April 16, 2021 7:10:01 pm
Who doesn’t love to fall in love all over again, even if that happens to be on the screen? Shefali Shah sure does. The acclaimed actor makes it amply clear that she is “a hardcore romantic”. In Ankahi, one of the four segments of Ajeeb Daastaans on Netflix, Shah appears as Natasha, a married woman who falls in love with a hearing-impaired photographer Kabir (essayed by Manav Kaul).
“Finally, writers are waking up to the fact that romance doesn’t have a shelf life and isn’t restricted only to the young. It’s for everyone. The most beautiful part of featuring in a love story is to fall in love, once again. It’s the most magical thing that can happen,” says Shah. She plays the mother of a young girl who is losing her ability to hear. The sign language that Natasha has learnt to communicate with her daughter becomes a means to establish a warm and instant rapport with Kabir that turns into an attraction between them.
Manav Kaul, who plays the part of charming Kabir, says, “So many things in the movie are communicated by just looking at each other. Kayo (director Kayoze Irani) said we shouldn’t need subtitling when Shefali and I communicate with each other using sign language. Every scene is so beautifully written that you understand how the story is progressing,” says Kaul. Ankahi explores the beauty of love – at times unprofessed — that can induce a momentary heady feeling. Yet, life and lies can spring up complications unexpectedly.
Irani, who made his directorial debut with Ankahi, written by Uzma Khan and Sumit Saxena, approached Shah and Kaul at the very early stages of developing the project. “What attracted me to the film was the fact that communication doesn’t need to be verbal and a lot can be said without uttering the words. Manav and Shefali were a treat to direct and they lift the entire storyline,” says Irani, who acted in Student of the Year (2012). During his school days, the 33-year-old had to deal with dyslexia but he knew he wanted to pursue a career in cinema as an editor and director. “I was a very shy person but cinema brought me out of my shell,” he says.
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When Irani first narrated the film to Shah and Kaul, he knew how its first and last scene would play out. “I made up what was in the middle. After both of them gave their nod, I cooked up some excuses to buy time to ready the script,” he recalls. Ajeeb Daastaans, which brings together four “unusual” stories, is the newest anthology to stream on Netflix and is produced by Dharmatic Entertainment. The other segments are directed by Shashank Khaitan, Raj Mehta and Neeraj Ghaywan.
What made Shefali Shah say yes to the role? It hit her in the gut. “When that happens, I take up the role. At the same time, I don’t want to restrict myself as an actor. I want to do all the possible kinds of roles. If a story and character grab me emotionally, I go for it. For a long time, I didn’t get the kind of work I wish to do. I told myself I might not always get what I want, but it is worth the wait,” says Shah. The actor became popular with television shows such as Banegi Apni Baat (1993-97) and Hasratein (1996-97). She grabbed the audience’s attention with powerful cameos in Satya (1998), Monsoon Wedding (2001), and Dil Dhadakane Do (2015), among others. Last year, her show Delhi Crime won the International Emmy Award for best drama series.
Manav Kaul, who loves to travel when cinema and theatre don’t keep him busy, “doesn’t like to work a lot”. Kaul says he takes up something when he believes in it. While portraying the character of Kabir, he had a few concerns to address. “I hate any sign of pretense in my performance. I spent a lot of time training with Sitaram sir (Sitaram Ramchandra Chavan, sign language coach). I also watched hearing-impaired children communicate with each other. Also, Kabir has a certain charm. I didn’t want to overdo it,” says the actor, who was praised for his performance in the Bugs Bhargava-directed movie, Nail Polish, which was released earlier this year. The 44-year-old is also known for his performance in Kai Po Che! (2013), Tumhari Sulu (2017) and Thappad (2020).
For Shah, the training with Chavan was not only about learning how to convey the dialogue. “I wanted to learn the sign language to go beyond doing a scene to express myself fluently and spontaneously. It was really tough but sign language is one of most the beautiful things you can learn,” says Shah and calls the experience “calming”.
Both Shah and Kaul also had several sessions with Irani over coffee and bhelpuri during which they discussed the nuances of their characters to the last detail. “We both are instinctive actors. While working on certain scenes and improvising, there were times we would communicate a few extra words that are not in the script. Sitaram Sir would point it out and we would note them down for subtitling,” Kaul shares. For him, however, the first day was hard. “Soon, I understood we were all together in this,” he says. The film also features Tota Roy Chowdhury.
During the shoot, Irani didn’t show any sign of being nervous much to Kaul’s surprise. While Irani says he had a lot of faith in his actors, Shah was confident that the debutant director would pull it off. Irani, who was born and brought up in South Mumbai, shot in places he was familiar with while working as an assistant director. “I wanted to feel a sense of home while directing my first,” says Irani, who is the son of veteran actor Boman Irani. Since he was creating the project for a streaming platform, he could also avoid following tropes of mainstreatm romantic movie. “We should show more such stories that explore usual relationships, moving away from tried-and-tested romantic tales,” says Irani.
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