Deepti Naval in conversation with Shoma A. Chatterji
DEEPTI Naval is a woman of many parts. Apart from doing
a whole lot of meaningful roles mainly in off-mainstream films,
she has produced and directed serials for Doordarshan. Yet she
remains one of the least utilized talents in Hindi cinema. Recently
Deepti featured in Muqammal. A soap on Sahara TV in which she
performed a modernized version of Draupadi. But her lesser known
talents are also brilliant in their sparkle and their creative
imagination, be it a solo exhibition of paintings or a book of
poetry that splits itself into two parts, each an unique reflection
of Deepti’s mindset over given periods of time. Her relationships
with the men in her life have been an unconventional as the characters
in her films. And she has never been clandestine about them. Excerpts
from an interview:
For nearly a decade,
1992 to 2001 or so, you kept yourself away from the limelight
and was seldom seen on the screen….
At some point, I realized I was doing many films but wasn’t
getting any satisfaction. Not that I was wanting for work because
work kept coming in. But it was not the kind of work I would have
enjoyed doing. I busied myself through reading, painting, directing
a television serial and traveling.
You had an exhibition
of photographs in London sometime ago. What was it all about?
It was called In Search Of Another Sky and was held at the Nehru
Centre, London, to raise funds for The Consortium For Street Children.
Founded in 1993, the charity is a network of development agencies
providing training, technical and campaigning support to projects
for children who live and work in the streets of developing countries
and in eastern Europe. The exhibition was presented by Surina
Narula, the charity’s co-chairman and trustee, and attended
by a host of British Asian celebrities and public figures, including
filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, wife Suchitra and Baroness Shreela Flather.
But before then, I had my first solo exhibition of paintings in
Tell us something
about your new collection of poetry - Black Wind And Other Poems
The poems belong to the early nineties. This collection was created
in fits and starts over the years and they were lying around with
me till after an evening of poetry read in a theatre in Ahmedabad,
Mr. Bipin Shah of Mapin Publishing showed interest in publishing
them. The first part, Black Winds, contains about 50 poems that
are totally subjective, introspect6ive and reflective of my own
feelings as I lived. The second part, The Silent Scream, would
interest readers more. These 24 poems reflect the 23 days I spent
in a mental ward for women. The experience was traumatic to begin
with. But as I lived with them, everything began to fall into
place and seeped into me so much that I asked for permission to
extend my stay from three days to 23 days. Then it was the parting
that was more traumatic.
What is it that pushed
you to such a strikingly unusual journey?
This was for a script I was writing with the dream of making a
film on an unusual subject. I had worked in two films where I
play a mentally “not-all-there” person. One is Amol
Palekar’s Ankahee where the woman becomes completely normal
after marriage and when she becomes pregnant. The other is Sudhir
Mishra’s Main Zinda Hoon where the pressures of a low middle
class family bear down so heavily on the earning daughter-in-law
that she goes completely insane in the end. After having done
these two roles, I wished to explore the impact of playing such
characters on the actress who plays them. I decided to write a
film on the subject. I felt the need to live with mentally disturbed
people for some time to understand the world of the mentally ill.
And I came out with questions about the line that divides the
sane and the insane. It changed my perceptions. Today, I live
alone, I and am happy to able to live life on my own terms.
Tell us something
about the Best Supporting Actress award you won in Pakistan at
the Karachi film festival for your performance in Leela.
I am not used to getting awards. It was new for me, and one hardly
expects an Indian actror to get an award in Pakistan. I was truly
touched. It was also for me, a trip into a kind of psychological
nostalgia because five years ago, I visited Lahore to trace my
parents roots. My parents studied in Government college, Lahore.
As for the character in Leela, I loved my role. The last time
I won an award was way back in 1982, for actress in my first lead
role - Ek Baar Phir.
Which among your oeuvre
would you pick out as your favourite ones?
My first film Ek Baar Phir, directed by Vinod Pande, continues
to be closest to my heart. But other than that, I have worked
with several directors in several unusual roles that have transcended
the screen to influence me deeply. Among them are Buddhadev Dasgupta’s
Andhi Gali, Sudhir Mishra’s Main Zinda Hoon, Amol Palekar’s
Ankahee, Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala, Prakash Jha’s
Damul and Jagmohan Mundra’s Kamla and Bawandar.
How about Indian diaspora
I am truly proud of the recent resurgence of South Asian films
being brought into the mainstream and being screened in India,
be it the big screen or small. Somnath Sen’s Leela for instance,
debuted at the Reel World Film Festival, Toronto. It was not a
mainstream film but it bravely explored meaningful issues like
divorce, infidelity, sexual awakening and generation gap.
-Trans World Features