Jalsa : A film about two women in a situation

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Shefali Shah says she admired the strength of her character in the film

Official poster of the film Jalsa. Photo: Provided by Sterling Global Press Office.

There is a lot of intrigue attached to Jalsa, the Bollywood film, set to release on Amazon Prime Video on March 18. Most film viewers know that the two strong women actors, Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah, known for their acting prowess are the main cast of the film. Jalsa has Vidya Balan playing a journalist while Shah plays the role of her cook.

Shefali Shah has, over the years, become known for her remarkable performances. Shah has always shone in any roles she has done, receiving critical acclaim and winning the National Film Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in The Last Lear.

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She also won the Best Actress Critics Choice Award for her performance in the film Satya. Most film-goers would remember Shah as Amitabh Bachchan’s wife in Waqt: A Race  Against Time, or as Ria, the heroine’s cousin, in Monsoon Wedding, with an intense portrayal.

Shah is known as a serious actor. She has always been known for selecting her roles. “There are three things that determine whether I am going to do a film or not. One is the script and the story. Second is the character and third is the director. And Jalsa checked all those boxes,” Shah said to News India Times in an exclusive interview.

The Character : Pitted against Vidya Balan’s character of a journalist, Shah’s is the character of a woman with inner strength, with conviction which gets tested pushing her to the end of her line, all in one household, playing Balan’s cook.

Shah said she saw a tremendous potential in Rukhsana. ”I knew along with Suresh (the Director) that we could take her to another level,” she added. “Rukhsana is a very human character. “She falters, she is made to question her own beliefs, her own rights and wrongs because of what happens,” said Shah.

Shah has always exuded a confident person on screen, one who does not seem to be ruffled by anything, seemingly a very grounded person, a woman who has come into her own. She brings that same feeling for her character in Jalsa. But Rukhsana (Shah’s character) in Jalsa is not someone who is within the orbit of Shah’s life. She has had to prepare for the role of Rukhsana, Shah informed. She said she likes to prepare herself for every role she does, that she goes to the role with an attitude that she doesn’t know anything, and works very hard on it. “I chew my director’s brains, asking a million questions and having long discussions, and conversations and ideas,” Shah said.

Shah said she shares one similarity with Rukhsana. “There is one thing that is very common between Rukhsana and me and that is that we both are protective of our children, and we go to any lengths doing that,” she said. She said it was that aspect of Rukhsana’s character that she could relate to.

“However,” Shah said, “I find that Rukhsana is far more confident than I am.” According to Shah, Rukhsana is not arrogant or egoistical, but has pride and her position whether in the society or in Maya’s (the name of Balan’s character) household does not determine how she feels about herself. “She questions herself. Also she has aspirations and she wants to make them come true for her children. And although she and Maya are not at par, she doesn’t shy away from saying the truth, or that she is right or sticking to the gun when the time comes,” Shah said.

In spite of both Balan and Shah being strong actors, there was no professional rivalry on the sets of Jalsa, Shah said. “You never compete with a co-actor. You grow together with a co-actor,” Shah said. She said she admires Balan as an actor, as a woman, and as a human being. “When you have a good actor in front of you, it doesn’t make you envious or it doesn’t give you competition. It just gives you the power and the strength to grow together,” Shah said.

The Story: Shah said she was attracted by the story and the role both in Jalsa. “When I read it, I found it to be so compelling and intriguing, and so conflicted and yet so real as a human drama that I just had to be a part of it,” Shah said. She said she saw a tremendous potential in Rukhsana. ”I knew along with Suresh that we could take her to another level,” she added.

 Seemingly a woman-centric film, Jalsa is more than that. “It is a human-oriented story,” Shah said. The focus of the story seems to be on the relationship between the two women characters. Films have been made on social issues and have had a social impact. In that sense, Jalsa is not a film to provoke rethinking of values or impacting society. “Jalsa may not be a story with a moral. But I do feel that whoever watches it is going to definitely think, ‘what if I was in the situation, what would I do’ and on a certain level relate to every character in the film,” Shah said.

The Director: Jalsa is the second film directed by Suresh Triveni. His first directorial effort Tumhari Sulu with Balan was a commendable film which received much critical appreciation. Triveni has been now known to be a director with a tongue-in-cheek tone, and restrained treatment of scenes, especially directing scenes crucial to the film in a way to make them memorable. Shah said she also chose to do the film for the restraint with which he directs.

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