Role less taken

Published on 6 June, 2015 in BLink – The Hindu Business Line

Actor Shilpa Shukla chose to pave her way into film industry with less-known, but critically acclaimed productions

Domestic distress: Shilpa Shukla plays the troubled homemaker in the black-comedy
Domestic distress: Shilpa Shukla plays the troubled homemaker in the black-comedy

Actor Shilpa Shukla’s choice of films has been unusual. When others preferred to play safe by debuting with a famous director or a superstar co-actor, Shukla chose to pave her way into the industry with the less-known, albeit critically acclaimed Khamosh Pani in 2003. She played the love interest of a teenage boy in Pakistan at a time of Islamisation under Zia-ul-Haq and a swirling political crisis harking back to the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan. The film won several international awards, including three major awards at the 56th Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland.

Back home in India, however, the film floundered at the box-office against the more popular Veer Zaara with its star cast. Luckily though, an able section of B-town was quick to notice Shukla’s flair for acting. She is now best remembered for her role in the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Chak De India as the stubborn Bindiya Naik. She followed that up with BA Pass, a neo noir which, like Khamosh Pani, didn’t make a mark at the box-office but proved a game-changer for her; the film bagged the Audience Choice Award at the South Asian Alternative Film Festival (SAAFF) in France and the Best Film in Indian Competition at the 12th Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival.

Shukla now returns to theatre after a gap of 12 years with A Woman Alone, a black-comedy originally written by Italian political activists and theatre-makers Dario Fo and Franca Rame. Produced by the Renaisstance Theatre Society and directed by Mohit Tripathi, the play is essentially a monologue by a housewife about her many woes — she is held a prisoner at home by her husband, driven to madness by his abuses and so-called possessive love, and tired of the household chores and her brother’s perverted gaze. Just when things are about to get worse, a young boy enters the scene. Sparks fly and a love affair begins. The play is also scheduled to travel to the Jaipur Theatre Festival in October.

Over email, Shukla shares her experiences from the world of theatre and films, and the choices she made purely on instinct. Edited excerpts.

What made you return to stage after so long?

I was performing  Girish Karnad’s Yayati when I fell on the stage thrice during a dance performance. That was 12 years ago. That day I did not go for the curtain call. The play was staged in Chandigarh and I remember Dolly Ahluwalia was in the audience. I guess I was fighting that fear for so long. Today, I can laugh about the incident. That is what life is about. Falling and getting up till the time the ups and downs do not define who you are.

Later in life, I participated in the dance show Jhalak Dikhla Jaa and was the top scorer; I also made it to the top five. I love a live audience; they have no idea what they give me when they look into my eyes.

Did you deliberately choose to work in films that aren’t run-of-the-mill?

I have to love the work I do. All the films I’ve done have been conscious choices, which I’m extremely happy with. This year, for example, I attempted the comic genre with Crazy Ccukkad Family, a film by Prakash Jha Productions, which unfortunately bombed at the box-office. But I love that film and hope the audience soon gets to watch it on television. I feel the movies choose me, so maybe it’s not a deliberate choice after all; it’s destined.

What is your take on A Woman Alone with respect to the present-day situation of women?

That is exactly my point for performing it! A Woman Alone initiates a superb dialogue that we need to hold. It’s a mirror and every one of us can see ourselves in it at some point of our lives. We are interdependent beings. If we do not feel or think for another, our purpose in life is defeated. Tolerance is a strong message sent across this tale of noir times. The transition of India is multilayered, and at its foundation is the theory of karma. At the same time, we need to ask ourselves how open-minded we truly were, as reflected in our heritage.

Films or plays — which do you enjoy more?

It’s really a matter of the state of mind. Nothing changes for me except in the ways of expression, at times through body and other times through voice modulation and projection. I enjoy both equally. On stage, you have the power to make the audience feel any emotion in one single shot, so I guess it’s more challenging. You aspire for the same thing in films too, but the process is a little different. But both forms are close to my heart. While the stage gives you liberty, movies give you popularity. Both have helped me become a better performer.

Which are the new plays you’re currently working on?

I wish to do many shows of A Woman Alone, as the play needs to grow and reach out to a wider audience. We’re experimenting with costumes, adding layers to the script to make the performance more evocative. As for other plays, I have a fun role in Main Bhi Bachchan, which is an epic take on a Bollywood masala on stage. It’s a laugh riot.

What’s next in your film career?

I have signed Sujoy Ghosh’s dream film, which he conceived much before Kahaani. I am doing a very interesting role in an Indo-British film called Bombairiya, which we are shooting for at the moment. I have also just finished shooting for a very special role in a film with Rishi Kapoor — it’s a political black-comedy.


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