Friday, Dec 03, 2021 | Last Update : 03:48 AM IST

  I was always an introvert, says Deepti Naval

I was always an introvert, says Deepti Naval

Published : Jul 9, 2016, 10:15 pm IST
Updated : Jul 9, 2016, 10:15 pm IST

Deepti Naval talks about donning many creative hats and takes a trip down memory lane — recalling her trysts with poetry, painting and acting

Deepti Naval
 Deepti Naval

Deepti Naval talks about donning many creative hats and takes a trip down memory lane — recalling her trysts with poetry, painting and acting

Actress, painter, poetess, writer, photographer, hiker. Deepti Naval has seamlessly merged so many personas and shades in her life that it can be fairly difficult to identify her with any one medium. This beautiful and natural performer who has given some power-packed performances in films like Katha, Chashme Baddoor, Angoor, Saath Saath and Rang Birangi was recently in town for the re-launch of her first Hindustani poetry book, Lamha-Lamha. She speaks about her passion for writing, art, acting and much more.

 

On becoming an actress The actress par excellence has never formally studied the nuances of acting nor has she ever performed on stage during her growing years. She shares that Indian black and white cinema influenced her in many ways. “I distinctly remember watching films on the big screen and thinking, one day I am going to be up there and all these people who are crying or laughing or getting carried away with the emotions of the actors, will be connecting with me in a similar fashion. Whatever I will emote, they will all be feeling too,” shares Deepti and adds, “I was always an introvert, but even as a six-year-old, I knew that I wanted to be an actress, though I never had the guts to tell my parents about it. My father wanted me to be a painter. When I told him my wish to be an actor, he said to me, ‘you will only act till the time the lines don’t show on your face but art will always remain with you irrespective of age.’ I said to myself that I will not leave my passion for painting behind, but focus on it only after tasting the world of cinema.”

 

Talking about her early acting lessons she says, “Whatever learning I have received as an actor has been by watching veteran actors like Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Shashi Kapoor, Smita Patil and many others who portrayed strong characters. They were all talented and learned artists who have done some great cinema. And I was lucky to work with Shabana and Naseeruddin in my first film — Shyam Benegal’s Junoon. During the shoot, I used to study them and see how they used to prepare for a scene. It took me a long time to learn things. I remember, it took me about six movies to get over my basic inhibitions even though I grew up in New York!”

 

On working in Bollywood When her contemporaries were shooting non-stop, Deepti preferred to be choosy about her roles and scripts. “It is very easy to get carried away when you are young and accept the regular set of roles with costume changes and hip swing dance moves. I made a conscious decision to do roles that represent realistic women who are my age. I would not be the fantasy of the male audience.”

The actress continues, “There were times when I would think, why am I not doing popular cinema A chunk of my life that could have been utilised in doing popular maintream films, I chose to dedicate to characters that appealed to my sensibilities. It was a conscious decision that if I got good offers, whether for commercial films or art films, I would do them if they were inspiring roles.” On writing in Hindi Naval started writing in Hindustani during her college years while studying painting as her major subject in New York. Remembering those days she says, “There was a big fight within me to express myself to the crowd around me. Though I started writing during my college years in English, there was this growing complex that it is not my language. That is when I started writing in Urdu. There was also this tremendous influence of Urdu on my language because my father belonged to pre-Partition Lahore.”

 

Poetess Amrita Pritam played a significant role in getting her work published too, she shares. “I recited a few of my poems very candidly to Amritaji, she took a liking to what I was writing and called her publisher, saying, ‘Yeh ladki toh bada changa likhti hai, toh iski kitaab chhaapiye.’ So, it was because of her that Lamha-Lamha came out in 1981. Around then, I began to take lessons in Urdu and started composing in Hindustani too. Today, poetry and writing have become my passion,” she says. On Lamha-Lamha The book is Deepti’s first anthology of poetry in Urdu-ised Hindustani. Talking about the volume, which was out of stock for more than 20 years and is now being reprinted, she says, “These are the love sonnets I wrote during my 20s, with all my dreamy-eyed visions of life. It is filled with romanticism and I overcome a sense of loneliness, a strain of subtle sadness and a compulsive desire for self-expression by pouring out the romantic moments in verse.” On writing in english again Her first collection of English poems, Black Wind and other poems, was created in fits and starts over the years in the early 90s. Her poems deal with different aspects of life — from broken relationships and communal riots to suicides. Explaining why she shifted back to writing in English she says, “In the early 90s, I realised that English as a language came easily to me unlike Urdu for which I had to research a lot. Also, Urdu sounded soothing to the soul when I was writing love verses but when I was expressing emotional turbulence, it sounded heavy. That is when I realised that I could express certain emotions in English with greater ease in comparison with Hindi or Urdu, where they sounded much more serious.”

 

The first part of the book titled Black Wind contains about 50 poems that are totally subjective, introspective and reflective of her own feelings. The second part, The Silent Scream reflects her 23-day stay with women in a mental asylum, capturing the latter’s lives and feelings. She shares, “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. Their stories were so touching.”

Talking about what took her to the mental asylum in the first place she says, “I had worked in two films where I play a mentally disturbed person. The first time I decided to visit a mental hospital in order to study for my role for Amol Palekar’s film Ankahee. I got to see the women at close quarters. I remember, when I came out of those premises I was literally sapped of all energy. I felt as if I had taken a great beating. The other time was for Sudhir Mishra’s Main Zinda Hoon where the pressures of a lower middle-class family bear down so heavily on the character of an 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. I decided to write a film on the subject. I felt the need to live with mentally disturbed people for some time to understand the world of the mentally ill. I did write a script but the subject was so serious that no one invested in it.” On painting Many of the paintings the actress has created are unconventional and could be a manifestation of a thought or an image that stayed in her mind. “Most of my works are dark. I try to narrate many stories through the canvas but many a time the canvas narrates a simple story, leaving many unsettled voices inside me,” points out Deepti and adds, “I remember painting a self-portrait standing in the balcony on a raining evening engrossed in my thoughts. After completing the picture I realised that the image does not capture the thoughts running inside me while standing on the balcony at all. I felt unsettled and a strong urge to express those feelings came over me. That’s when I started to write Black Wind.” On different art practices The actress, who will soon be visiting Singapore to stage the play Ek Mulaqaat in which she portrays the role of novelist Amrita Pritam, says that she is blessed that she could express her feelings through various artistic media — something that came in handy during the dark phases of her life. She explains, “There was a time during the 90s when nothing was going right in my life. The turmoil to live on my terms when the voices inside were saying ‘it’s not worth living’ was difficult to cope with. My writing and art came as tools to vent out all the negative energies. I believe they stopped me from going down hill.”

 

On solo travelling A self confessed vagabond, Deepti happens to be the first non-Ladakhi Indian woman to trek the frozen Zanskar River. “Whenever I get some free time, I take off. When I was in my 30s and 40s I would just take my car and drive away, get to Delhi in two days and three more days later to Ladakh. From there I would start trekking. I have driven to Ladakh from Mumbai six times till date. I am a major traveller and a committed trekker. I am not a person who would sit at home thinking what to do next,” she affirms. On Social work The talented performer is also doing her bit for society. “I wouldn’t call myself a social worker. I have a small trust through which we educate orphan girls. I am simply trying to do whatever little I can from my end for society,” she concludes.