Who doesn’t like to fall in love again, even if it’s on screen? Shefali Shah does of course. The acclaimed actor makes it clear that she is “a hardcore romantic”. In Ankahi, one of Ajeeb Daastaans’ four segments on Netflix, Shah appears as Natasha, a married woman who falls in love with a hearing impaired photographer Kabir (tested by Manav Kaul).
“Finally, writers are realizing that romance has no lifespan and is not limited to young people. It’s for everyone. The best part of being in a love story is falling in love again. It’s the most magical thing that can happen, ”Shah says. She plays the mother of a young girl who loses her ability to hear. The sign language that Natasha has learned to communicate with her daughter becomes a way to establish a warm and instant rapport with Kabir which turns into an attraction between them.
Manav Kaul, who plays the charming Kabir, says, “So much in the film is communicated just by looking at each other. Kayo (director Kayoze Irani) said that we shouldn’t need captioning when Shefali and I communicate with each other using sign language. Each scene is so beautifully written that you understand how the story progresses, ”says Kaul. Ankahi explores the beauty of love – sometimes inexperienced – which can induce a momentary intoxicating sensation. Yet life and lies can cause unexpected complications.
Irani, who made his directorial debut with Ankahi, written by Uzma Khan and Sumit Saxena, approached Shah and Kaul early in the development of the project. “What attracted me to the film was the fact that communication doesn’t have to be verbal and a lot can be said without uttering the words. Manav and Shefali were a treat to make and they lifted the whole story, ”says Irani, who starred in Student of the Year (2012). During his school years, the 33-year-old had to deal with dyslexia but knew he wanted to pursue a career in film as an editor and director. “I was a very shy person but the cinema made me come out of my shell,” he says.
When Irani first told Shah and Kaul about the movie, he knew how his first and last scene would turn out. “I invented what was in the middle. After both nodding, I found excuses to save time to prepare the script, ”he recalls. Ajeeb Daastaans, which brings together four “unusual” stories, is the latest anthology to air on Netflix and is produced by Dharmatic Entertainment. The other segments are led by Shashank Khaitan, Raj Mehta and Neeraj Ghaywan.
What made Shefali Shah say yes to the role? It hit her in the stomach. “When that happens, I take on the role. At the same time, I don’t want to restrict myself as an actor. I want to play all types of roles possible. If a story and a character grab me emotionally, I go. For a long time, I didn’t have the kind of job I wanted to do. I figured I might not always get what I wanted, but it was worth it, ”Shah says. The actor became popular with TV shows such as Banegi Apni Baat (1993-97) and Hasratein (1996-97). She caught 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 likes to travel when cinema and theater don’t keep him busy, “doesn’t like to work very much”. Kaul says he takes something when he believes it. While portraying the character of Kabir, he had some concerns to resolve. “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 have also watched hearing impaired children communicate with each other. In addition, Kabir has a certain charm. I didn’t want to overdo it, ”said the actor, who was praised for his performance in Bugs Bhargava’s film Nail Polish, 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, training with Chavan was not just about learning to convey dialogue. “I wanted to learn sign language to go beyond making a scene to express myself fluently and spontaneously. It was really difficult, but sign language is one of the most beautiful things you can learn, ”Shah says and calls the experience“ calming ”.
Shah and Kaul also had several sessions with Irani over coffee and bhelpuri where they discussed the nuances of their characters in great detail. “We are both instinctive actors. By working on certain scenes and improvising, we sometimes communicated a few extra words that were not in the script. Sitaram Sir would point it out and we would rate them for captioning, ”Kaul explains. For him, however, the first day was difficult. “Soon I realized we were all together,” he says. The film also features Tota Roy Chowdhury.
During filming, Irani showed no signs of nervousness to Kaul’s surprise. While Irani says he had a lot of faith in his actors, Shah was confident that the beginning director would be successful. Irani, who was born and raised in South Mumbai, shot in places he knew well while working as an assistant director. “I wanted to feel at home directing my first one,” says Irani, who is the son of veteran actor Boman Irani. Since he was creating the project of a streaming platform, he could also avoid following the tropes of the main romantic film. “We should show more stories like this that explore habitual relationships, moving away from tried and true romantic tales,” Irani says.
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