Shaitan, a new Telugu web series, is not an easy watch with the narrative built on profanity, sexual content, violence, and bloodbath. The series is centred around a family caught in Telangana’s heated, muddled socio-political atmosphere, eventually leading to murders and crimes. Heading the family of three is the mother, Savithri, played by Malayalam actor Shelly.
Savithri is very different from the demure roles Shelly has played on Malayalam television and in films. It is very different from her memorable role in Minnal Murali, where she enacts the part of the grief-stricken Usha, the love of the antagonist, Shibu, played by Guru Somasundaram.
Shelly admits she was in two minds when the project was offered to her. “I was okay with playing a mother to three children while essaying her younger and older versions. But then Mahi sir [director of the series Mahi V Raghav] said that there are a few intimate scenes. He asked me whether I would be comfortable doing it. It was not easy to take a decision. That’s when my inner voice said, ‘Why not?’ I loved the character and decided that I would work it out when the time came,” she says.
Savithri, a single mother, is forced into a physical relationship with a ruthless police officer so that she could take care of her children, two sons and a daughter. But all hell breaks loose when the man eyes her daughter. Both her sons, Baali (Manish Rishi) and Gumti (Javed Shaikh), take the law into their hands. But Savithri supports them and even commits a crime for Baali’s sake.
Shelly says that speaking in Telugu was the toughest part for her and not the gruesome scenes. “During the audition, I messed up the dialogues and never thought I would be considered for the character. Nevertheless, they wanted me to do the role. It was not easy because besides learning the dialogues by heart, I had to understand what my co-actor was saying or else I would miss the timing. And if one of them improvised, I would fumble. Since I was concentrating on the language, it sort of restricted by body language,” she explains.
Shelly laughs when I tell her that it was difficult to picturise her as the mother of three adults. “Even I was taken aback when I saw my ‘children’ on the set! I took up the role because I needed to have that out-of-the-box experience as an actor. Moreover, the series is in Telugu and not in Malayalam where the audience is used to seeing me in certain roles. I was new to the Telugu audience and wanted to break the stereotypes associated with my image,” Shelly asserts.
She says the crew went out of their way to make her comfortable while filming the scene that portrayed physical intimacy.
Shelly mentions that it was Minnal Murali that got her the role. “Ravi, our director’s assistant, had suggested my name after watching Minnal Murali. Actually he had wanted to cast me in Mahi sir’s previous work, Yathra [biopic on YSR Rajasekhara Reddy], after watching me in the [Tamil] film, Thanga Meengal. But that didn’t happen. So, when he saw me in Minnal Murali, he wanted me to do the role in Shaitan,” she says.
Her upcoming releases in Malayalam are Swakaryam Sambhava Bahulam, Narayaneente Moonnaanmakkal and Oru Bharatha Sarkar Ulpannam. In Tamil, she was last seen in Dhanush-starrer Naan Varuven.
Shaitan, dubbed in Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil, and Bengali, is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.