'It is totally a Deepti Naval film’. ‘She has acted
brilliantly’. ‘A powerful role for her.’ These
are some of the remarks of those who saw ‘Main Zinda Hoon’
(I am living) at the London Film Festival. Directed by Sudhir
Mishra, the film is a powerful commentary on the plight of a lot
of women of India.
Beena a young small town girl (played by Deepti) finds herself
in a pathetic condition when her husband refuses to consummate
the marriage. She is forced to take up work in the big city, Bomaby,
to provide for her husband’s family. During her husband’s
long absence Beena has another relationship. In the role of Beena,
Deepti displays an intensity and naturalness that are rarely seen
on the Hindi screen.
“It is the sort of character I always hankered after,”
says Deepti. “Sudhir brought out the best in me. Now I hope
to get more such challenging roles.”
Deepti Naval has always been a bit of an enigma for the film industry.
Undeniably talented, she has never been, for them, the ideal heroine
material and despite her, again, undeniable charm, she has never
fitted in with the average film maker’s conception of glamour.
Yet the late Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi, both of who could easily
be considered in the same light, have proved highly successful
in breaking through this tunnel-vision approach to casting. Somehow
Deepti has been overlooked.
Girl from New York
Deepti came to Bombay from New York where her parents, both professors
of English, still live. But in the industry, her love of poetry
and good roles led many producers to believe she wasn’t
interested in commercial films. Thankfully, this omission on the
part of the Bombay establishment seems to be sorting itself out
and her performance in ‘Main Zinda Hoon’ has proved
that she is a talented actress.
Deepti began her career with a small part in Shyam Benegal’s
‘Junoon’. Soon she was cast in the lead in ‘Ek
Baar Phir’ with Suresh Oberoi. The first Hindi film to be
made completely in London, it dealt with the emotional conflict
of a woman caught between an indifferent husband and her artist
lover. Deepti’s freshness captured the sympathy of audiences
in India, from people who normally would have shunned a woman
of that sort. The film was a box offive success. Slowly the offers
started to come – ‘Hum Paanch’, ‘Angoor’,
‘Partner’ and ‘Shriman Shrimati’ to name
but a few.
But her work in these films just wasn’t giving her the kind
of artistic fulfillment she had left New York to find. Moreover,
the more glamorous actresses such as Rekha, Sri Devi, Hema Malini,
Jaya Pradha and even Shbana Azmi and the late Smita Patil had
cornered the commercial market and the better parts. But says
Deepti: “It’s not that I don’t like the idea
of my work being seen by the multitudes, it’s just that
the artist in me refuses to compromise. I just know there is a
market for quality cinema.”
With Sai Paranjpe’s Chashme Baddhoor’. Deepti at last
found her audience. It was a commercial success and proved that
good films could have major box office appeal. This film was also
the first of a series of films in which she appeared with Farooque
Most Creative Phase
Then ‘Kamla’ marked the beginning of Deepti’s
most creative phase, directed by Jagmohan Mundhra, ‘Kamla’
tells the story of a journalist who, in order to expose the buying
and selling of girls, purchases a young girl called Kamla. “The
character of Kamla intrigued me and I was determined to give it
everything I had.”
It was followed by ‘Ankahee’ perhaps Deepti’s
most talked about performance. Based on man’s belief in
astrology and directed by Amol Palekar, it features a delightful
Deepti as the marginally unbalanced Radha.
Looking back Deepti has enjoyed the last 10 years despite the
uncertainties of the film world. And, there is more of Deepti
Naval to come with ‘Kisise Na Kehna’ with Farooque
Shaikh and Utpal Dutt. Chopra’s ‘Sauda’, ‘Aks’
based on her own script with Nana Patekar (of ‘Salaam Bombay’
fame) and a Marathi film. Never before has she been as ambitious
as now and never before has her future looked so promising.