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I'd rather do a love scene than have my assets hanging over some man's face''
Subhash K Jha | February 07, 2003
Images of the timid but strong, frail yet tough woman from Ek Baar Phir, Damul, Main Zinda Hoon, Chashme Buddoor and Katha assail you as you talk to the very clued in Deepti Naval.
Tired of being typecast as the mournful woman, Deepti recently broke free with a spirited performance as a US-based single mother in Somnath Sen's Leela. Now she plays a widow who has a roaring affair with her callow paying guest in V K Prakash's Freaky Chakra.
Is she happy with her new avatar, asks Subhash K Jha.
Are you excited about Freaky Chakra?
It was quite a role. It was something I had never done before. I was skeptical when it came to me. But once I was in it I was in it for good.
It is a very unassuming kind of film. I remember how the love scene gave me the heebie jeebies. The first time it was shot, I was extremely unhappy. After shooting non-stop for 16 hours, I was told we would shoot it the same night.
I was aghast. I did it somehow. But I couldn't sleep at night because it was so shabbily done. If that was what the audience would get to see of me after so many years of acting, I would get clobbered.
I pleaded with my director. We reshot in the morning and I was much happier.
How will the audience react to your anti-conservative volte face?
Fortunately for me, Leela was released earlier. In that film, I have a grown up son and an American lover in my life. Lately, I have been talking to the media about the real me instead of the docile persona that is seen on screen.
I am a seriously independent woman and I want people to know that. I played the submissive wife in Shakti because I needed the money. But I'm glad I did. Now people can see the contrast in Freaky Chakra.
So many recent films about an older woman being sexually involved with a young man.
Unlike other films on this theme, Freaky Chakra is not a copy of any Hollywood film. The characters go about their lives very seriously. When I read Freaky Chakra, Leela was not released though I had finished shooting for it. Fortunately, I did not play a woman having an affair in Leela.
If Dimple had her way, she would have changed characters with me in Leela. But playing the title role wouldn't have been such a challenge for me. After Jism, audiences would find it easier to accept my love scene in Freaky Chakra.
Sadly, it has been cut by almost half for the Indian market. I am not happy with that. They have cut the shots where I take the initiative in the lovemaking.
Why can't we digest a woman taking the lead in a love scene? My whole challenge was to look haggard and unwanted before the young man comes into my life, and then go on to look seductive and desirable.
You seem to have enjoyed yourself.
I enjoyed Freaky Chakra. I had no qualms about my character except for her positive response to the blank calls made by her neighbour played by Sachin Khedekar. My God, what an actor!
I know couples where the woman is much older. I recently heard another script which had a younger man. Women no longer look at relationships conventionally, and neither should films.
We have been conditioned into thinking a woman cannot have a relationship with a younger man.
What are you doing next?
I am off to Hampi to shoot a Marathi film by Amol Palekar. It is a period film in the 6th century with Anant Nag and Sonali Bendre, where thankfully I do not have to speak much. The issue is women's sexuality. Somehow, I have always chosen roles that require me to be repressed.
Those women are so alien to me. I have never faced male oppression. But these are intrinsically strong characters stymied by circumstances. As an individual I am fiercely independent. I have always thrown away the safe option.
You don't like to be tied down?
I was completely tied down in my relationship with Vinod Pandit. Even when he fell ill with cancer he brought out the best in me.
After he came into my life, I had my first painting exhibition. He also encouraged me to resume photography and to write. He played my husband in my serial Thodasa Aasman.
I am now doing another serial called Muqammal where there are four men in my life. Only one of them is younger than me. (laughs)
Do you miss Vinod?
Vinod and I traveled together often. We would go off to the hills or to New York. I think I was running way from doing roles like Guddu (where I played Shah Rukh Khan's mother). I was in love. He was just as adventurous as me. We would earn some money, spend it on a holiday and come back again.
We were engaged for years. We were scared to marry, we didn't want the romance to die out. We both had gone through failed marriages. I had to return to acting to pay for the hospital bills.
That is why I did Shakti.
What do you think about the way women are projected in the average Hindi film?
The dances and body language are so provocative. Women are heaving their breasts in men's noses and choking them with their bosoms. And they aren't considered vulgar.
I would rather do a straight love scene than have my assets hanging over some man's face.
When will you direct a film?
I am just writing one at the moment. There are a couple of roles I need to tackle as an actress before I am ready to direct.
Today, I feel more alive as an actress than ever before. Life has a way of haunting you with experiences. At one time I was supposed to make a film on the life of painter Amrita Shergill.
I was told Kumar Shahani was going to make it, so I dropped it.