By GAURANG DESAI
THE MOMENT you set eyes on her, all your
preconceived notions of a showbiz actress cry for revision. Petite and
blessed with a classic oval face, Deepti is simple, dispenses with make-up
and has a twinkle in her eye.
“I grew up in New York where my family had emigrated many years
ago,” says the actress-turned-artist. On August 10, she takes her
bow at the Jehangir Art Gallery with a vibrant set of paintings.
“We Navals are originally from Amritsar,” she continues. “In
New York, my father lectures at Lehman College of the City University.
He teaches English as a second language. I myself went to Hunter College
for my bachelor’s degree. Though it is not widely known, I studied
Deepti’s mother has also been a teacher all her life.
“As I studied for a college degree going to night school,”
she says, “I worked as a typist-cum-receptionist during the day.”
And behind those luminous eyes, one starts detecting tremendous grit.
“I came to Bombay in 1978 and could fortunately make a meaningful
start in films,” Deepti informs. Her first film was Shyam Benegal’s
Junoon. “Although the role was small I learnt a lot,” she
adds. She bagged her first major role in Vinod Pandey’s Ek Baar
Phir. “I could now truly get the feel of the Hindi film industry.”
Deepti has acted in more than 50 films to date. I remember her well in
Tanvir Ahmed’s Chirutha, which was shot on location in the South
with a dusky-coloured Naval merging with the lush locale. She then acted
with Sai Paranjapye (Chashm-e-baddoor, Katha) with she was actively associated.
In Kamla she again had a novel role. Her foray into “parallel cinema”
came to fruition in Saeed Mirza’s Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho. She also
starred in Prakash Jha’s national award-winning film Damul, Amol
Palekar’s Ankahee and other award-winner by K Bikram Singh, Andhi
“One of my most rewarding roles was in Ketan Mehta’s Mirch
Masala, which claimed a notable brigade of leading ladies,” she
says. “In Basu Bhattacharya’s Panchvati I was at the centre
of a unique theme which vindicated the inborn intrepidity of womanhood.”
Deepti has just finished shooting for Love, Lust and Marriage in the US.
Produced by the New York-based Trilok Malik, the film is directed by Ravi
Khote, Vijaya Mehta’s son.
Besides, the actress is busy working on a TV serial, Thodasa Aasman, which
she has written, produced and directed, besides playing a main role. This
will be telecast from September 5.
Before one starts mulling over Deepti Naval’s paintings, one notices
the unusual wooden frames she has used. Complete with knots, this wood
was picked from the lakda bazaar. The frames supply an exotic showcase
to the canvases, heightening their quality and authenticity.
Typical of Deepti’s landscapes, we have Misty Mountain, Road to
Keylong and Beyond Rohtang. The vastness of the mountain ranges, the spiritual
grandeur of te snows and the skies, the winding roads of the passes –
all hypnotize us.
Deepti essays her strokes on the canvas with the help of a knife. It need
not be the usual palette knife used by painters. For her, a bread knife
leads to more expressive whorls of lines.
The atmosphere in these landscapes reminds us of the moody work of an
expressionist genius like Edward Munk. But this is a pure coincidence
the echoes of Van Gogh in a painting such
as Green Lamp. One believes that Deepti is too deeply immersed in evoking
her vision to worry about influences.
Street Lamp is one such canvas which is Van Goghesque without being derivative.
Some of Deepti’s best paintings explore a relationship between man
and nature. In Black Wind we have a lady on the balcony who is caught
up in an expressionist darkness. In her poem Black Wind, Deepti broods
on a monsoon night and looks within herself. The painting corresponds
with the theme of the poem.
While we are on the subject of Deepti’s poetry, it is best to quote
a sample called The Sinking, which proves that she is a genuine poetess:
The actress pours
out her soul onto
In vibrant colours
There it comes again
The old sick sense of doom
Death pangs pegin
Could hard fingers
Clutching at the third stomach
The centre point of consciousness
Start to drag me down
Deep down within
Towards a dark sharp edge
I desperately try to balance
My wrecked fragile nerves
On these sharp cutting blades
Nothing can help me now,
you’ll have to leave me to
You could have helped
Had you gone away earlier
Coming back to the paintings, we are
struck by the vast expanse of land in Electrictric Pole.. One may call
this an understanding of distance.
Lantern is another intriguing canvas. Here Deepti deploys a small-size
cross in a deserted church in Dalhousie. (Deepti went to school in the
Scared Heart Convent in Amritsar, and this explains her Christian-oriented
themes in this and other paintings. The cross is reflected in a circular
mirror. The lamps here are of the same pattern as in Black Wind.
“In the Kulu-Manali valley I saw the Roerich country, and I was
deeply affected by it,” says Naval. “In Huts I have painted
the stream of the Beas river and the mustard-coloured shoots of the harvest.”
We now come to some of the most impressive works on view. A few of these
are self-portraits which are in the form of masks – thus revealing
much philosophical thinking.
“I once saw a Japanese film about an actor portraying a mad woman,”
says Deepti, “From the outside the film hinted one dons a mask but
from the inside one is free and uninhibited. Ina way your own image of
yourself is here contending with other people’s image of you.”
And finally we discover Deepti’s climactic achievement. It all starts
with Pregnant Nun. Deepti has mysteriously woven a self-portrait in two
of these canvases.
“For two years I did no films,” she says. “I wanted
to give up everything material and stray into a spiritual area. I wanted
to start life all over again. I was swayed by conflicting currents of
thought. In this mood, I painted self-portraits in an attempt to move
away from the sensational.”
Deepti is an iceberg. You decipher only a fractional part of her personality
even when her image is spread large on the cinema screen in a hundred
Maybe her paintings – which she had never before displayed in public
– will allow people a look at more than just the tip.