Writing is closest to my heart as an artist ”“ says actress Deepti Naval

By Neeru Saluja

She is an epitome of grace, humility and intellect. And that’s what makes actress Deepti Naval a true artist.

The critically acclaimed actress made a mark in the 80s in parallel cinema with her ”˜close to life’ characters in films like Chashme Baddoor, Kamla, Junoon, Saath Saath and many more. And she is still making a mark as a writer as Sydney art lovers enjoyed a poetic evening with her thanks to Manju Mittal from SAI Creative Arts Pty Ltd.

With an undying quench for learning, actress Deepti Naval never stopped as an artist. In 1983, she published a selection of poems in Hindi, Lamha Lamha and in 2004 published a collection called Black Wind. She is also the author of a collection of short stories, The Mad Tibetan, and a painter and photographer.

To unravel her unstoppable journey, we got talking to her in an intimate conversation where she talked about how she always knew which kind of roles she wanted to do, her experiences while trekking and her close friendship with late actor Farooq Sheikh.

At a very young age, you became the face for the changing woman of India. Was that what you aimed for when you started your acting career?

I picked roles that I wanted to play. I didn’t just go with whatever came along. By the time I entered the film industry, I was already a college graduate from New York city. So I had a fairly good idea of what I wanted my career to be. As a child, I grew up watching commercial cinema but then America happened followed by the exposure to world cinema. Before joining films, I knew what kind of films I wanted to do. Saying this, legendary actresses like Nutan and Waheeda Rehman inspired me. But I had to follow my course in my choice of films. I wanted to be more real and not dolled up. I wanted to play characters that represented my time.

While you were at the peak of your career in the 80s, what changed in the 90s?

In the 90s there were very few challenging roles that I got to read. It was in the 90s that I realised that I had to live my life. I can’t be sitting here in Bombay and wait for an interesting role to come my way. Those were the years when I went off trekking. I would come back, earn some money and then drive my car back to the hills. I learnt a lot and met some wonderful yet ordinary people, sitting at dhabas and got a close feel of life. I didn’t want to live like a movie star, all cocooned in my apartment. I wanted to be out there and connect with people. I wanted to travel and draw from the experiences of others. I’m a big nature lover and need any excuse to go to the wilderness. Maybe my camera was my excuse!

Therefore in the 90s I was occupied living my life on a different plane. But then cinema brought me back. I was in Ladakh and I was offered four roles over the email. I told myself that I can live in Ladakh and correspond and read my scripts via email. All I need is an internet connection in my place at Manali which I still use as my getaway.

You are an actress, a writer, a painter and a photographer, but which medium is closest to your heart?

Writing comes first. Writing is my take on things, my reaction to my life and observations. It’s basically me. I started writing at a very young age. Writing is an internal process, you need to process your thoughts and it’s a cathartic medium for me as an artist.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers and actors?

Deepti Naval charmed Sydney audience, same Chamko smile won over the fans

Don’t protect yourself from life. Just go out there and live your life. Gain real experience and that is going to help you in your acting. Interact with people, observe what they do. Observation is the best method of acting. I never went to an acting school. It only comes from being fine-tuned to life. Watching great performances also helps. Watch all the good actors from life.

Which actors did you observe and learn from as an actress?

I watched Naseeruddin Shah as I got a chance to work with him. I was on the sets of Junoon and was surrounded by all these wonderful actors ”“ Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Jennifer Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor. I got a chance to observe them.

As an actress you have worked with such renowned stalwarts from the film industry. What experience with an actor or director is strong etched in your memory?

Farooq Sheikh her favourite co-star

My working life with actor Farooq Sheikh. He was a wonderful co-actor and a well-read person. I was in great company. Of course we fought a lot. He was full of beans but very quiet. He was my personal friend. I not only enjoyed his friendship but learnt from him as he was always reading and I had a weakness for books. I enjoyed interacting with him as he could talk about anything under the sun. It was a great working relationship. I also enjoyed working with Naseer, both of them will always remain my favourite actors.

That was a golden era. Do you think the films made these days have the same quality?

Deepti Naval in the web series ‘Made in Heaven’

Technically the films nowadays are much more suave. And there is also interesting content. But there was a time in between when the content lacked quality and the glamour quotient was high. Directors like Zoya Akhtar are bringing fresh and interesting content and I also like director Nitya Mehra’s work who has directed me in a the web series ”˜Made in Heaven’. It’s wonderful working with these girls.

So what’s next in your kitty?

I’m doing a web series ”˜Pawan and Pooja’ which should be released in a few months.  I’m also working on my childhood memoir. I didn’t realise it will take so much time.

You have achieved so much in life but also have an undying quench for new ventures in life. Is there something you still yearn for?

Yes, I want to go back to school. I want to go back to New York and join college for a semester or two. I come from a family of teachers and my father used to say learning should continue all your life. That’s what I have always believed in.

Pics Courtesy: Neeru Saluja, Harmohan Walia

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