Laughing Through Life: Exclusive interview with a bubbly Shilpa Shetty on her triumphant return in ‘Nikamma’

Shilpa Shetty returns to a theatrical release after 14 years. Photo: Universal Communications

It has been a full three decades since she began shooting for her debut film, Baazigar, released in 1993. Her new film, Nikamma, releases this week, and since her first film, Shilpa Shetty Kundra seems to have aged just by a couple of years, a fact she is thrilled to hear from me. She guffaws, “I think I lose one year of my age on every birthday! But I do attribute my ongoing youth mainly to Yoga! And I liked what you said!”

Prone to laughs, chuckles and more in the 20-minute conversation we have, the actress declares, on being asked by, that she has inherited her sense of humor from her late father. “That’s a good question no one has asked me before! My father would be the life of any party, and he would be forever making people laugh. I feel it’s a great place to be in. And whenever there is a bad situation, it is better to make fun of yourself before anyone else makes fun of you!”

Shilpa returns to a theatrical release a full 14 years after a cameo in her maiden production Dishkiyaoon (2007). And she is very happy that Nikamma will be the first film. “It should have been my first release. But God had better plans for me! Hungama 2 came earlier, I hardly had a role, but I did the film for two reasons—producer Ratan Jain of Venus, the company that launched me, and director Priyadarshan-sir, whom I adore. And let me tell you that I enjoyed working on the film.”

About Nikamma, she says, “This is the movie for a comeback like mine. When you watch the film, you will understand why. I watched the film yesterday as I am flying out tonight for a month, and I was nervous as always, but a little more. After the film ended, I was happy that I had done justice to my character, whatever fate it meets at the box-office!”

As explanation, she goes on, “The biggest actors and movies have not done well recently—we seem to have lost perspective on movie-making after the pandemic. Earlier, success and failure were a bit predictable!”

About Anvi, her character, she preens, “I don’t think any heroine has played a role like this. Avni has many facets, nuances and avatars and so it was a wholesome and amazing process for me as an actor. It is a nice, clean, happy film, in which the dynamics of a bhabhi-devar relationship forms the base. Except in Sooraj (Barjatya)-ji’s films, this bond has never been explored, and there too just in part. I am looking after my devar, our house, and motivating him to move out to work!”

She adds, “Avni’s very family-oriented, she is all love but kadak (tough) and non-corrupt. She is a lot like me in many ways, with one difference—she never smiles! And that was the toughest part of playing her—to control and contain my smile, which tends to come whenever anyone is in front of me!”

On her first day on sets, Shilpa again guffaws as she says, “I felt like a nikammi (useless person)! I had watched Abhimanyu Dassani’s Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota and found him brilliant, and here I was doing a sequence with him! I am comfortable on shows and endorsements as no one can tell the real Shilpa that she’s doing it wrong! But to put life in my character and thinking for her is the thrilling and challenging part!”

The devar-bhabhi bond is the base for Nikamma. Photo: Universal Comminications

So how are the new breed, like Abhimanyu and his co-star Shirley Setia, different from stars with whom she worked when they too were relatively new, like Shah Rukh Khan or Akshay Kumar? “The entire way the young actors today are groomed is very different from who we were and where we came from. But then audiences have changed, love stories have changed, acting styles have changed and the way we emote has changed. Today, a song on screen may have just four words! Come to think of it, love in real life too has changed from the time we wrote letters, made phone calls and even blank calls!” she laughs.

Shilpa has always called herself “choosy in mass cinema” (she has just done about 50 Hindi and South Indian films, including cameos, between 1993 and 2007) and when asked, reiterates that this has not changed.”My debut web series, Indian Police Force, is directed by Rohit Shetty, and you can’t get more massy than that!” she chortles. “I am here to entertain, and I sign projects on my gut instinct!”

This is the busiest phase of her career, about which she says, “I am involved in so many verticals (social causes, TV shows and more), but when I go home, as a homemaker and a mother I already have so much to do that I often become a total nikammi, relegating even online purchases to my sister, Shamita!”

A past example of her being a real nikamma, we persist. “Oh, that was when I showed my mom my SSC (Secondary School Certificate examinations, the high-school graduation) prelims report, in which I had got 48 percent! There was an explanation though—my aim in life then was to be a volleyball coach, and I was concentrating on the sport, having made it to the Bombay zone and almost to State level! For the first time, I saw mom bawl her head off for the first time, so I decided to study for 10 days and scored 73 percent in the finals!”




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