor is a part of her. The show is about the underbelly of the medical world. It is about human drug trials, but Gauri Nath is an entire person. Also, every doctor varies from each other because of who they are as people. So there is no rule book and no blueprint to follow. You talk about stereotypes but Gauri, as a character itself, manages to surprise you at every step. She is a Pandora's box, she is indecipherable, unpredictable, and she used to surprise me.
SMD: You are having such a glorious run today. What is your mind space like? The happiness is for everyone to see but what is it really like to finally get your due?
SS: You know, when you just have a sigh? It's not a sigh of relief, it's just like, 'Wow! Really? Finally! Thank God.' Honestly, the amount of work I've done in 2021, I haven't done in my entire career put together. It's the kind of work I wanted, where there are women-oriented subjects. I'm at that point of time where people write their scripts for me. I'm playing leads or parallel leads, and I am loving it. I've done six projects this year.
SMD: But in retrospect, is it safe to say that this is all the fruit of one show really touching heights?
SS: I agree, it is Delhi Crime. The fact that Rishi Mehta and Mukesh Chhabra [casting director] took a chance and cast me is a big deal. And of course, the show, by itself, is one of the best shows that have ever come out of India, and is one of the best shows internationally. Suddenly, people saw that and said, 'Oh she can carry a project on her shoulders and can be the center of it.' All this while, people used to say, 'Wow, she's very good. She's one of the best we have; a terrific actor.' But it never translated into work. Delhi Crime changed that for me.
SMD: Can you give me three recommendations that people should just stay home and sit and watch, because that's the safest thing to do?
SS: I can give you many. One is Money Heist. Then, Fargo. It's an old show, which I visited recently. Koda, the film, Being The Ricardos, Don't Look Up and Human.