Write ups




THE oil painting hooked onto the side of the teak bookcase is at least two decades old. It’s small painting, with a typical beginners subject – fruit bowls overflowing with grapes. Probably, a few years ago, Deepti Naval got three hooks fixed onto that painting. Today, just one of the three hooks is occupied with a key ring. Everything in Naval’s house reflects the poet, painter, photographer and actor in her. The objects look like they have been placed in a painting, all of them have a purpose to their being where they are. Yet, Naval’s aesthetics give space for some carefully placed practicality. Like the old bath tub which serves as a long table top, the schoolchild’s slate which is hooked onto a wooden beam and has the actor’s programme for the week neatly written in chalk. An empty canvas stands ready on an easel, waiting for some creative strokes of a brush. A bunch of pencils stand sharpened, ready for use.

The idea of space and openness is striking, as Naval has knocked down some of the walls in the house. Her working table has two books of poems. Dom Moraes and Slyvia Plath, the cracked spine of both the books, giving evidence of their use. The carefully chosen pieces of antique furniture, give a sense of the poet’s rootedness. Mumbai, says Naval will always be home. One, which the actor will always return to. From all her wanderings. Well, she has been doing so, for the last two decades at least.

Painter, poet photographer and actor – roles which the Fine Arts alumni from Hunter College, Manhattan, does not see as being separate from each other. Life, says Naval, is too short and there is much to be done. Like her trek on the Zanskar river in winter over six days (Naval is the first non-Ladakhi woman to do it), over which time she shot 6 rolls of film (both colour and black & white) with her Canon EOS 50, sleeping in caves in her sleeping bags, walking on the ice, knowing fully well the difficulties of what she was undertaking. “It was the most treacherous trek of my life,” says Naval who fell in love with Ladakh after her first visit in ’95 and has been visiting the country since, twice a year. Travel is life-sustaining. She says she couldn’t survive any city unless she did.

Seated at her desk, table lamp on (at 10.30 am in the morning), mobile and landline both handy, Naval seems comfortable being in control. Dressed in Levi’s and an orange cotton shirt, there is satisfactory glow on the actor’s face. She has been receiving much applause for ‘Black Wind’, her second book of poems, the first in English. A result of some life experiences which the actor went through between ‘90-95. There is a poem on Smita Patil. There are also 23 poems called ‘A Silent Scream’, poems which came out of her stay at a mental asylum, a stay that changed her forever.

Life has moved on. The phone keeps ringing intermittently and Naval rattles off to her friends, excited at the positive press she has been receiving. She is particularly awed by the way, colleague, Naseeruddin Shah read out the poem, ‘Black Wind’ at the launch and laughs as Shah recounts his first memory of Naval at Shyam Benegal’s office. Gulzar, has written a foreword to the book, where he has called Naval mad. “She has her brains in her heart, or her heart in her head … the intensity that she lives with is apparent in her lines … she sqeezes every experience into a black hole …she is a big sun. I wonder how she manages to live with a smile, that heart-warming smile …she follows where her aesthetics lead her and lives life on her own terms, as she wants to. She looks too real, too practical, a total contrast to what she is,” says her poet-friend Gulzar.

Most what Gulzar has said is evident, in her actions, her speech and her work. From the shy and reticent Ms Chamko in Chashme Bandhoor to her roles in Kamla, Main Zinda Hoon, Ankahi to Leela and Freaky Chakra, the last one being even by Naval’s own standards, “A gutsy thing to do.” She likes the recognition which Leela got her and is still disappointed that masses cannot forget her “sweet girl next door, demure” image. She reiterates how fiercely independent she is. How she is not scared of life and says that it is only “conditioning” which makes us so. She had always seen herself on the big screen since the age of seven and recalls Mughal-e-Azam. She is surprised when people ask her how does she manage so many different roles. “I see myself purely as an artiste. A single me. And all of these as various mediums to express myself. People seek my identity foremost as an actor, but that is the least of me. I am not somebody who hides behind a screen image. I am a hell of an expressionist,” says the artist who rattles off her favourite painters (Frieda Carlo, Van Gogh), photographer (David Hamilton) and actors (Balraj Sahni and Geeta Bali) to movies (Deer Hunter, Taxi Driver, Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, Satyakaam among others) with as ease as she does while instructing her man Friday to choose between a Reliance phone or a Tata Indicom!

Nandini Raghavendr