Notes from my diary - 1981

Shooting for ‘Chirutha’ – on location in Kerala, backwaters of Alleppey Dist., Monkompu Thhekekara -

    It was during the filming of ‘Chirutha’, an NFDC film shot on a total budget of three lakhs in the back waters of Kuttanad, Monkompu Thekkekara in the Alleppey district of Kuttanad in Kelara that I learnt something technical about my craft as an actor - or something emotional that could be achieved technically.

I had finished doing a major scene inside my hut and the camera had now moved out for Uday Chandra’s shots - This is the time when Chathan leaves Chirutha and goes away. Tanvir, the director, was outside setting up the camera at the waterfront. Lazily I walked around the one-hut-island set and came and stood by, watching the unit at work. Tanvir shot a quick glance towards me saying - ‘Next is your shot!’ and quickly went back to peering through the lens again. At the word ‘Action’ I saw Chathan row away in his canoe. Then he slowly turned around to look back once . . . his last look at Chirutha.
It was something of that moment which I felt inside me that brought a lump to my throat. I felt my cheeks swell, a wetness started in my eyes.

I wanted to cry at that moment. This man had done so much for Chirutha - stood silently by her all those years while she kept pining for her husband - waiting for him to return home - and now he was, as silently, going away . . . forever. That look of his, his last look towards Chirutha grabbed me by my gut. I wanted to howl for Chathan. I wasn’t Deepti Naval the actor watching the shot of a co-star. I was Chirutha, reacting to Chathan, but I was not on camera.
It was at that moment that I remember saying to myself – ‘Hold it – hold this feeling, don’t let go just now . . . hold the tears - use them for your own shot! Hang on to them till your shot is ready!’ And I did that. I walked away from the unit, my back towards everyone and battled with myself. How I wanted to cry at that moment, but no, I wasn’t going to. I was going to let it all out only when the camera was ready for me.

    I heard the unit doing three takes - Uday turned the little boat around and rowed it out into the river again – and then again, till I heard the word ‘Cut!’, and then a brisk ‘Okay!’. I held on to the knot inside me. I had clasped within my chest a flood of emotion, to be released only later. The only trick was – I had to remain aloof from the rest of the unit. I could not allow myself to be pulled into a polite remark or let anyone start a mundane conversation with me – I had to ‘cut me off’.
The camera position had now changed but what was taking them so long? Oh please, please hurry – I want to cry for Chathan for real . . . for real . . . I don’t want to use glycerin in my eyes. I held on and finally, finally my shot. Someone shouted ‘Where is Chirutha? Get her here!’ I darted from the riverbank and stood bang in front of the camera. Adeep Tandon looked through the lens and said ‘Ready to roll!’ The director took his position besides the camera saying ‘Just a reaction, that’s all.’ My eyes were glistening, my cheeks trembled with a silent loss – a loss I could not even acknowledge.

I have often been accused of reading more into my lines – feeling deeper than required, being more real for the scene than necessary as Naseeruddin Shah puts it, and this one moment, I let go. I did not cry - Chirutha would not cry – it was Chathan who was going away, not her husband. It was a man who had loved her selflessly, silently – a man who she was forever indebted to – a man who had lived with her for years and never demanded anything – anything – as a man would from a woman! God! Did such men exist! The tears rolled down my cheeks and I knew what it was to lose such a man. His expectiing nothing of me made me rise in my own eyes and that feeling made me weep.
I wept still-faced, there was nothing to utter - it was all in the eyes, and the words in my heart - ‘I wish . . . I wish I could have loved you, Chathan . . . I wish . . .’
‘Cut’ said Tanvir, and without bothering to say ‘okay’, he’d quickly moved to his next shot – while I stood there, having lived in that fraction of a moment, a little bit of real life.

With Chathan and Koren

    It was later one morning when I was shooting for Angoor and all of us were waiting as usual for Hari Bhai to turn up on the set at Ruia Park next to Dev saab’s bungalow that Mausumi Chatterjee suddenly said, dangling her legs besides me, both of us sitting on the parapet taking turns to draw long sips of hot tea –
‘Tears are the easiest things to get on camera!’
‘How?’ I sat up from my usual slouch to an erect-back position.
‘Simple!’ she said, nonchalantly. ‘Just stare into the lights for a longish moment without blinking, then on action look straight into the lens - and there you are! In tears!’
‘That simple?’ I was known for being wide eyed, but not this wide.
‘Of course! Want me to show you?’
She pulled me by my hand and we were suddenly standing in front of the camera as the shot was being set up – she staring into the reflector and me staring at her – then she turned towards me, her eyes glistening – ‘See?’ she grinned.
‘Just that?’ I was suddenly in awe of Moushumi.
‘What else? Where is the need to go deep into the character and all that! You just need to concentrate on one thing - looking beautiful in front of the camera at all times! Tears or no tears, just keep looking beautiful, that’s all. That’s all Hindi cinema ever wants out of you!’

     That was one lesson I could never learn . . . trade the inside for the outside!