Lillete Dubey: I want to continue to do meaningful films

By Neeru Saluja

She defies the Indian woman stereotype created by Bollywood. At an age when actresses hang their boots, she began her career in Hindi commercial cinema. Veteran actor Lillete Dubey needs no introduction as she is known worldwide for her films ”˜Monsoon Wedding’, ”˜Best Marigold Hotel’, ”˜The Second Best Marigold Hotel’ and over a 100 Bollywood films.

With Richard Gere in ”˜The Second Best Marigold Hotel’

She has now taken her talent to South Africa as she plays the role of the mother Lakshmi Isaac in the film ”˜3 Days to Go’. The film will be the first South African film in the South Asian Film Festival (SAFF) and will be screened online on May 23.

Directed by Bianca Isaac, the film tells the story of four grown siblings, who after their father’s death gather with their collection of husbands, wives, children and grandchildren and return to their childhood home in Durban, South Africa. Together this crazy family needs to survive each other, for 3 days – under one roof, before they spread their father’s ashes and part ways again.

Lillete was awarded the best actress award twice (Simon Sabela awards ”“ Durban, South Africa and Global Indian Film Festival) for her commendable acting in this film. As she was the only actor chosen from India for this film, she feels she has a karma connection with South Africa. “The director Bianca approached me through a friend in Mumbai. I was really touched as she had so many South African actors at her disposal but she was so keen to have me for the role. She went out of her way to connect with me. I have to admit I love South Africa, I have spent three birthdays there. The minute I landed in the country, I fell in love with it.

“This film is based in South Africa and revolves around an Indian family but tells a universal story. It is a typical dysfunction family that reveals the experience of an immigrant and how they feel strong to their roots and family. I really enjoyed this film which boasted of a varied cast,” tells Lillete.

Though this film is added to her international film repertoire, Lillete still feels that Bollywood lacks strong supporting roles for actresses of her age. “The strong supporting roles are always taken by male actors. There are still roles for actors like Anil Kapoor, Anupam Kher, Paresh Rawal, etc. but their counterpart actresses who are equally talented are not approached with good roles. It doesn’t seem there are characters written for them. Unlike the west where veteran actresses like Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Judi Dench still get solid roles. I’ve been blessed and lucky to do meaningful films and I’m quite excited about my recent film ”˜Tryst with Destiny’ that bagged an award at the Tribeca Film Festival,” says Lillete.

The talented actress was also seen recently in Zee5’s film ”˜Seasons Greetings’ directed by Ram Kamal Mukherjee, touching on a mother daughter relationship based on a LGBTQ theme. As the director convinced her in five minutes with the intriguing script, Lillete tells us how she fell in love with the character. “I resonated with the character as she was an artist and had gone through a lot but wasn’t a victim, but found her own inner strength and was not judgemental. I had never played a Bengali woman before and loved the Rabindranath Tagore songs. We should be free with our choices, we have to be there for our parents just the way parents are there for kids.

Talking about parents, though the actress often bags the role of the mother, she does not want to restrict herself to the hero’s mother or playing the vamp. “I bring my own personality and strength to the character. I would never want to play someone who will feel helpless. As a woman with two daughters and grand kids, I would not like to put any woman in that situation.

The 66-year-old actress who calls her cinematic entry as purely ”˜co-incidental’, is also a well-known theatre artist, director and owns her own production company. “I can call my own shots in theatre but in cinema I am just a piece of the puzzle.”

As we talk how she has also experimented with comedy in films like ”˜Kal Ho Na Ho’ and ”˜Housefull’, the talented actress reminisces her memories with late actor Rishi Kapoor as they starred in his last film ”˜Jhootha Kahin Ka’ together. “I was very fond of him. He was blunt, straightforward but a very warm person. It was a crazy crackpot movie. He was my neighbour in the film and had mistaken identities. There is also a dream sequence in which I am seducing him. Who gets films like this at my age!

That also reminds us of the scene when she tries to seduce actor Saif Ali Khan in ”˜Kal Ho Na Ho’. “It was very odd as I know Saif Ali Khan’s parents. I have played bridge with his father and felt awkward doing the scene with him. He was so polite and kept saying ”˜ji ji’ to me. I said ”˜stop saying ji ji to me because I have to jump on top of you!’ laughs Lilette.

Lilette Dubey in ‘Salaam, Noni Appa’

So what’s next for the multi-talented actress? “I am acting in a Bengali series where I play a liberated Punjabi grandmother. I am also working on a play based on Twinkle Khanna’s short story ”˜Salaam, Noni Appa’ from ”˜The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad’. It is about a widow and her yoga teacher and how life is about living for yourself.”



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