'SCREEN – APR 14, 1989
AN EVENTFUL COME BACK!
Armed with an intense desire to act and an indisputable talent,
Deepti Naval left behind a comfortable home, a degree in painting
and literature, as well as the alluring country USA to rough it
out in tinsel town. The flicker of capability shone through even
as she flitted in and out of the inane and the routine. An occasional
‘Chashme-Buddoor’, ‘Angoor’ and ‘Katha’
or an exceptional ‘Kamla’ endeared her to both, the
adoring and the critical. If luck eluded her, sheer perseverance
has paid rich dividends. Today, she is on the threshold of an
eminent comeback of sorts, backed by powerful and pivotal roles
which exploit her histrionics to the hilt. From uncomfortable
frivolity to the mature, hard-hitting portrayals, the gradual
growth is welcome. At least she refused to remain one more able
actress caught in the snare of snazzy commercialism.
She bided her time, she dared to differ. Little wonder then, she
is full of her forthcoming films, the shy introvert opening up
to sketch vivid pictures of her performances in an excited and
articulate fashion. For, when the focus is turned on her person,
Deepti, unlike the gregarious Aquarian, recedes in her shell.
As she recounts her experiences of ‘Didi’, ‘Main
Zinda Hoon’, ‘Panchvati’ and ‘Sauda’
amongst others, a distinct feeling of hope seeps through. The
time is ripe. Deepti is ready… to reconquer!
You have just completed
a Hindi Film, ‘Didi’ made by renowned maker from Bengal,
Tapan Sinha. Could you tell us something about this project?
‘Didi’ is based on Pramendra Mittra’s novel,
‘Mahanagar’ which had won the President’s Gold
medal in 1936. Since Satyajit Roy had utilized this title for
another theme, we named the film ‘Didi’. It is a film
I am really looking forward to. In fact, there is a rather unusual
and interesting tale attached to this. It so happened that years
ago, Hrishikesh Mukherjee told me a story about this brother and
sister who live happily in their village. One day, the sister
is married off and when she is strolling along the river with
her husband, some goondas beat up the husband and gang rape the
girl. She is rejected by her parents and in laws and fate brings
her to the red light area of Calcutta. Her little brother now
comes in search for her, finds her in a brothel, wants to take
her back, but she has to send him away, naturally. Life has changed
beyond repair. It was an extremely poignant and touching tale
and I loved it ever since I heard it. But Hrishida intended to
make the film with Rekha and I was highly disappointed. Nevertheless
the story remained embedded in my mind. Harishida never made the
film for some reason, but I got to play the role with Tapan Da
Coming back to Tapan Da, I met him on two occassions of different
film festivals and expressed my eagerness to work with a maker
like him. All he said then was that when the time will come, he
shall approach me. One day he called up and asked me whether I
would like to do a film and I jumped at the proposition. It was
when he started narrating the tale to me that I realized that
it was the same story I had set my heart upon years ago. My excitement
knew no bounds. I could hardly believe myself. It is amazing how
things fall in place when they have to.
Where was the shooting
of the film done? How did you prepare for the role?
We canned a major portion of the film, which includes the village
where I live with my brother in the forest belt skirting Calcutta
and some brothel portions in the NT-1 studios in the city. You
see, there is a lot of flashback involved with the story being
told from the eyes of the brother in the first half and later,
through myself when he comes to Calcutta to meet me. Then I reminisce
about the good old days. Making this movie was one of my post
cherished experiences and think, Tapan Sinha is not only one of
the finest man in the industry but also one of the finest person
I have ever met. ‘Didi’ is a short one and a half
hour feature film, to be precise.
As for the interpretation, I did have to be very careful not to
turn the latter characterization into a vulgar one. You see, the
heroine is a simple, affectionate village girl and it is circumstances
which compel her to take to prostitution. So the basic strain
of an innocent human being had to be retained. I deliberately
avoided acquiring that pan-chewing, extra-bold tawaif, spewing
out choicest abuses. We were never depicting the hard-core prostitute
and it would have been disastrous to put on false mannerisms.
You realize this when she reverts to her role of a mother all
over again when her brother comes in search for her. The only
time you see the toughening of this girl for survival is when
she explodes at the pimp who comes to call her whilst her brother
is still inside the room.
Another of your films
yet to be released, ‘Panchvati’ has received rave
reviews from the various international fetes it was shown at.
Could you elaborate on the story of this film and the response
it got abroad?
‘Panchvati’ is another film I enjoyed very much. Indeed
working with Basu Bhattacharya had been my desire right from my
initial days in the industry. This film is an Indo-Nepalese co-production
shot in Kathmandu and around, and some parts in Delhi. It is the
tale of a Nepalese girl who is artistically inclined and a painter
by profession. During one of her exhibitions in Delhi, she meets
Suresh Oberoi and they click instantly. He is gentle, understanding
and encouraging, she relates to him perfectly. But he is married
and the undercurrents of love and affection are never given expression.
Saadhvi, the girl, never realizes that she is in love with him
while he had never nurtured such an idea. Instead, he likes her
and brings to her the marriage proposal for his younger brother,
Akbar Khan. Without really comprehending, she agrees and they
get married. Now, Akbar is exactly the opposite of his elder brother.
He is brash, insensitive, indifferent, and materialistic. Their
marriage is restricted to a strictly physical relationship and
Saadhvi begins to suffocate until a day comes when she decides
she has had enough. This is when Akbar hits her angrily one day
and she realizes the futility of carrying on. In the meanwhile,
Oberoi, who had gone off on a business trip returns and complying
to Saadhvi’s wishes, agrees to drop her home. On their way
back, they stop at a place called Panchvati, the family's estate.
Their brief stay endorses the point that just as he is mismatched
with his wife, so is Saadhvi, closer as they are to each other
instead. They make love and she leaves, to later realize that
she is pregnant. But now, her identity emerges as she goes ahead
with the brave decision to have her child. She does not want him
to leave his wife and goes or marry her instead. She decides to
go ahed with her life on her own without the support of one man
or the other. Throughout, Saadhvi maintains her grace, poise and
dignity in all her actions.
Everywhere we went, we got excellent response. In Tokyo, I felt
on top of the world, when Gregory Peck, the chairman of the jury,
called out my name as an actress who's performance touched his
How closely do you
identify with Saadhvi, the heroine of ‘Panchvati?
Completely, I think it is a role closest to my personality.
the thematic content similar to ‘Main Zinda Hoon’,
the film made in collaboration with NFDC and Doordarshan?
Yes, you could say so, in a way. ‘Main Zinda Hoon’
too, the girl slowly emerges from her cocoon to assert her identity,
only to find herself amidst a bigger dilemma in the climax. But
in Panchvati, Sadhvi comes out a winner, a woman with tremendous
‘Main Zinda Hoon’ is also a mature subject dealing
with the relationship and complexities of marriage and family
structure. Beena is a small town girl who gets married to a man
(Alok Nath) and comes to live with him in a chawl in Bombay. Now
Alok is already a much harassed man supporting a huge family and
had never wanted to marry in the first place. Even after marriage,
therefore, he wants nothing to do with her and she is totally
lost in the new surroundings. One day, disgusted with everything
he walks off, never to return. All the frantic search yields no
result. The family takes him to be dead and life poses a bigger
problem as there is no bread winner in the house. Beena tries
to commit suicide but cannot gather the courage. It is then that
a friend in the chawl suggests she begins to work and become the
sole earning member of her in-laws’ family.
Here, Beena meets a man in her office (Pankaj Kapur), who is a
nice man and they begin to like each other. When he proposes,
she is in a fix for she does not know whether her husband is dead
or alive and yet, her marriage is as god as non existent. Finally,
after a lot of thinking, Beena puts the proposition before her
in-laws who realize that if she left, they will be rendered helpless
again. So they suggest Pankaj come and live with them accepting
him as their son. Just when all plans to marry him are ready,
Alok returns. But the real dramatic turn takes place when his
parents go back on their word and blame the entire Pankaj episode
on Beena. This is the traumatic point when she loses her mental
equilibrium. All along the film, she keeps relating to her dead
father, talking to him as if he were alive for he was the only
person she related to. The film is stylized, in that sense. A
very sensitive, well-mode film, it gives me tremendous scope to
Which are the other
roles you have looking forward to besides the above ones?
There is B. R. Chopra’s television serial, ‘Sauda’
with a very unusual storyline and presentation. They plan to keep
it an open-ending tale with the viewers asked to come up with
a solution instead. After pasteurizing two of the best suggestions,
they plan to reveal their own conclusion. It is a theme about
six freedom fighters who are caught in an emotional web when one
of them kills British officer during pre-independence days and
all six confess, ready to bear punishment. But the officer asks
who the person is and instead of giving away the name, they draw
lots, like before. The guy chosen is not prepared to die and makes
a deal with a fellow prisoner to take his place, his cowardice
shocking the rest. Ironically, when India becomes free and they
are released, this traitor falls in love with the sister of the
man who willingly took his place and was hanged to death. What
happens then, when she realizes this, is the suspense-filled mystery.
I play that girl.
What accounts for the lull in your career for the past
two, three years?
I think it was mainly due to two reasons. One was that I was not
keeping well and the other was the popular misconception that
once an actress gets married she does not want to work. I want
to remove this wrong notion once and for all, for me as well as
others like Poonam or Anita. Why should we stop work after marriage?
Does a lady doctor cease to be one or a painter or teacher give
up her profession after marriage? Any way, now that I am back
in full swing, I hope this dawns upon people too.