At 46, Shefali Shah has packed in unexpected surprises with her roles. Underrated despite stellar performances, Shefali has won praise for her controlled, humane and supremely convincing act as DCP Vertika Chaturvedi in Delhi Crime, Netflix’ thriller based on police files of the Nirbhaya rape and murder investigation. Mehta’s show goes beyond police procedural, layering the narrative with undertones of the social and economic divide, Delhi’s inherent visible gender bias and the uneven lives that our police folk lead. When she was offered this part, Shah took it up immediately. “Richie discussed the show’s idea with me initially. He didn’t give me a narration but gave me an overview and I immediately said yes. It was a no brainer! He also said that I don’t need an actor on it. What I need is a collaborator. I want someone who would meet me halfway. He gave me a script, and I just asked for a couple of days (to read it). Once I had read the first episode, I went through the rest in just a few hours, called him and said that I have to be part of this. This is extremely special,” she says.
An ensemble cast including Adil Hussain, Rasika Duggal, Rajesh Tailang, Jaya Bhattacharya and a bunch of familiar actors whose names we rarely recall, Delhi Crime recreates the police investigation that led by a woman DCP, Chayya Sharma, soon after the victims were found. Under tremendous political pressure and facing relentless public ire, the police battled odds and an antagonistic media to successfully crack this case within 5 days. Bringing it alive onscreen with accuracy was challenging, as was building the character of Vertika Chaturvedi who is at the vortex of this unfolding drama. “I cannot deny that the writing is fantastic as was the research. Also when we are doing something about real people, then the amount of responsibility, sensitivity and precision are greater” says Shefali. “When you are dealing with an investigation, you have to know exactly at what point did the PCR van respond, at what point the call was made etc. All this work, Richie had done. I had luckily met the DCP who actually had cracked the case. I could ask her a lot of questions,” she explains.
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When a crime is so heinous, the hunt is personal. Delhi Crime premieres March 22, only on Netflix.
In interpreting Vertika Chaturvedi, Shefali has delivered a performance that compares with recent iconic characters like Carrey Mulligans in Collateral and Sarah Lancaster’s in Happy Valley. This police officer feels real, doesn’t look styled to be fighting fit and has controlled angst running through her personality. Shefali explains, “It is my instinct, understanding and interpretation of who Vertika would be. She is not a mimicked character. She is a real independent human being and we had to crack the case. It wouldn’t have been possible without the three of us (Richie Mehta, DCP Sharma and I) working together. It is also great that Richie was open to my interpretation because directors can be extremely possessive of what they’ve written,”.
Like the rest of the police officers in this series, DCP Vertika Chaturvedi looks strung on a wire, ready to explode, yet holds on to her dignity and operates like a complete professional. Shefali brought in personal shades to build this character. “What she dressed like, is exactly how the DCP had dressed. She walked out in her sweat pants to investigate. As for details like looking sleep-starved, these are technical details…Every time I came on set, I would ask, What is the time now? I wasn’t asking for real time, but the time for the scene in accordance with the night of 16 December. For how many hours has Vertika not slept? When was the last time she had a crack in the case that helped her? What was a dipping point for her where she took a set back? As the actor, these details are something I must be prepared with, it would be silly ( on my part) not to be,” she recalls.
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Discover the story behind the crime that changed the nation. Delhi Crime is now streaming only on Netflix.
“As for the emotional aspects of Vertika, I interpreted her as someone who felt everything that all of us felt very strongly (about this case). That’s why she took it so personally. She doesn’t allow emotions to cloud her investigation. She blocks her feelings out and channelises all her energy into single-minded focus to get these guys. This is something I do in a crisis myself,” she further explains.
In films like Satya, Lakshmi, Gandhi My Father or Dil Dhadhakne Do, Shefali has shown her versatility and prowess. But as mainstream Hindi cinema bracketed her as an ‘older actor’, she has found gratification and visibility in work for streaming platform Netflix. Once Again, a film by Ritesh Batra that pairs her opposite Neeraj Kabi is very popular on it. Now there’s Delhi Crime and there are more shows in the works. Ask her about the impact of streaming on her life as an actor, and pat comes to the response. “Not just actors, all creative people, including directors are finding better, more satisfying opportunities with streaming. We are no longer burdened by pressures of how much money will our work make at the box office? How many screens will it release in? Will be it accepted, not accepted or censorship process.”
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“DELHI CRIME” On Netflix #delhicrime #aaronkaplan #ivanhoepictures #richiemehta #netflix
In a film industry where a star’s approval and dates determine whether a film takes off, actors like Shefali Shah have remained under-utilised. Streaming changes this. “It also sets us free from the star system. There are no heroes or heroines, these are all characters. You can be honest to your creativity and in what you say. This is incredible. And to think of it, Delhi Crime dropped to 190 countries. No film has that kind of reach. Feedback has been absolutely phenomenal and the quality of production is on part with international standards. What more could you ask for? “