‘Creating a painting or a character is a great high’

Things couldn’t have got more incongruous: we are in an office to do our newbie ‘At Home’ column.

But then to know what occupies actor Shifaali Shah in her private world you need to visit Sunshine Pictures Pvt. Ltd. off Veera Desai Road. It’s her husband Vipul Amrutlal Shah’s production house and home to her passion—painting.

Creative pursuits
As you walk past several film posters — Namastey London, Waqt, Action Replayy — and arrive at the lobby, a wall of original canvases meets the eye.

“These are some of my earliest works,” Shah tells us; and they are about her first love — cinema and the objects associated with it like reels, clapper board, director’s chair, camera, mic… There is a large canvas in black, white and red on the wall of the meeting room. From a distance, the geometric pattern gives the impression of office cubicles.

On the opposite wall is a starkly contrasting work, a “freehand doodle” of the left profile of a girl. The strands of her hair are made up of the prosaic stuff of life: butterflies, stilettos, windows, curtains, phone, sun, keys. “It shows how my own mind works. It’s about the cacophony of thoughts, dreams, desires, ambitions, passions.”

More of Shah’s creations are stacked away in a room here; they would have crowded out at her home. Among them is a series which seems to have been inspired by the Turkish landscape, specifically the ubiquitous mosques.

We chance upon two: in bold red, black and white. Another large one, in blue, hangs in her living room, in consonance with the décor. She shows us several photographs of the artwork displayed at home.

We aren’t quite missing being at her home. After getting the photo shoot out of the way we sit down for a long conversation in Shah’s huge but warm and homely room over innumerable cups of ‘auntywali chai’ (her favourite readymade tea) and hot vada and bhajiya pav.

A suitable foil for the wet weather outside.

Different strokes
Looking back, Shah feels her interest in arts could well be an inheritance from her mother. “She sings, paints, does embroidery,” she says. But getting more systematic and disciplined about the hobby has to do with her two sons. Their art teacher did such a wonderful job on them that their mother herself turned into her student. This was five years ago.

Soon she joined Last Ship, artiste Julius Macwan’s (now defunct) artists’ residency in Bandra’s Chuim Village, and took up the drawing and painting course.

“It gave me a lot of hours with myself, to paint and explore, to sit around and watch people who had been painting for some time. ”

In the beginning, Shah was painting because of pure enjoyment, but was soon noticed for the merit and worth in her artwork. Her paintings got picked up by Prerna Joshi’s Samsara Arts. Concern India Foundation selected two of her paintings for a charity art exhibition.

“It was wonderful to start off with something like this,” she says. What’s more, the exhibition was held in Mumbai’s Jehangir Art Gallery.

“It’s any artiste’s dream to have the work up there on that wall,” she says, still excited, “Mine was the big piece right at the centre and got sold before I could come to the venue,” she says. The red dot was the give away.

Was the high similar to getting praised for her acting performances? “In both the arts one is looking for appreciation but that moment is short-lived. The process of creating — be it a work of art or a character — is a much greater high. I like to be on that trip. Creative satisfaction gives me the high, it opens up horizons for me as a person,” she says.

The method
Shah has made 25-odd paintings, most of them quite recently. She finds herself getting as obsessed about them and involved in them as her roles and acting. “I give my 1000 per cent. Nothing else comes in the way.” There is no defined space at home for her painting. Since Shah works with large canvases mounting them on the easel doesn’t always work. She spreads them on the dining table or on the floor, propping them up a little against the wall or the ledge. The floor is for the big strokes, the more intricate work gets done on the dining table. What is defined is the time.

“I always like to work through the night. It’s when things are most calm and peaceful,” she says. She listens to music and downs hundreds of cups of chai while painting. Her preference is to work with acrylic, and by her own admission, she has “no patience for oil”. She loves ink and charcoal while red, black and white are the favourite colours.

Interpretation and inspiration
We go back to discussing the office cubicle painting. “It could mean anything to anyone. To me it could be a deep passage into the mind or the opening up of the mind. And it is not just to do with my interpretation as the artiste,” she says. It’s all about perspective. Which is what she chooses to underline her work with, wants it to be identified for?

The interpretation of it could vary depending on the place it is displayed in, the light that falls on it, when it is seen, by whom and his or her own state of mind.

Shah feeds on art quite voraciously, not only visiting galleries and museums round the world but also trawling the Internet for information. “I am open to soaking up anything; even the public art, the art on the roads,” she says. She loves the work of Mumbai artist-author Subhash Awchat, especially those “those black-and-white faces” and is taken in by the “chaos” in the work of American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock.

Movie chat
Veering back to films, she talks of the crucial difference between the two art forms she has been dabbling in. She says, “While painting, I am the boss. I am not bound by time. I have total freedom. In films I am dependant on the work given to me.”

The film offers have not always been to her liking, a reason why she continues to be selective. She may not have a vast inventory but an excellent one, with films like Monsoon Wedding, Satya, The Last Lear, 15 Park Avenue, Dil Dhadakne Do among others. “It’s a rich repertoire, films that I am proud of,” she says.

Why is she lying low now? To begin with, she feels the need to play her age on screen. “I am not 55 and overweight,” she says. She played the role of Big B’s wife very early on in her career, in Waqt. The older roles have stuck to her since then, till as late as her last outing, Dil Dhadakne Do.

“I loved both the films but the fact is I am younger than Akshay Kumar (who played her son in Waqt). But people have this image of me, are surprised that I look very petite and young in real life,” she shares.

In fact she nixed Kapoor and Sons for the same reason. She was originally offered the role played by Ratna Pathak Shah. “It would have re-established me in the same age group.” Right now all she wants is to experiment. “As an actor I have to play fat, old, schizophrenic, Marathi, Bengali. I have to keep transforming myself but the industry tends to typecast, bracket me.”

‘Like an illusion’
One such interesting film is round the corner: Once Again, an Indo-German venture directed by Kanwal Sethi. It’s an old world romance, about two lonely souls, played by her and Neeraj Kabi, and how they connect. “It’s the kind of film you don’t see in these times of two-minute noodles and [instant] coffee.”

Shah loves the new age, Indie films though; Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan has been a personal favourite. It’s the kind of cinema she would want to be associated with but that hasn’t been coming her way either.

“A filmmaker once told me that I am like an illusion, I come in a film and then disappear,” she says. It could also be because she doesn’t socialise much, is not out partying so often. “I can’t dress up and wear makeup all the time,” she says. Instead she prefers being at home, painting. “In my shorts, wearing my specs, hair all messed up, brushes and pens stuck on the head. I can be my own person,” she says.

Shah doesn’t like to sully the work with her signature, either preferring instead to sign at the back of the paintings: much like her acting.

The work, the role, the character have to stand out, not her.

Posted by on August 31, 2016. Filed under Entertainment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.