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 Mumbai.

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 movies?
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