Naval in conversation with Shoma A. Chatterji
Naval is a woman of many parts. Apart from doing
a whole lot of meaningful roles mainly in off-mainstream
films, she has produced and directed serials for
Doordarshan. Yet she remains one of the least
utilized talents in Hindi cinema. Recently Deepti
featured in Muqammal. A soap on Sahara TV in which
she performed a modernized version of Draupadi.
But her lesser known talents are also brilliant
in their sparkle and their creative imagination,
be it a solo exhibition of paintings or a book
of poetry that splits itself into two parts, each
an unique reflection of Deepti’s mindset
over given periods of time. Her relationships
with the men in her life have been an unconventional
as the characters in her films. And she has never
been clandestine about them. Excerpts from an
nearly a decade, 1992 to 2001 or so, you kept
yourself away from the limelight and was not seen
on the screen….
You see, I had steppd into mainstream films because
I am an actor first and last and do not believe
in the kind of labels the media places on cinema.
But the experience of having worked in Subhash
Ghai’s Saudagar and Feroz Khan’s Yalgaar
were so bad and so discouraging that I just upped
and left. At some point, I realized I was doing
many films but wasn’t getting any satisfaction.
Not that I was wanting for work because work kept
coming in. But it was not work I would have enjoyed
doing. I busied myself through reading, painting,
directing a television serial and traveling. Even
today, I do not want to play the typical mother
roles – wearing a white wig, being a doormat,
with a pallu pulled over my head all the time
and so on. I am yearning for roles that show a
woman in her middle age, a time when she stands
up for her physical, mental and financial needs.
Why does the film industry have most roles for
youngsters and oldies?
had an exhibition of paintings in London sometime
ago. What was it all about?
It was called In Search Of Another Sky and was
held at the Nehru Centre, London, to raise funds
for The Consortium For Street Children. Founded
in 1993, the charity is a network of development
agencies providing training, technical and campaigning
support to projects for children who live and
work in the streets of developing countries and
in eastern Europe. The exhibition was presented
by Surina Narula, the charity’s co-chairman
and trustee, and attended by a host of British
Asian celebrities and public figures, including
filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, wife Suchitra and Baroness
Shreela Flather. But before then, I had my first
solo exhibition of paintings in Mumbai and credit
for this goes almost solely to my late partner,
Vinod Pandit, who I had decided to marry if he
had lived. We worked together in my serial Thoda
Sa Aasmaan which explored the different worlds
of women of three generations and starred Nadira
in an important role. Vinod helped me revive my
love for photography in a big way.
us something about your new collection of poetry
in two parts – Black Winds and The Silent
The poems belong to a particular phase in my life,
beginning in 1990 and ending around 1995. I had
created them in fits and starts over the years
and they were lying with me till Bipin of Mapin
Publishing approached me to hand over the collection
for publishing. The first part, Black Winds, contains
about 50 poems that are totally subjective, introspect6ive
and reflective of my own feelings as I lived within
my loneliness, in company or outside of it. The
second part, The Silent Scream, would interest
readers more. There are 24 poems that throw back
to the 23 days I spent in a mental home for women
as a normal person. The experience was traumatic
to begin with. But as I lived with them, everything
began to fall into place and seeped into me so
much that I asked for permission to extend my
stay from three days to 23 days. Then it was the
parting that was more traumatic.
is it that pushed you to such a strikingly unusual
This was for a script I was writing with the dream
of making a film on an unusual subject. I had
worked in two films where I play a mentally “not-all-there”
person. One is Amol Palekar’s Ankahee where
the woman becomes completely normal after marriage
and when she becomes pregnant. The other is Sudhir
Mishra’s Main Zinda Hoon where the pressures
of a low middle class family bear down so heavily
on the earning daughter-in-law that she goes completely
insane in the end. After having done these two
roles, I wished to explore the impact of playing
such characters on the actress who plays them.
So, I decided to make a film on the subject. I
felt I needed to live with mentally sick people
for some time to understand what mentally sick
is all about. And I came out with questions about
the line that divides the mentally healthy and
the mentally sick. It changed my perspective on
life. Today, I live alone, I go on long treks
all by myself, I read, I take pictures and am
happy to able to live life on my own terms. Some
of this philosophy comes across in a poem dedicated
to Smita Patil.
Tell us something about the Best Supporting Actress
award you won in Pakistan at the Karachi film
festival for your performance in Leela.
I am not used to getting awards. It was new for
me, and one hardly expects an Indian actress to
get an award from Pakistan. I was truly touched.
It was also for me, a trip into a kind of psychological
nostalgia because five years ago, I visited Lahore
to trace my roots. My parents studied in Government
college, Lahore. As for Leela, I loved my role.
After playing more subdued characters in most
of my films, I needed to play a strong character.
The last time I won an award was way back in 1982,
after the release of my first film Ek Baar Phir.
But that wasn’t for acting, it was more
for a newcomer.
among your oeuvre would you pick out as your favourite
My first film Ek Baar Phir, directed by Vinod
Pande, continues to be closest to my heart. But
other than that, I have worked with several directors
in several unusual roles that have transcended
the screen to influence me deeply. They might
not have been commercially successful but they
are characters not many actresses would have cared
to step into. Among them are Buddhadev Dasgupta’s
Andhi Gali, Sudhir Mishra’s Main Zinda Hoon,
Amol Palekar’s Ankahee, Ketan Mehta’s
Mirch Masala, Prakash Jha’s Damul and Jagmohan
Mundra’s Kamla and Bawandar.
about Indian diaspora movies?
I am truly proud of the recent resurgence of South
Asian films being brought into the mainstream
and being screened in India, be it the big screen
or small. Somnath Sen’s Leela for instance,
debuted at the Reel World Film Festival, Toronto.
It was not a mainstream film but it bravely explored
meaningful issues like divorce, infidelity, sexual
awakening and generation gap. I enjoyed my roles
in Freaky Chakra and Wings of Hope, besides playing
the social worker in Bawandar. Shooting for Freaky
Chakra was like a picnic. It was a very bold and
unusual role, something I had not played before.
The story is about an unpopular middle-aged woman
who suddenly discovers a new meaning to life when
a young boy (Sunil Raoh) enters her life. There
are a few steamy scenes between the two of us,
but I was doing them this time around, as I was
no longer the young and naïve girl playing
the lead in Ek Baar Phir in 1979.
---Trans World Features