#ELLEVoices: Shefali Shah On How She Is #ImaginingTheWorldToBe

With Netflix’s Delhi Crime winning an Emmy award, actor Shefali Shah had quite the year. 2020 has been one of the busiest, as she directed two short films, and is acting in three other projects. She talks to us about her year, and the excitement to narrate new stories.

Shefali shah
Photograph: Manasi Sawant

ELLE: How has the pandemic impacted you? What have been your introspections, self-revelations and discoveries?

Shefali Shah: The pandemic has forced us to live in isolation, distant from human contact, our emotions hidden under a mask. This distance is what has been deeply impactful. I finally got down to doing what I have dreamt of for a very long time—directing. Expressing in words has always been my tool, but during this solo journey, I fulfilled my dream to put out my vision to the world and created stories. It’s been a learning process of mammoth proportions. These films were created during isolation, and are representing the same period.

ELLE: What has the crisis shown us as a community?

SS: The need and want for human contact. A world minus the masks, a much-wanted touch that’s not sanitised nor sterilised, and a tight hug. It’s taught us the value of togetherness.

ELLE: In the coming years, what do you see as challenges in your field?

SS: This field is about exposing ourselves to others— their lives, stories, vision and expression. To have it confined to a virtual world is very difficult. But we are adapting while keeping it as honest, real and organic, despite the distance. We must put safety above everything; isolation of entire units in one place during a project, where no one is allowed to go back to their own surroundings.

ELLE: How do you see the OTT platforms evolving to accommodate the new demands of the audience’s changing mindsets?

SS: Explore, experiment, experience and express all the stories that haven’t been told.

ELLE: How do you prepare yourself before, during and after mentally exhausting roles such as your most recent and acclaimed one, as DCP Vartika Chaturvedi in Netflix’s Delhi Crime?

SS: I don’t know any other way but to free-fall into a project. I choose to be consumed and drained to contain and create a character. I choose to vanish completely as a person so that only the character prevails. The loss of Shefali is a win for the character.

ELLE: What does ‘thoughtful fashion‘ mean to you? Are Indian designers and consumers ready to make the shift towards conscious consumption?

SS: Why would one need a pandemic to realise a simple logic is beyond me! For the longest time, I wore a white or black shirt with jeans, or white or black Lucknowi kurti and jeans for any professional event. This has been thoughtful and sustainable fashion for me for years, and it’s never failed me. I recycle, re-wear without any apology and share the heavy saris and dresses with my friends. An outfit isn’t a palm leaf that needs to be discarded! It’s something you use and re-use and re-use and then cut up to make pyjamas. Designers will create, it’s their job, their passion and their art. And consumers will buy what they want. And frankly, to each his own.

ELLE: How are you #ImaginingTheWorldToBe post COVID-19?

SS: Each day is a new day; today is what we have. This is a cumulative effort; it’s teamwork, and anyone out of sync will only disrupt the balance. New norms, new rules, a new way of life, and a new normal is what we are forced with; made easier with the hope that each day is a healthier one.

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