The last years haven’t seen Deepti Naval too active on the big screen. Except for Subhash Ghai’s Saudagar the actress has been out of news. Even controversies have stopped dogging her now that ex-husband Prakash Jha and she have worked out a comfortable professional relationship. Deepti is doing Prakash Jha’s Didi produced for UNICEF and Prakash is helping Deepti with the production of her new serial Thodasa Aasman most likely to go on air in September. Her future assignments include Sultan Ahmed’s Jai Vikranta, Blondie Singh’s bilingual shot entirely in New York, besides the much delayed Dushmani. Her dream project AKS has yet to see the light of day but Deepti has no complaints as she has now discovered a new medium of self-expression. Painting, last Week, Jehangir Art Gallery held an exhibition of Deepti Naval’s 30-odd paintings which include portraits and landscapes. The artist side is the second coming for the actress who a few years ago released her first collection of poems – Lamha-Lamha.

SHE interviewed visiting Indian celebrities on the air waves in New York before she first appeared on the silver screen in the ‘70s. A cameo role in Shyam Benegal’s Junoon, followed by the main lead in debut director Vinod Pande’s Ek Baar Phir made Deepti shift bag and baggage to Bombay to try her luck in films. Following in the footsteps of her predecessors, Shabana Azmi and Smita Ptail, Deepti began her trek to stardom via the parallel cinema. Only she wasn’t as fortunate. Despite sensitive portrayals like Ek Baar Phir, Hum Paanch, Saath Saath, Kamla, Panchvati, Ankahee and Main Zinda Hoon, success somehow eluded Deepti. To make matters worse, Deepti’s personal life around the same time quite suddenly embroiled in controversies.

She got married in ’84, disillusioned in ’85, heart-broken in ’86 and separated in ’87. The year 1988-89 was a turbulent one for Deepti. She had to bury memories of shattered dreams and also resist a fatal attraction (Nana Patekar). Unable to uproot herself from a soiled relationship and not courageous enough to commit herself to a new bond, Deepti’s emotional life went awry. In 1990, Deepti finally put an end to her trauma by filling her divorce papers, thus closing the door on a six-year-old marriage.

It wasn’t easy and her anxiety reflected in her fluctuating moods. Embittered at the judgmental attitude of people, she said. “I am not getting out of one relationship to jump into another. You cannot blame outsiders for breaking up a marriage. Even now, I wouldn’t call my marriage a mistake. We married because we were in love and we had faith that it would work. It didn’t. These things happen, but life has to go on.”

She sounded composed, in control of things. Or at least that is what she projected. Sometimes in the evenings, we met up for coffee at her place. Sitting in her terrace, sipping hot coffee from an earthen mug, she mused over love, life and loneliness. “It’s all a state of mind. You can be lonely in a crowd and you can feel calm in isolation. If you have to go through it, you cope! Initially, I was petrified of living alone. Now I’ve become so possessive of my space, that I resent encroachment. Divorce in my mind was something very cruel and demeaning. But after going through it with somebody as dignified as Prakash, even the final formalities of signing the papers was so graceful and undramatic. I guess this is what relationships are all about.”

In the year and a half that followed, Deepti stayed away from involvement, strived at self-growth. Vocal music, piano classes, trekking, interior designing, French lessons, writing and film-making took up her time. “Today I want to do something without a sense of being bound. My spirit has to be free and I have to feel happy. Attaining perfection is not my goal! I cannot help if it I am a woman of diverse interests. In the olden days, when I was new to the film world, I felt lonely and friendless in Bombay. There was also the trauma of living as a paying guest. I used to be very depressed and found it difficult to hold the melancholy inside me. That’s when I began writing. Creative things pursue me! Acting is not the only obsession for me anymore. I will never give up my dream of making AKS. I may not direct it myself because the responsibility is too enormous, but I am sure that it will be my best role.

“I believe that a whole new world out-side the studio gates waits for me. The more I spent time with the canvas, the more convinced I feel that this is my medium of expression. I think I’m best at self portraits and I paint the faces hard, lonely and morbid. They are hard because they reflect what goes on in my head. It’s difficult to pin-point what inspires these – one day, I was clearing my trunks and came across a beautiful, smiling picture from my old film. I looked at the mirror and said, “I don’t smile like that any more.” That’s when a visual flashed in my mind and I began painting Deepti Naval of Main ZindaHoon, the scene where the character ends up in a mental asylum. I put a placard in her hand that read, Lapatta, on which was stuck this beautiful sparking sepia picture.

“I’ve done a lot of, you might call, disturbing paintings in the last two years. Sometimes, Its not that. I paint happy pictures too. A few days ago, after a long gap I thought of painting – a cheerful, older, smiling self-portrait, this time holding withered flowers. Life, I’ve realized travels it own course.”

At 7 p.m., when it is time for me to leave, Deepti points to a blackboard on her bedroom wall, on which is scribbled, ‘Be strong. Stand alone.’

Bhawna Somaya is the editor of ‘g’ magazine