Sejal Shah - Interview
It's lockdown time but for Sejal Shah she is back to business. The talented actor is busy rehearsing for her new play to be aired on an up-coming OTT platform called 9Rasa, the brainchild of Shreyas Talpade. Sejal took time out to talk to us on issues close to her heart. Having acted in over thirty plays, some popular TV serials and a few films Sejal has come a long way.

 By Jahnavi Pal

She started her journey in 1985 with a role in a Hindi play. "Theatre is my first love and I always wanted to be an actor. I come from a very conservative family and my father never wanted me to take up this profession. But it so happened that a friend approached me for a children's film which I happily accepted. And when I was doing this film a producer noticed me and offered me a role in a Gujarati play. After this there was no looking back. One thing led to another and I was being offered roles in both Hindi and Gujarati plays.

"My debut on Gujarati stage happened with a play called PATNI ETLE PURNAVIRAM. This play did well and I got noticed. I am not a trained actor but acting was a passion with me and I can say it was there in me since I was a kid. As a child I would stand opposite the mirror and act out scenes and even dance. Yes, though I did not go to any acting school but I have learnt acting from the best actors on stage. My mentor and teacher was Sarita Joshi with whom I worked for five years. She taught me everything I know about this craft. She is a school herself and by just observing her on stage one can learn all that is required to be an actor. She is a Padmashri and a National Award winner. I was in awe of her. I had been recommended to her by director Rita Desai when Saritaben was looking for a young girl to play a role in KUMAR NI AGASHI which she wanted to revive. She cast me and I did an important part in this play and I even had a soliloquy towards the end of the play. After this she did a play called SAKHA SAHIYARA where once again I got the opportunity to work with her. I played a role opposite Dilip Joshi in this. When I was doing KUMAR NI AGASHI Saritaben was doing three plays and we were touring for 25 days in Gujarat. Those were not the days of 'sold out'shows so we had the chance to watch her perform in all the three plays. I would sit and watch her and she taught me so much. It became my training ground. I observed her closely and I could apply this much later in life. When I saw her in SANTU RANGEELI I knew why she is 'the Sarita Joshi'."

After this she moved on in her professional career and had the good fortune of working with the powerhouse of talent, Shafi Inamdar. " I did a play called GURUBRAHMA with him where again I learnt a lot from him. I played the mother to Shefali and Muni who I was dating then. I was not even 30 then but Shafi convinced me to play a young mother with such conviction that I am eternally grateful to him. Moreover it had many other talented actors like Shefali Shah, Muni Jha, Sanat Vyas, Siddarth Randeria. I recall rehearsing for an emotional scene with Shefali and Shafi made us do it forty times till he was satisfied. When one works with such talented actors and directors one learns a lot. I was very lucky that I was able to be part of an era which had such good actors from whom I could imbibe so much. Soon after I got a chance to work with Paresh Rawal. He was looking for someone in the lead for a play called SHIRADCHHED. I am thankful to him that he waited for a year for me as my play SAKHA SAHIYARA was doing very well and I had my commitment to it. Now Paresh is a very different kind of actor. He is the master of natural acting. I learnt this very important aspect of acting from him where despite of not missing out on your voice throw you can still be natural and not dramatic. This was a very tough journey as I had to unlearn everything that I had learnt until then. I played his daughter in that play and it was a wonderful experience. I recall when I couldn't get a scene right I used to be very agitated but Kanti Madia who was also playing an important role helped me and one day like magic I got it right. Those days were different as we took months for rehearsals where we worked on our voice throw, diction and understanding the character. This doesn't happen anymore. I am an actor who can give her best if given a chance to perfect herself through this process. In the midst of all this I did a replacement in a play by Sailesh Dave called EKKO DUGGI. He had a different style and I learnt some more. With every new director I was evolving as an actor.

"I then got a chance to work with Siddarth Randeria in PARNA CHE KAUNE KAHIYE adapted from a Marathi play. It was a comedy, and to do a comedy with Siddarth is very tough as he improvises on stage and one has to match up to him. In fact to be able to stand with him on stage is a challenge in itself as he is a master at comedy. Though I had earlier done a comedy play called PATI NAME PATANGIYU this one was a different ball game. I was in awe of him and I always felt I could not match up to him. It took me 25 shows to be able to match up to him but after that I took him on and I began to beat him at his game!

"I can say I have been blessed to do some of the best Gujarati plays. I did a play called PRATIBIMB NA PADCHAYA which was written by Suresh Rajda and was based on the film Primal Fear. This was one of the biggest challenges as it was the role of a split personality. I had worked very hard over this role. After this I did CHAL REVERSE MA JAIYE with Rajesh Joshi who wrote and directed it and this one got me a lot of accolades. I soon came to be known as an actor who could now stand on her own. Despite so many good plays I still think it was my work in SHIRADCHHED that i count as the turning point in my career as I was playing a very challenging role and that too opposite an actor like Paresh Rawal. Earlier I have been cast opposite actors Saritaben, Siddarth Randeria but they were not powerful roles. But this one got me my medal. Through the play it was him and me on stage. In fact he had by then become a popular film actor but not once did he try to upstage me and for this I hold him in utmost respect."

Veering towards of personal life Sejal says being married to an actor has more advantages than disadvantages. "Had I been married to a businessman or somebody from another profession I don't think it would have so easy. Because Muni is an actor he understands my professional issues. Moreover we are very compatible as actors so when we work together there are no ego clashes as we understand each other so well."

Sharing an interesting event in her life Sejal says, "I recall an incident which happened during one of our performances of KUMAR NI AGASHI. We were performing at an auditorium in Thane and the lights suddenly went off. I was in the midst of my soliloquy. The organiser immediately instructed me to continue and I went on. Now this is a very big auditorium so I had to be loud enough to be heard to the last row. Fortunately I have a loud voice which enabled me to pitch to the last row. I was so happy that I received applause for this despite the audio system being off and I using my natural voice to be audible. In fact Saritaben came backstage to praise me for this and this was a huge compliment me."

Sejal says she has enjoyed her career so much that if given an option she would definitely like to be re-born as an actor. "Acting has taught me so much why would I want to be anything else? But my only regret is that Hindi films has not given me my due. I don't know what is it that is needed to make it in Hindi cinema."

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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