The Hindu - NOV 13, 1998

Poetry, painting and photography – these are the three present passions of former actress Deepti Naval. A day after her debut exhibition of photographs clicked in Ladakh, she talks to Anita Joshua in New Delhi…

On the move, but seldom in a hurry. Blessed with more than one talent and the urge to constantly explore with self, Deepti Naval, the critically acclaimed actress of the not-so-distant past, has since meandered away from films to dabble in poetry, painting and photography. And, by her own admission, there is no telling what she will do next. But in all likelihood, film direction is somewhere on the horizon.

As much as admitting it while talking to The Hindu at Gallery Espace in New Friends Colony a day after her maiden exhibition of photographs – “In Search of Another Sky” – opened in New Delhi, Deepti Naval is candid enough to concede that she “just cannot go through life sticking to one thing” “I love to experiment and explore aspects within my personality.”

A nomad at heart, Deepti insists that it is no accident that she should have taken up photography seriously. “After all, I did study photography in college.” Though it was not her main subject, she studied photography along with astronomy and American theatre while majoring in Fine Arts, English and Psychology from the City University o New York.

Looking nowhere like the “woman nextdoor” image that Hindi films have bestowed on her, Deepti Naval – dressed all in black – wears her early middle-age well. But the voice is as soft and gentle in real life as it was on the reel. Ditto for her thoughtful persona.

Not showing any visible signs of weariness that might be caused by frequent changing of avatars. Deepti sees nothing unusual about the course her life has taken. “I was always sure of becoming an actress. But I was equally sure that I would some day come back to painting and photography. It was bound to happen. I came back to painting – a childhood hobby – in 1991. So it was but natural that I should return to photography.”

Needless to say, gradual retirement from films has helped her pursue her other interests with passion. About her withdrawal from films, Deepti Naval says: “I have not withdrawn from the celluloid world. I am prepared to act, provided I get the kind of films I like to do.”

Resigned though she is to the fact that Bollywood no longer has space to accommodate actresses like her, the budding photographer is quite scathing in her criticism of Hindi filmdom’s blinkered vision. ‘I’m too old to play the role of a hip-swinging teenybopper opposite the hero and too young to become the hero’s mother. Sadly, our script-writers cannot conceive of a character who is neither the hero’s lover nor the hero’s mother.”

However, she has been getting some offers. But, choosy as she is, the answer has almost always been ‘no’ in the recent past. Primarily because she got no satisfaction from the roles she did in a couple of commercial films. “I felt they were meaningless.” But she refuses to name these films in which she felt inconsequential. Among her favourites are ‘Ek Bar Phir’, ‘Chashme Baddoor’, ‘Kamala’, ‘Main Zinda Hoon’, ‘Panchvati’, ‘Mirch Masala’ and ‘Ankahi’. Continuing to voice her thoughts about films, Deepti rues with a steely resolve: “I will now either do something major or create something major.” Could this mean film direction? “The possibility is there, but how soon I will get into it is something I will not b e able to say right now. I do have a couple of subjects in mind, but I’m not very keen to take the plunge right now. I quite enjoy the freedom given to me by poetry, painting and photography.”

She elaborates in a reflective voice: “These three media allow me to work with myself. The same cannot be said about cinema. The celluloid world does not allow you to be a free soul. You just cannot pack your bags and set off for the mountains. Films require a lot of coordination with other individuals.” Her foot-loose and fancy-free existence might be something that she holds dear, but she does understand the cinematic language.

Coming back to the current exhibition of photographs, this woman of many talents insists that they were not shot to be exhibited. “I love travelling – spend a good part of the year exploring different parts of the country – and Ladakh is a particular favourite. Ladakh, with its raw unspoilt beauty, and the inherent beauty of its barrenness is something that has always appealed to me.”

One of the few to have captured the hostile terrain of Ladakh in winter, she shot the photographs this past February. Despite the stark landscape featuring frequently in the exhibition, she denies having planned it so. “While shooting, I was not trying to make any comments. I was trying to capture what touched me.”

Having tasted considerable success in the media that she has applied herself to, Deepti Naval today is probably well positioned to say which is the most expressive. But, no. She cannot pick and choose. All she is willing to say is that films have till date not allowed her to speak her own language. Something that can be rectified if she took to direction!