SCREEN - APR 14, 1989

'SCREEN – APR 14, 1989


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 eventually.

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 heart.

How closely do you identify with Saadhvi, the heroine of ‘Panchvati?
Completely, I think it is a role closest to my personality.

Is 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 inner strength.

‘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 perform.

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.