Deepti Naval doesn’t desire to command your attention. Her unassuming self is comfortable being regular, being just an actor in the galaxy of stars because her reward, she says, lies in being one of us. “When people reach out to me and say, they relate to me through my characters, that’s also a reward of a kind,” she tells indianexpress.com in an interview.
Naval is right. It’s the relatability of Miss Chamko (Chashme Budoor), Katha’s Sandhya, Geeta from Saath Saath and Arti of Firaaq that makes people marvel at her acting prowess even years later. “A lot of youngsters come and tell me they are inspired by me and my films. When we were doing them, we didn’t realise it would leave such an impact.”
It evidently has. The films that she did in the 1980s as a part of the parallel cinema movement are cited as influences by many contemporary filmmakers. Yesterday’s niche is today’s mainstream. “Can you imagine it? I wish I were born much later so that I could be a part of this cinema, which is doing all kinds of experimental stuff and getting to be seen by everyone. This is what we wanted during our time but there wasn’t much audience for it then.”
Naval was one of the prime faces of the arthouse cinema, alongside Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil. “It was difficult to keep doing those kind of films because they were few and far in between. There was just Smita, Shabana and me. And we also had Naseeruddin Shah, Farooq Sheikh and Om Puri. There are more opportunities today for actors to get cast in such films.
“It was an important phase of Indian cinema but today its significance is so much more felt. We didn’t even realise that the path we were following would some day be recognised as equally important as commercial cinema. It’s very apparent that people are going on those lines (middle of the road cinema) and making it a commercial success also in the sense that it has a large audience today,” she says.
Her own directorial debut, Do Paise Ki Dhoop, Chaar Aane Ki Baarish, which never arrived in the theatres, has found a life today with a digital release. Naval recalls how difficult it was to convince distributors to release the film. “When my film as a writer-director gets released on Netlfix and people are giving it so much love and acceptance for that subject, I am so touched and moved.
“It’s so beautiful that one feels it was worth the wait, even though the film was made years ago. It’s more timely now than years ago because at the time I made it, it was difficult, Any distributor I spoke to would ask me what genre did this film belong to and what kind of publicity would I do for it.”
The actor-filmmaker has been honoured with her the excellence in cinema award for her outstanding contribution to Indian cinema, which is her third award in India. “Most of my awards come from foreign festivals!”
There’s a child-like excitement in her voice as she talks about the significance of this award. “I was a little bit taken aback because this is so unexpected not that I was thinking about it. So, it came as a very pleasant surprise. So, it’s definitely overwhelming. This is an important award for me. It gives one a chance to look back at one’s journey and feel happy about the right choices one made.
“Of course not all choices are right because this is also your livelihood, you have to keep bringing the bread in so, you can’t always make the right choices. I have never clamoured for an award and have quietly done my work over the years and have been as selective as possible. So, at the end of it when you receive an award from MAMI it feels beautiful.”