Delhi Crime's Emmy victory is a victory of compassion, of justice, says Shefali Shah
Shefali Shah shares her euphoria over her crime series’ international win
Shefali Shah is on a high that’s so palpable when we catch up over Zoom on a laid-back Friday afternoon. The Indian actor who dabbled in drama before making her presence felt on television made a small-scale debut on the big screen with Rangeela in 1995. A slew of performance-oriented acts followed for which she won recognition, including a National Film Award for Best Supporting Actress for The Last Lear in 2007. But right now she is brimming with excitement over her latest OTT series, Delhi Crime, winning at the 2020 International Emmys. DC, as she refers to the crime series, based on the infamous 2012 real-life incident of the Delhi gang rape case, won the Best Drama Series award at the recent virtually held Emmys and Shah’s OMG reaction has, of course, gone viral. She has a slight cough as we speak, probably due to the constant media bytes over the international win that has turned the spotlight on India’s cinematic talent.
“I feel honoured and proud to be part of this show and even if I wasn’t a part of the show, it’s a moment of great pride for all Indians,” she enthuses.
“It’s the first Indian content that has won at the Emmys and it is huge,” she tells us. “This moment I do not want Covid to take away from me…”
The big win
Delhi Crime that dropped on Netflix in 2019 is based on the traumatic Nirbhaya case, which saw an entire nation horrified as news spread of the brutal gang rape of a young girl on a moving bus in Delhi, India. It is written and directed by Richie Mehta and stars Rasika Dugal, Aakash Dahiya, Adil Hussain and Rajesh Tailang among others alongside Shefali Shah. The heinous crime spewed outrage and put the focus on issues of women’s safety and the toxic patriarchal culture prevalent in society.
Shefali stresses that the series has been a life altering moment for her both professionally and personally. Most importantly she seems chuffed that “it has changed people’s perspective towards” her. She adds: “The kind of work I’m getting offered now is the kind of work I’ve desired for the longest time.”
She is very candid about the impact this win has had on her: “To be put in pivotal roles, in central position, in women oriented roles is just fantastic.”
A creative win
DC’s win may have turned the world’s focus on Indian talent, but there’s no escaping that the brutal incident showed India at its worst. Since that dark day in 2012, India’s rape statistic continues to shock. According to reports released this year, an average of 87 rape cases were recorded daily in 2019 alone.
“DC’s victory is a creative win of the art of telling a story as it was; of talent that came together to create it — lets’ not compare it or undermine it,” Shefali says.
“It’s not a victory of loss — it is if anything a victory of compassion, of justice.” Nothing can wipe out the scar the incident has left on us, she adds.
“Let’s understand one thing — DC winning or us celebrating the win is a creative win; it is a win for all the creative talent involved. This show was made only out of passion and love because we all wanted to tell the story. So they are two different things and we cannot undermine either.”
The change within
What DC also showcased in many ways was that the change we seek around us is often within us; sometimes all it requires is the right trigger.
“When the incident happened there was a cry for justice, we kept saying there’s no one doing anything about it,” she explains, but “when I heard this side (the police version) of the story, I realised there was someone doing something about it and it was a woman who led the case. She (IPS Chhaya Sharma, the former deputy commissioner of police in Delhi on whom her character is based) led her team and together they cracked this case in five days and got the criminals.
“So yes, DC is about the pain and trauma and agony and loss of life but at the same time it is a story of compassion, bravery, of justice.”
Shefali also found the whole experience of acting in the series strangely cathartic — “it gave me a sense of doing something just standing in her shoes.”
The most important legacy of DC is the fact that it started a conversation. The actress points out that when the series first came out a lot of young people came up to her to tell her that they didn’t know this part of the story. “It has opened up conversations of safety, of how we can work towards it. It touched everyone personally; it kind of lit a fire again in everyone to say we gotta make this place safe for our sisters, daughters, our families, ourselves, for all of us.”
And perhaps the most important take away from the series: “It’s very easy to sit out there and say, XYZ has to do something. No, you have to do it. You have to be part of the change.
“And I have always maintained that our daughters will be safe if our sons are raised well.
“So that responsibility comes on me as a parent, that responsibility comes on every one of us.”
Spotlight on India
Change, Shah says, isn’t going to come via social reforms alone. “Of course, social reforms, government reforms, education, all these are major factors bringing about change or breaking the cycle of patriarchy or gender based crime. But at the end of the day it is a collective responsibility. If you are expecting a show to change an entire system that has been carried forward for generations it is unfair. It is unfair to put that kind of onus on a show. The fact is it started conversations.” And that’s not to be denied.
“The other thing DC is going to achieve in relation to the Emmys is the exposure of Indian talent — the acceptance, acknowledgement and accolades, and applause towards Indian talent.
“And that exposure to every corner of the world — this is our playground now.”
Future is bright
The actor has directed two short films, one of which will be out in 2021. But what’s got her most excited is a medical thriller, produced by Vipul Shah, about the underbelly of the medical world, a series around human drug testing that she can’t wait to dive into. “I’m finally getting the work I wanted to do.” Welcome to Shefali Shah 2.0