BOMBAY EYE - AUG 16, 1994

Rajwant Sandhu
Poornima Nambiar

I desperately try to balance
My wrecked fragile nerves
On these sharp cutting blades
Of destruction…

Actress, poet and now an artist Deepti Naval is one hell of a lady. Petite and elegant, totally devoid of airs that go hand in glove with our film personalities, Deepti is an actress with a difference. Different because she is also talented when it comes to a canvas.

So what’s with the painting? You ask her. That earns you a charming smile. “But I have always been paining. I actually majored in Art.”

What would come as a surprise to many is that she graduated in Art form the Hunter College in New York City. On her arrival in Bombay years back, she plunged headlong into a time consuming profession like acting, giving her paints and brushes a rest. But you can’t keep a good thing down as they say, so Deepti is back to her easel with a vengeance. Announcing her foray into the Art scene with a set of vibrant paintings, presently displayed at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Deepti denies that it is a mere hobby – “Whatever I do has to be done with intensity. Unless I give all, I am not satisfied with the results.”

The paintings are impressive and intriguing, however, more unique are the frames. Interestingly, they are a far cry from convention, broad and unpolished, with the wood picked-up from the lakda bazar by Deepti herself. It isn’t an attempt at innovativeness but is influenced by her personal preference. “I somehow do not like the frames to be narrow. I prefer them to be wide and use the wood as it is.”

One painting that deserves a prior mention is ‘self portrait with burnt sunflowers’. Why burnt? “Because that is what life gives you. I love burnt sunflowers as, to me they represent the beauty of pain, the gain in losing... and that is what’s so special about them.”

Anyhow, that’s not one of her favourites, she personally prefers the one depicting her as the pregnant nun. The concept behind the painting sounds to be very interesting. “I think pregnancy is the singular spiritual experience a woman can go through. According to me a pregnant woman looks very saintly, very pure and one associates purity with nuns, so it’s a pregnant nun”, she muses. One striking fact about the whole set exhibited is that many of the paintings have her face woven into it like the ‘Hanging Mask’, ‘Self portrait as a nun’. Point that out to her and she laughs, “I don’t think I am all that bad looking.” Deepti then continues with a serious look, “I have been on my own most of the time. I was my most available model. Actually the self portraits came at a time when I was undergoing a lot of introspection, you know, there comes a time in your life when you begin to question your being.” And why is the response so encouraging? Because she’s an actress?

Not even a flicker of annoyance in those large, luminous eyes. “I don’t think so. Yeah I know people might think she’s an actress, wonder what she would have done. But no, I really feel that I have done well and that is what is attracting all the attention.” As if on cue, a gentleman visiting the exhibition walks up to her and compliments her for the ‘good work’. Thanking him graciously, she goes on to explain ‘Hanging Mask’, “That’s the view of my room. A beam stands at the centre of it and there is this lamp and mask. What I am trying to say is that we have a face for the world which is not our real self, but when we return to the privacy of our own room, we can take that mask off and become real..”

Her impressionistic landscapes would appeal to even someone with a minimum of sensitivity. Deepti spent a lot of time in the Kulu valley and that resulted in landscapes like ‘Road to Keylong,’ and 'Beyond Rohtang' etc.

Deepti finishes her paintings in one sitting with the ‘Twin Portrait’ done in ten hours at a stretch. ‘Misty Mountain’ owes its existence to the hilly terrain of Himachal Pradesh and was completed in eight hours. Refusing to choose between acting and painting, she says, “I enjoy doing both. Even in acting if you enact a particularly difficult scene, you feel largely satisfied because you can feel all the bottled up emotions coming out. Like-wise in painting too my inner restlessness, inner conflict has spilled onto the canvas. However in films there are many people involved. If things go wrong one can blame the director or cameraman and if they go well, everyone gets to share the credit. But painting is an independent effort throughout.”

Deepti has not done portraits of others, barring a few sketches of her friends which she intends to show at a later date and at a smaller gallery. Of course, this does not mean that she is ready to bid adieu to the silver screen as she plans to get back to “Thoda Sa Aasman”, the tele-serial she is directing.