Indian actress Shefali Shah, who was impressive as the relentlessly driven cop in the International Emmy-winning series ‘Delhi Crime’, describes it as the biggest ‘game changer’ of her career.
“‘Delhi Crime’ altered my thoughts and it changed the course of my life,” said Shah in an interview with Gulf News ahead of its second season premiere.
Earlier Shefali, 49, was appreciated for her roles in Bollywood films and serials but it never translated into actual work, claims the actress.
“Some years ago, there’s no way in hell a woman in her 40s could become the lead in the series.
But ‘Delhi Crime’ and my character ‘Varthika’ are being used as an example for path-breaking roles. Now, people are ready to pick me as the lead or the parallel lead,” said Shah. True to her word, she was recently seen on an equal if not stronger footing in the film ‘Jalsa’ along with Vidya Balan.
But it was undoubtedly the unglossy and gritty ‘Delhi Crime’ that put her on the map globally.
Directed splendidly by Indian-Canadian director Richie Mehta, ‘Delhi Crime’ is a stirring and dynamic police investigative procedural into the gruesome 2012 Nirbhaya case in which a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern was abducted and gang raped in a moving bus in New Delhi. Shah played the fictionalised version of the actual cop who tracked down the rapists in less than a week.
The acclaimed Netflix Original series ‘Delhi Crime’ won the Best Drama Series award at the 48th International Emmy Awards in 2020 and it’s now back with its second season on August 26. The second season sees Shah’s character return to crack down on an unrelated case.
“Winning the Emmy was the cherry on the sundae. But I don’t know if any other show deserves it better and I don’t want to be modest about it,” said Shah.
When they embarked on this project, they didn’t know the series would be picked up by Netflix, but they were just consumed by the idea and its strong content.
“A big door has opened with OTT platforms because they are not restricted by the requirements of box office and having stars. OTT has created its own stars. Every character that you see is so real and brilliant. I am not talking about just women, I am talking about men as well,” said Shah.
Powered by blazing performances from other seasoned actors like Rasika Dugal and Aadil Hussain, ‘Delhi Crime: Season 2’ shows immense promise.
Excerpts from our interview with Shefali Shah …
It was a privilege to watch you in the first season of Delhi Crime which is easily one of the most riveting shows on Netflix …
Aren’t you modest?
It is true. It’s one of the best series of all times and there’s no debate on that one. I am very clear on that front.
But jokes aside, ‘Delhi Crime’ was a neat crime procedural with no frills or fuss …
‘Delhi Crime’ was so honest and raw. And like you said, there was no frills or fancy attached to it. There was no sensationalising a gruesome incident … The series tapped into a part of the story that I had no clue about because like everyone else, when the crime happened — everyone who was angry, pained, and frustrated had just one question: ‘Why is no one doing anything about it?’ But when Richi narrated this story to me, I realised that there was somebody who did something about it. It was a woman, a cop, who caught all those six guys in a span of five days. And, it was something I just had to be a part of. It was as simple as that. I said yes after a two-minute narration.
Your character DCP Vartika Chaturvedi was also a character study on how the Indian police force is often overworked and how a cop — who’s also a woman — is not some portrait of glamour and brute strength.
It was a fact. Nobody in that team went home for those five days … She’s overworked and that’s who she is. She deals with crime every day of her life — day in and day out. She has seen crimes happen and it puts a chip in her armour every time. It affects and hurts her. And that’s why she’s so driven to get rid of the [rubbish] and the criminals.
There’s a telling line in the trailer of season two where you seem disillusioned and ask your peer about where she’s going wrong with cleaning up the grime and crime in the city … Your character seemed so humane and vulnerable.
With that line, she’s being very introspective and genuinely wonders where she is going wrong … The beauty about this series is that you don’t have to watch the first season to enjoy its second season. The nature of the crime is different, but the nature of the storytelling, content, and procedural remains the same. The germ of the idea and the soul of ‘DC’ doesn’t waver at all. In the first season, the crime happens and all these character come in to solve it. But in the second season, we have gone deeper into who we are and what we have become. Their daily battles, their work pressures, and their inner demons. It’s the right fit and the second season is far more evolved, layers and introspective. There’s a crime to be solved in this procedural, but you are more invested in the characters.
Tell us more about the legwork that you did for the series ...
A: With season one, there was a lot of research that was required on a script level. For sure, I can meet four people in the police force, but I can’t meet 400 of them. I can go back and read records from a couple of years ago, but I can’t go back 20 years ago. ‘Delhi Crime’ was very strong on paper and there was a lot of research on paper. There was this gang in the ’80s and ’90s called the ‘Kachcha Baniyan Gangs’ and many families were brutalised. ‘DC 2’ is the fictionalised version of that. A lot of research on how they functioned. For season one, I met Chhaya ma’am [Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Chhaya Sharma who led the investigation in the 2012 Nirbhaya gang rape case], because she’s the one who cracked the Nirbhaya case. In ‘DC 2’, it’s not her and the character has become real. And it’s also not possible to imbibe a person after meeting her for two hours. I can’t fit into her shoes. We have to make our own characters and it happened with season one.
The first season dealt with a case that we were all familiar with and shocked by. You don’t have that advantage in the second season … Your thoughts.
I am so glad because there should not be another Nirbhaya. There should not be a crime which needs to hit us in our solar plexus for us to wake up and smell the coffee. But crime is a crime and there’s no undermining it. Violence is violence whether you hit once or a dozen times … While first season of ‘DC’ was about this bunch of amazing character who come together to solve a crime, we were dealing with a lot of pressure even back then … The second season is much more layered … we wonder if crimes happen because of the society that we live in or is it happening because of the disparity between the rich and the poor. So even when she solves a crime, it’s not a win for her. In the first season of ‘DC’, Varthika becomes a hero. In ‘DC: Season 2’ she’s you.
Don't Miss It!
‘Delhi Crime: Season 2’ is out on Netflix on August 26.