Write ups



IN THE late Eighties, around the winter of 1988, actor Deepti Naval spent a few weeks at a mental institution. The purpose was to research a film she was scripting. The intended film, which she had titled Aks, is yet to be shot; but Naval’s experience and observations in that institution led to a different creation: a set of 24 poems that forms the second section of her book, Black Wind and Other Poems, released at Oxford Bookstore in Delhi on Thursday.

The title poem comes in the first section. The verse in this part of the book is inspired by Naval’s general feelings about life. Black Wind is written in the unusual format of a dialogue between one’s two selves – one suicidal, the other fighting that manic urge.

“It is very personal, but a lot of people come up to me and say they have gone through that,” says Naval, who was introduced at the book launch by her publisher Mallika Sarabhai as a “creative person in every way” – a poet, painter and photographer, apart from a film actor. The cover of the book is, in fact, Naval’s own – a wistful woman holding a bunch of wilting black flowers.

Though a lot of the poetry is born of anguish, not all of it is somber. Smita & I, on Smita Patil, is a “sweet poem”, in the poet’s words, a remembrance of a life where the two friends often met fleetingly as travelers.

Poetry has been a part of Naval’s life for long. She has “always been writing” and among her favourites are Neruda, Lorca and Sylvia Plath. There is something of irony in her admiration for Plath. While Naval fought out of her suicidal state of mind, finding catharsis in poetry, Plath succumbed to it.

Of the poems in ‘The Silent Scream’ section, the one reflecting Naval’s ruminations at the mental institution, am outstanding work is The Goodess, the tale of a young girl who dares to wear the tinsel crown of the goddess on her head and so threatens the world that calls itself sane.

“So many of the women at the institution were not mad at all. They had just been dumped there because they were unwanted,” says Naval.

The idea of making a documentary on them crossed her mind, but she decided to forgo that venture because of the several restrictions on revealing the women’s identity.

Naval, who is still performing – her most recent films were Freaky Chakra (2002) and Leela (2001) – would direct a film someday, but not before she is done as an actor. She has, however, written and directed a TV serial, Thoda Sa Aasmaan, about three women of different ages, who are all going through major turning points in their lives, who meet and start life afresh.

Her body of work may give the impression that Naval is ‘women-oriented’ – she had acted in some of the most woman-centric films (Ek Bar Phir, Kamla, PanchvatiAndhi , Main Zinda Hoon) made in India before the term came into currency – but she declaims any such description. Not a “banner-waving feminist”, not she. Her way is more spontaneous and, perhaps for that very reason, stays longer in memory.