BUSINESS INDIA - NOV 16-29, 1998

The intrepid sales representative for a brand of detergent soap in Chashme Biddoor has turned into a landscape photographer. Deepti Naval first made an impression as the girl-next-door in Sai Paranjpe’s film in the early 1980s. she established a reputation as a talented and spontaneous actress in the following years, though she always seemed to keep Bollywood kitsch at an arm’s length. Her performances in Katha, Kamla, Panchvati, Ek Baar Phir, Main Zinda Hoon,and Mirch Masala, among others, earned acclaim from critics and audiences alike.

Now, the girl with the infectious smile is behind the camera for a change, using her Canon EOS 50 with a great sense of composition to come up with an exhibition ‘In Search of Another Sky’. The captivating mountain ranges of Ladakh have long fascinated visual artists, whether film-makers or photographers. Naval spent nearly two weeks in winter in Ladakh and shot the pictures now on display at New Delhi’s Gallery Espace. Why winter in Ladakh? “The barrenness of Ladakh,” she says, “has great beauty. The quietness of the valley, the endless silver grey stretches of land and the icy winds all have an enigma. That is what attracted me to Ladakh in winter.”

Naval wanted to capture Ladakh’s tranquility, when it is difficult to find a soul around, rather than during its tourist season. The blue sky, she says, is enchanting and refreshing for the soul. “There is poetry in the starkness,” she says. Indeed, a talented photographer comes alive in Naval’s pictures that capture the breathtaking landscapes with the ravishing sky, the dried trees, the texture of sand and the rows of chortens. In fact, these desert scapes reveal a poetic sensibility. It is not surprising that Naval has published a collection of Hindi-Urdu poetry entitled Lamha Lamha.

That is not all. The Mumbai-based Naval is also a scriptwriter and a keen painter. She wrote and directed a 13-part serial for Doordarshan called Thodasa Aasman. In August 1996, she held a ‘One Woman Show’ of her paintings at Mumbai Jehangir Art Gallery. She says she is grateful to God for blessing her with so many talents. However, as she puts it, it is not possible to pursue all with equal dedication at all times. “When you take up one thing,” she points out, “the other is bound to lag behind for some time. I have not done anything major in films for the past few years.” But she talks about a travel show on television. The Path Less Travelled, she says, will be “vastly different” from others. It has been produced by Vinod Pandit, who is also Naval’s co-host. She has traveled to different destinations and her search for new and interesting things at each of these places has been highly rewarding.

Naval’s range of interests come in useful on her travels to different destinations. As she puts it: “I love autumn - I find beauty in the dry withered browns of the landscape. For instance, I have painted dried sunflowers. People expect it to be a painting in striking yellow but for me it looked beautiful in the pale, dried form.”

So, has this actress-photographer-painter-script writer missed out pursuing any interest? “Yes,” she says promptly, “I’ve always wanted to sing.” She finds it amazing how people are able to put life into the words written by others and succeed in making them sound so melodious. Given the devotions with which Naval has pursued her other hobbies, she could be singing at a concert at some stage. Maybe singing her own poetry from Lamha Lamha:

' Sard tanhai ki raat
Aur koi der tak cholta raha
Yaadon ki bukkal odhe...'
(A forlorn winter night, someone kept walking, haunted by memories!)