The Nikamma  actor talks about being left tired after professional work and then banking on her sister Shamita to do her simple chores at home.
By Mayur Lookhar
A fourteen year wait. Phew, this must have felt like a vanvaas [forest stay]. During this theatrical wilderness, Shilpa Shetty traversed to the magnificent jungles of television, found a Ram in Raj [Kundra], bore two lovely kids, and yet kept herself in great shape and mind through yoga. Shilpa Shetty Kundra was visible, but the actor in her perhaps went hibernating or simply waiting for the opportune moment. 14 years later, she made a comeback to films with Hungama 2 , but the straight-to-digital release didn’t live up to its name or hype.
She endured a tough personal phase last year but rode the tide to be smiling all over again. Watching Shilpa Shetty Kundra on reality shows or in media spaces, the lady always strikes you as this little child bustling with joy. She credits her late father for this sense of humour. After the long vanvaas, Shetty was perhaps better suited to play a Sita but the actor’s first theatrical release in 14 years has her trying to heal a Nikamma .
Remake of Telugu film Middle Class Abbayi , Shetty plays Avani, bhabhi to Abhimanyu Dassani in the action, romantic family drama that hits the screens on 17 June. She shared her thoughts on the film, being a nikammi [useless] in the eyes of her sister and more during a brief group interaction with the media.
You look as young as ever, but I’ve always wondered where does this sense of humour come from?
Andar se aayega aur kahan se (where else but from inside).
[Laughter all around]
What I meant was is there some inspiration behind this sense of humour?
My late father had a great sense of humour. He was always the life at every party, function. Even in the most difficult circumstances, he used to laugh about everything and make people laugh. I realized that this is always a great place to be in. So, I think that trait comes from my dad. Whenever there is a bad time, it is better to make fun of yourself, than let other people to make fun of you. So, that is what keeps me sane.
So, what keeps you young then?
What keeps me young is yoga. With every year, I knock off at least three years off my age.[laughs]
You’ve spoken about having Nikamma as your comeback film.
[Cuts in]. It should have been my first release. That is how it was intended to be, but god has a better plan. I am happy now that people are going to see this as my first theatrical release in 14 years. This is the reason I said yes to coming back to movies. And you’ll see why when you get to see the film.
Whatever is the fate of the movie – because sometimes even the biggest films with the biggest actors are not doing well in this weird phase. We have kind of lost perspective on movie making and cinema audiences now.
What kind of actor do we get to see in Nikamma?
I don’t think any heroine has played a role like this. The kind of facets this character Avani has – maybe I’ve made a bit too tall a claim – there are many nuances to the character. She appears in various avtar. It’s been one of the most wholesome and amazing process for me as an actor. I can’t really divulge too much.
It is a nice, clean, happy film. This bhabhi-devar [sister-in-law, brother-in-law] angle, I don’t think this dynamix has been explored much other than in Sooraj Barjatya films. Even in those films, it is only a little part of it. Whereas here [Nikamma], the whole dynamics is based on this. I feel it is an old wine in a new bottle. Avani is not your typical bhabhi. She is managing the house, also managing her devar to help him come out of his nikammapan [uselessness].
So, actor, yoga practitioner and now are you an official Nikamma healer too?
(laughs). That is a great question. I really believe that when you are not a nikamma, you will not realise your value. You have to go through that down, like a roller coaster ride, to enjoy the high. So, till a nikamma doesn’t feel absolutely useless, worthless, and he doesn’t realises his self-worth, he will be of no use to anyone else. That is the whole idea and the journey of the movie. You can be the most worthless person, but if your family is in danger, you will come to their rescue.
Did you feel at any point in your career that you are a nikammi and bounced out of it?
Not in my career, but I’m quite a nikammi when I’m at home, especially when it comes to work, I work a lot, there are so many verticals that I have that when I am at home, I’m [gesticulates] please do this, please pick up that. I get tired lifting my baby. I’m only speaking as a mom, forget a housemaker – that is an altogether different facet. My sister [Shamita] always says, you’re of use to everyone else, but when it comes to me, you are a nikammi. Even if I want to buy something, I ask her to get it.
Did Shamita feel the same when you’ll were kids?
Ah.. [long pause] No. I think the dynamics now has changed. [laughs]
The title of the film is very subtle. Your best memory when your parents said you are a nikammi [feminine] or when you felt the same about your kids or some people on the sets?
I can think of many people who are nikammas, but I will keep that to myself. That is where I draw the line for those people [laughs]. Whatever be my judgment of people, being a yoga practitioner, I’ve learnt along the course that judgment is truly a confession of your own character. Every soul comes with a person. Maybe that soul’s purpose is to be a nikamma and there is something that he has to discover. That time will come, so who am I judge?
As far as me feeling a nikammi, that was the time when my mother saw my prelims report, I scored some 48 %. It was disgraceful. But that happened because I was concentrating on extra-curricular activities. I was a volleyball player. I was selected for Bombay zone, and nearly got selected for state level. My mother saw my report and bawled. She said I was going to be absolutely useless. Then my aim in life was to become a volleyball coach. But after seeing my mother upset, I studied for ten days. And then I got 73 %. I was an above average student.
You had said in one interview that you had been choosy because you believe that you are a massy actress. So, what has changed now? You are also doing a big OTT show.
That is also massy. A Rohit Shetty show. If I had to do something for the web world, it couldn’t have been a bigger launch for me. I’ve always been a massy heroine, but I’m also here to entertain. If there is some content that people will like to watch or maybe some director I want to work with, I will do it for that reason. Priyadarshan sir is someone I wanted to work with and that is why I did a Hungama 2 . It wasn’t an ideal comeback for me, but I could never say no to Ratan ji [producer].
But you were good in the film.
I was good but what is the use? Luckily It came on OTT. With due respect, I loved being part of Hungama 2, I have lot of respect for Priyadarshan sir.
What difference do you see between the actors of 90s and now?
I feel the new age actors and the entire way they are groomed is very different from who we were. But audiences have also changed. The acting style has also changed. The way we emote has changed. Love stories have changed, even in our personal life. Earlier, we wrote letters, we gave blank calls, but today it has all changed. I have got a whole lot of blank calls.
You complete three decades in the industry. Is there anything which has remained unaccomplished?
If I think I have accomplished everything, then that will be the end of it. You guys won’t be sitting here to interview me. I feel like a new comer even now. Yesterday I went for the special screening of Nikamma. Before the movie began, I kept gulping because I hadn’t seen myself on the big screen for 14 years. But I was still working. In fact, I am working more now than I ever have in my life. Hope I have done justice to Avani. Hope I won’t let my audiences down. At the end of the movie, I felt I’ve given my best shot, now it is up to fate.
You spoke about having gulp in the throat. So, how was it to face the camera on the first day of the sets at Nikamma?
That day I felt like a nikammi. I was shooting with Abhimanyu. I’d watched him in Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota , and I thought he was brilliant. I was nervous. While I was doing TV, brands, you are still emoting but you are still Shilpa Shetty, and I wasn’t playing another character. There you can do anything you want. Who is there to say that you are doing it wrong? But here Avani is a character. And to play it to the best of your understanding, and to put life into a character is the most thrilling thing for an actor. I was very nervous, but thankfully Sabbir Khan is a wonderful director. You see the actors he has worked with and given them wonderful platforms – Tiger Shroff, Kriti Sanon. They have done so well. I think I made the best decision to start off [return] with Nikamma .