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March 22, 2000

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'I can't do what Karisma can do. But I can do what Tabu does.'

Shefali Chaya A four scene role in Satya and a guest appearance in Aditya Chopraís next, Mohabbatein. That, till date, is the extent of television star Shefali Chaya's love affair with the big screen. But Shefali herself is confidence personified. ďIím better than half the people here,Ē she declares with conviction.

A conviction strengthened by the fact that her role in Satya won her the Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award. She believes it's only an indicator of things to come.

At the same time, she is pragmatic.ďI cannot do what Karisma Kapoor does,Ē she admits. It is probably this attitude, coupled with her self-assurance, that has got her the lead role in a film with a new director.

Sheís not supposed to talk about this film, she tells Kanchana Suggu. Yet, she makes no attempt to hide her excitement about the fact that sheís finally playing heroineÖ

What made you accept Mohabbatein?

I agreed to do Mohabbatein because of two things. One, itís an Aditya Chopra film and, two, heís graceful enough to give me a guest appearance credit. When we met, he told me, ĎLook, it is a small role. But, as a director, I want a good actress to play the role. Itís absolutely up to you to decide whether it suits your career plan or not.í

Like I said, I wanted to work with him because I liked his previous film. And, since he was giving me my due by putting in a guest appearance credit, I am doing the film.

Did you have a screen test?

No. He just called me and said thereís this role and I would like you to play it. Then I went to meet him and he explained the role to me. Thatís all.

What is Mohabbatein about?

Itís actually three different love stories. At least, that's what I understand from the brief sketch I've been given. Itís a college campus -- a boy's campus -- where there is this elderly gentleman, played by Mr Amitabh Bachchan. He's probably the principal. He is a strict person.

Then there's Shah Rukh (Khan), a professor who believes in love and romance. There are two other newcomers in the film, but I donít know who they are. And, from the campus, it moves on to the love stories of these three people.

Aishwarya (Rai) is opposite Shah Rukh. Itís basically a compilation of these love stories bound together by the campus background. I have no clue about the cast because I havenít discussed it with Aditya Chopra. Iím only talking about Aishwarya and Shah Rukh because I read about it in a magazine.

Shefali Chaya And where do you figure in all this?

I belong to the third love story. Itís about this young widow. Her family consists of her father-in-law, her elder brother-in-law and his wife and her younger brother-in-law and his wife.

I play the elder bhabhi. The father-in-law obviously cannot accept his widowed daughter-in-law falling in love with someone else. Itís the elder daughter-in-law who makes him realise that he cannot spoil her life just because he wants to keep the memory of his son alive.

Itís a very small role, about two or three scenes. Itís probably smaller than anything Iíve done till date. But I have a decent role and Iím going to do it to the best of my ability. Iím doing it because I want to work with Aditya Chopra. Itís not as if itís Ďtheí break of my life. It's not, nor am I expecting a great deal out of it.

Donít you think youíll go unnoticed in such a huge star cast?

Probably. But it doesnít bother me much because Iíve been given the guest appearance credit. I always knew itís a small role. Iím not doing the movie under any false beliefs.

Werenít you a kind of last minute addition to Mohabbatein?

Aditya Chopra told me I was always his first choice.

You must be feeling good about being a part of such a huge bannerÖ

Look, Iím not euphoric about it. Why should I be happy because it is a huge banner? Yash and Aditya Chopra should be to be happy about the fact that they have created such a huge banner.

I donít feel extraordinary at all. Iím working with a good director and that makes me happy. I want to work with good people. I want to work with people who know their job well.

When I say good people, I donít mean big banners. I mean someone who is amazingly brilliant. I donít mean to sound pompous or arrogant about it but, for me, itís just like doing any other good job.

A play would give me as much satisfaction as doing an Aditya Chopra film. It would probably make a difference if I was playing the central character in the film. Then it would be one of the biggest kicks of my career. But this is a small role in a big banner. Why should it affect me?

What do you think of Aditya Chopra?

Iíve just had two meetings with Aditya Chopra. I think heís very clear about what he wants. Iíve never worked with him before, but from what Iíve seen of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, I think heís a very sensitive director. Itís one of the finest love stories Iíve ever seen. There is a lot of conviction in him.

How do you think Mohabbatein will fare?

I have no clue. First and foremost, I donít even have a complete idea of the script. Even if I did, or even if I saw the film after itís made, I am the last person to judge whether it will be a hit or a flop. I just decide on the basis of what appeals to me and what I think is right or wrong, but I cannot talk for the millions of viewers who are going to watch the film.

Was it the same with Satya?

Yes. I had no clue what the film was going to be like or the kind of reaction it would get from the audience. Firstly, my role was not as well etched on paper as it was on screen. It was a very sketchy role of a donís wife. Thatís it. That was the only thing told to me.

Shefali Chaya in Satya Before we did each scene, Ramgopal Varma would call Manoj and me and say, "This is the scene. Now, what do you want to say? Forget the script." Our scenes were written on the floor. I donít remember a single briefing from Ramuji about the character. He just let me do what I wanted to do. He would have probably corrected me if I went on the wrong track. But what I was doing suited what he actually wanted. So he just let me be.

So the entire credit for the role goes to you?

Look, I cannot say the entire credit goes to me. Some magnificent roles get totally lost in a film because the director does not give them enough importance. I know that the credit for any character lies in the directorís hands.

A role can be insipid and insignificant, but the director can still make it look important. By that, I donít mean the role will be extended. I only mean that, even if a role is a small one, if a director does not treat it like a character role and realises that the character is a complete human being with a life, it makes a huge difference.

I could be the main person in a serial or in a film, but if the director could ruin the whole film if he is not good. Then, my being the main character will not matter. So I think the director deserves more credit than an actor or actress.

Did you get a lot of offers after Satya?

I did get some offers after Satya. Of these, there were some that I definitely did not want to do. There were others that I wanted to do and I was almost finalised for these roles, but, at the last moment, things did not quite work out.

Like Rakesh Mehraís film, for example. They were quite euphoric about my doing the role. They said things like, ĎWelcome aboard, we really want you to do this film.í They said that the shooting was to begin in April and they would inform me about the dates.

And then, suddenly, I heard from someone that they had replaced me. They didnít even bother to inform me. Thereís nothing I can do about it. I kept calling their office, but it was of no use.

Also, Vidhu Vinod Chopra was strongly considering me for a role in Mission Kashmir. He wanted to audition me and see how I looked with Sanjay Dutt. I donít know what happened about that. His office was talking to me thrice a week. They told me they were only waiting for Sanjay Duttís dates. I even met Chopra and he told me everything would be fine. He only wanted to see if I looked that age and how Sanjay Dutt and I looked together. After that, I have no clue as to what happened. Nobody got back to me.

You must be feel very bitterÖ

I feel itís unfair. I donít feel bitter because itís the directorís prerogative to decide the cast of his film. I donít question the directorís choice of an actor or actress. But I do feel itís unfair of Rakesh Mehra to sign me for a film and not even have courtesy to call and tell me I'm being replaced by someone else. I never went to him. I didnít say, ĎPlease cast me in your film.í They were the ones who asked me to do their film, who told me I would be happy doing the film, etc, etc. Itís absolutely unfair.

Shefali Chaya Come to think of it, what Vidhu Vinod Chopra did was not so entirely wrong because he had not cast me. The only thing I feel bad about is that I didnít even get a chance. Probably Sanjay Dutt and everybody else didnít want to waste on an audition.

But what Rakesh Mehra did was entirely wrong. Of course, Iím sure he doesnít think that way. Iím sure a lot of people in the industry donít think like that because that's the way they work. But, for me, itís a culture shock because I believe in things like ethics and courtesies.

You sound very unhappy with the ways of the industryÖ

I am. With Satya, I expected a lot more than what I got. Like I said, itís the directorís prerogative to cast or not cast you. All Iím trying to say is, at least give us a chance. But they all work like that and thereís nothing that can be done about it.

So you donít feel a part of Bollywood at all?

No, I am not a part of Bollywood and Iím being honest about it. Iím only stepping into it. Just because I won a Filmfare award once, it doesnít make me part of the industry.

Keeping in mind your background in television, how do you find the experience of working on the big screen?

On the small screen, I can demand and command the kind of work I do, the way I want to work and stuff like that. On the big screen, I cannot do it.

Another thing -- letís assume Iím a star on the small screen. Even if I am not one, what matters is whether I can act, whether I can carry the serial on my shoulders. On the big screen, your acting ability is a plus point. What matters more is whether youíre tall, slim, good looking and, hopefully, have the right mentor. Your star value is more important .

I understand the gamble on the big screen is more risky than the one on the small screen. Any producer or director needs a star to sell his product, however big the producer himself might be. So all the newcomers out there waiting for work will probably never get any. They either have to be star children or Miss Worlds or Miss Universes. Itís really sad, but thatís the way people work.

The talented people either go to theatre or television. People are really lucky that there is television because there, at least, they get an opportunity to prove themselves, to show what they are here for. You'll never get that chance in Bollywood.

Hats off to Ramgopal Varma. Heís one of the very few directors who takes risks. Itís incredible. Very few people can work on their own terms and conditions and take newcomers without worrying whether their film will be a hit or a flop. Hats off to him because heís very confident of himself. How many directors can actually do that? I donít think there are many.

But didnít you have a bad experience with Ramgopal Varma during Rangeela?

I did, because the character I played was nowhere close to my perception of it. After my first day's shoot, I figured the role was not what I had been told it was. I had probably misinterpreted it. So I apologised and said I didnít want the money, I didnít want to shoot for it again and that they could shoot with someone else. With that incident, I thought it was the end as far as films were concerned. But when they were deciding the cast for Satya, Ramgopal Varma told Manoj (Bajpai) to ask me if I was interested in working with him.

Didnít you ever want to play heroine?

Shefali Chaya First and foremost, I never thought I would do films. It just happened. After Satya, I realised what I could do. Even with a four scene role, I know where I stand in Bollywood. There are heroines here who have done full-fledged roles and have been working for donkey's years to rise to the top. And I do my first film and there are just four scenes, itís not even the main role, but I come away with major accolades. It has helped me believe I can do it and do it better than at least half the people who are here.

Iím very tempted to say I want to do main roles in parallel cinema because I know I fit in there. I canít do what Karisma Kapoor can do. I donít even want to try. I canít fit in there. But I can do what Tabu does. I can do a Priyadarshan film, I can do Gulzarsaabís film or a Mani Ratnam film. And that is what I want to do -- very good films with very good directors.

So you donít see yourself in hardcore commercial cinema?

Iíd love to do what Kajol did in DilwaleÖ, but I donít know if anyone has the guts to cast me in such a role. Iíd love to do a Hum Saath-Saath Hain. But itís not up to me. They have to take a chance and cast me. I would love to do a heroine's role, but I need to be realistic. I need to think about what I can do and who will take a chance with me.

Do you think small screen stars are at a disadvantage in the film industry?

Bruce Willis was a small screen star who made it big. But thatís not something that works in India. We have to get that very clear.

Film directors donít cast television actors in big roles. They are just fillers. Their whole perception is that a television star is overexposed, heís on the audienceís remote control. There is no elusive element about him, as in the case of a filmstar.

According to them, he or she is very available, he or she is there in the audienceís bedroom. But a filmstar has a larger-than-life image, itís almost like you canít touch him. Thatís the block that film directors and producers have. Itís sad, but itís there.

So people like you have to be happy with roles like Satya and Mohabbatein?

I did Mohabattein only because of Aditya Chopra. I will probably never do something like that again. Iím not desperate to do films. If I donít get the roles I want to do, with the kind of people I want to work with, I will not do films.

I want to do films. I want to do films more than anything else. But that doesnít mean I will do it at any cost. Roles like Satya are more than fine with me. I think that was an incredible role. Iím sure any sensible actress would die to do a role like that.

Will the new breed of directors make Bollywood a better place?

Shefali Chaya Yes, definitely. There is a whole new breed of directors who are willing to experiment. There is a parallel as well as commercial cinema that is kind of going hand in hand which is really nice, like Bombay Boys or Hyderabad Blues. They are making small budget films about subjects that they want to broach, not just the regular hero-heroine-villain-romance stuff.

There are a lot of roles and a lot of characters happening. It makes me feel hopeful. I know itís going to take a long time before we have the Hollywood kind of films, films where Danny DeVito can be the hero. Thatís going to take ages. But Iím sure itíll happen. Everyone wants to progress.

When youíre making a small budget film, you can afford to experiment. But someone whoís making a 20 crore film will not experiment because he needs stars to sell his product. He needs a Salman Khan and an Aishwarya because if the film doesnít work, at least itíll get an initial.

By the new breed of directors, I donít mean Karan Johar or Aditya Chopra who follow a certain pattern. I mean people like Kaizad Gustad and Nagesh Kukunoor. We need a lot more of them. Iím sure thereíll be many coming.

Have you ever thought of going back to theatre?

I started with Gujarati commercial theatre. I did it for almost seven years. Right now, since Iím switching from television to films, I might have time for theatre. You know, a play is a long-term commitment. Plays cannot be adjusted. I donít know if I can give that kind of time. It would depend on whether the play is appealing enough for me to do 100-200 shows.

Are you enjoying anchoring Antakshari?

I just love it. I really enjoy it. For one, I can be myself. Secondly, Antakshari is not about a character. Itís about Shefali, what she thinks, what she feels and what she wants to say. Thereís no script, there are no instructions. Everything is impromptu, everything is spontaneous, itís then and there. Itís great fun.

Itís nice to interact with the audience, the participants and the crew because they are constantly monitoring whatís happening. When you see Antakshari on television, you see just half an hour of me announcing scores and all that, but each episode takes three hours to shoot. I do riyaz everyday.

What projects do you have in hand right now?

Right now, Iím doing Mohabattein and thereís this other film with a new director. Iím not allowed to talk about the film or the role or the director, but Iím playing the lead. Itís like Hyderabad Blues, a parallel-popular kind of a small budget film. Weíre going to start work on it around the end of this year. Thatís something Iím definitely looking forward to.

If one director takes a chance and casts me in the lead, I can use that performance to show people I can act. Then, probably, things will change. More producers might come to me with films.

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