'Vishal told me he envisioned me while writing (the script), but I was not well.'
'He called me and said, 'Navnindraji, hum aap ka dhyaan rakhenge set par.'
'That's how I got on board, and they really pampered me.'
The real surprise in Vishal Bhardwaj's spy thriller Khufiya was Navnindra Behl, who reunited with the director years after their first collaboration, Gubbare in 1999.
As Ali Fazal's scheming mother, the 73-year-old actress owned the screen with her presence and husky voice.
Her husband is the late actor Lalit Behl while her son Kanu Behl has directed the critically acclaimed films Titli and Agra.
"During the preview, Vishal sir ran towards me and held me in his arms and said, 'Tu toh hero bann gayi film ki!'," Navnindra Behl gleefully tells Mayur Sanap/Rediff.com.
What was the best part about playing this character?
When I was approached for this role, I asked Vishal, 'Main kya tumhe villain lagti hu?'
He just started laughing.
During reading sessions, the entire cast would laugh during my scenes. I used to feel embarrassed, but couldn't ask anyone what was going on.
I did not see her as a negative character, but I understand she's not a positive one either.
She is someone who is protective of herself and her son. There is jealousy in her, she is also short-tempered. There were lots of shades to her, and I enjoy that as actor.
I don't know what he (Vishal) saw in me, he never gave me a straight answer about why he cast me for this role.
The response must have been overwhelming. What's one reaction that stayed with you?
Yes, there have been amazing words of appreciation, especially from the critics.
During the preview, Vishal sir ran towards me and held me in his arms and said, 'Tu toh hero bann gayi film ki!'
How is your equation with Vishal Bhardwaj?
I met him for first time during Maachis. He told me then that he had recorded my TV programmes to show Gulzarsaab. It was such a sweet note that it became a permanent relationship after that.
I share a very sweet relationship with both Vishal and Rekha (his wife).
I remember when Rekha was pregnant, we were coming from Delhi and we got a call to bring chole-bhature for her.
As director, he has so much trust in me. That makes me so comfortable.
But we had never met after Gubaare. He made so many films after that, but we never worked with each other.
I don't know how he thought of me for Khufiya, but I am glad we worked together again.
What was the vibe on the sets like?
I finished shooting for Khufiya last April. There were some health issues and I was not well after Lalit passed away.
Vishal told me he envisioned me while writing (the script), but I was not well.
He called me up the next morning and said, 'Navnindraji, karte hain. Hum aap ka dhyaan rakhenge set par.'
That's how I got on board, and they really pampered me.
The people I was working with were known to me.
I have previously worked with both Vishal and Tabuji. Ali (Fazal) and Richa (Chadha, his wife) are family friends.
I was well acquainted with Wamiqa's (Gabbi) father, but I met her for the first time on set.
The entire cast became like a family.
The best about this character is that it is also a very well written one. Are you happy with kind of roles being offered to you?
Yes, because of OTT, we are getting good scripts.
Women are being presented well.
I saw Trial By Fire recently. Look at the range and variety for actresses of all ages today.
Ratna Pathak Shah recently spoke about prejudices against senior female actors. Did you ever face that?
No. I got the best written role in this TV show called Ishqbaaz. I was considered the number one actor along with the hero.
The Dadi I played became such an iconic character that many shows copied it.
I played that character for four years. I got bored in the third year, but they (the makers) didn't let me go.
I was a privileged person on sets. I was offered things like pick and drop facility, a special makeup room...
But I had decided I will never do TV again because I was bored and knew there won't be any more interesting opportunities than this.
Then I was offered Mukti Bhawan which gave me a lot of creative satisfaction.
I also did a lots of commercials.
You have witnessed the golden period of Indian television. Tell us about the initial days of your career.
I started with theatre when I was two years old. My father (Kapoor Singh Ghuman) was a playwright. My mother was an actor, she used to work with him.
I did theatre during my school and college days. There was no movement of theatre, but it grew before our eyes and we were participants in it.
I did my PhD in theatre, and joined as professor in theatre and television department in the university in Patiala. That's where my theatre training started in the real sense.
I evolved myself along with my students, grew with them, rehearsed with them...
Every week we used to travel from Patiala to Delhi to see NSD (National School of Drama) productions. We used to watch plays of Naseerbhai (Naseeruddin Shah), Surekha (Sikri), Uttara (Baokar), M K Raina. I started observing and learning their process.
As the head of department, I used to conduct workshops, lectures and productions in university with eminent directors like Shombhu Mitra, Suresh Awasthi, Ram Gopal Bajaj, Bhanu Bharti, Barry John, Nadira Zaheer Babbar...
After that, I became a part of the TV industry in 1979. With this bad voice, I worked as an anchor, but radio rejected me so I started working as writer and actor with some Doordarshan productions.
In 1985, my husband (the late Lalit Behl) left the NSD repertory (the performing wing) and decided to plunge into television wholeheartedly. He first started as an actor in Doordarshan productions.
My role was supportive -- I used to come on weekends because he had his base in Delhi. I became his writer, his associate, his co-director. We were totally and passionately into television and fortunately, it was the golden period of television from the late '80s to 2000-2003.
We used to do one production and the entire country would watch it.
Audiences used to write letters to us and Doordarshan would send these letters to our homes. One of the programmes got three lakh letters! I once received a letter from Tamil Nadu or Kerala, the person wrote that her husband died three months ago and she laughed for the first time since then while watching the show.
In 1996, Gulzarsaab called me for Maachis, in which I played Tabu's mother.
I asked him during that film that I would like shift to Bombay. He said, 'Don't shift here, you will be spoiled. Aap jaisa kaam waha kar rahe ho, yaha rehkke nahi kar paoge (You won't be able to do the work you are doing by staying here).'
So Mumbai was not our priority at all until Kanu (her film-maker son) came to Mumbai in 2007 and shifted with him. I started getting work offers here.
Your husband had worked with Kanu in Titli (2014). Why haven't we seen you in his films?
I would like to be a part of his films, but he doesn't have character for me in his films. (Laughs)
The mother in Khufiya can very well suit the matriarch of the family in Titli.
But that was a male family. Yes, hypothetically, you can say that.
After working for so many years across different media, do you feel fulfilled as an artist?
Whatever is in my destiny, I have got it and feel content.
I have nurtured theatre students for 37 years. I live my life through their stories. I feel like I have so many children.
What kind of roles do wish to seek after this?
I don't know, lottery nikalti hain.
But I won't do any routine role, that's for sure.
If the script and my character is interesting, I will take it.