After playing the mercurial mom in Darlings, Shefali Shah has put aside her carving knives and dupatta to step back into a Delhi Police khaki uniform. Following the resounding success of Delhi Crime’s first season, which won an International Emmy Award (Best Drama Series), the second season will be streamed on Netflix on August 26. Shah is back as DCP Vartika Chaturvedi alongside Rasika Dugal, Rajesh Tailang and Adil Hussain, among others. The focus of the new season, created by Richie Mehta and directed by Tanuj Chopra, is a series of murders in Delhi.
Shefali Shah has recently been in a host of well-regarded performances, including in Human, Jalsa and Darlings. She spoke to Scroll.in about evolving roles and new opportunities.
The second season of Delhi Crime is based on the true crime story of the kachcha-baniyan gangs. Is this season entirely based on fact or has it been fictionalised?
Yes, it is based on the kachcha-baniyan gang, but it is a fictionalised version.
Did it get easier to play Vartika Chaturvedi in season two?
Not really, because the internal conflict for the characters is much more this time. In season one, there was no conflict. It was very clear that they were the bad guys and she had to get them. Her anger, pain and frustration were focussed in one direction. Her moral compass was steady.
In season two, she is left asking herself a lot of questions. Is what she is doing good enough or right enough? The evidence points in a certain direction, but she is wondering if she is too quick to label. She’s also working with someone she is not happy with. She’s tolerating him even though she disagrees with his method.
And then there is her instinct and mind saying maybe there is something more to this case. After a lot of internal conflict, she finally comes out and says, I am going to take this stand even if it is at a cost to myself, and in the end she doesn’t come out a winner. How do you change what needs to be solved from the root cause? All she can do is stop a crime and catch criminals.
Were there things about Vartika that you wanted to work on more this time?
I didn’t expect Vartika to become as iconic as she did. I was not only wondering how to do this again, but also how I could top it.
We were very emotionally invested in season one. In this season, when she goes to the crime scene, it’s not that she isn’t affected, but she is also looking at it as an outsider, with objectivity. She understands that this is a job and she has to do damage control. I see her as more layered and, if anything, this is a tougher one to pull off.
The first crime was easier because the audience was feeling what I was feeling. This time, it’s not a crime that affects us as much as the first one did. Secondly, she is a little more removed from it. It’s a more delicate place to tread.
In the first season she became a hero, in the second one she becomes human. There is a multiple murder, but for her it’s a job. Will they love Vartika? I hope so. They loved her before because she got justice. She felt what everyone felt and stood up for what everyone asked. This time she is a bit more detached because she does this every day.
Ruksana (Jalsa), Vartika, Gauri (Human) and Shamshu (Darlings) are all mothers. What is the similarity or difference between them?
What is common among them is that they are all fiercely protective of their children and their kids are their weakness. What is different is that Gauri, for example, could not let go and that takes her on a spiral of destruction. Ruksana has nothing left to lose and is determined to get justice for her child.
Shamshu is a very interesting take on a mother because you expect mothers to be more mature and calmer, but she’s not like that. I find her free-spirited, childlike, unapologetic and so protective of her daughter that she can go to any length, evidently.
Vartika is a balance of all. Her daughter is her strength and her weakness but she is also her own person. Gauri was also her own person but the loss of her child drove her to this manic side. Vartika is an individual besides being a mom. She’s not in the same situation as the other three women, so she can be rational and deal with things in a day-to-day way.
Darlings was both black comedy and emotional drama. What was it like to find both those notes?
Shamshu is not trying to be funny. Those are her solutions and that’s the way she thinks.
Also, the dialogues are fabulous. When you have fab lines you don’t throw them out as punchlines. She is not saying and doing things for effect. She is very free-spirited but also emotionally volatile with her pain, anger, acceptance and embracing life as it comes along. The Zulfi angle [played by Roshan Mathew] is unexpected but she wants to welcome it. She is the full package, and that is how people are. Shamshu is reactive and expressive.
What was it like working with first-time director Jasmeet K Reen?
I don’t know anyone else who could have done Darlings better than Jasmeet, because it is her story. It has nothing to do with gender. Even male directors are sensitive and could handle this topic. It has to do with the person – how sensitive and passionate they are, how invested in the story. The writer is best served to tell that story.
You are usually cast in more intense and quieter roles, such as in Human, Ajeeb Daastaans or Delhi Crime. But you really seemed to have loved playing Shamshu.
I loved it. And I was like, thank god someone came to me with something different. I have played characters with restraint because that was what was required. Here I could play her with abandon, and she is very close to who I am as a person. I had a blast and would love to do something totally crazy and wacko.
You have had strong female sparring partners in recent projects – Vidya Balan (Jalsa), to Kirti Kulhari (Human) to Alia Bhatt (Darlings) and Rasika Dugal (Delhi Crime). How different is it finding chemistry with a female co-star?
I don’t think it has to do with gender. Either there is chemistry or not. It cannot be worked on and created.
Luckily I have shared that chemistry with all of them, because they are such good, secure, confident, embracing and giving actors. It’s so good when you see it because every strong female character, whether it is played by Vidya, Alia, Rasika, or Kirti, makes me richer. It paves the path for what can only get better, which is great.
‘Delhi Crime’ review: Tautly staged and superbly performed, but questions linger
‘Darlings’ director Jasmeet K Reen on her heroines: ‘They are simple, scared, a bit off’