By Upendra Mishra
BURLINGTON, MA– When one thinks of innocent and romantic faces of the Indian silver screen of late 1970s and 80s, one of the faces that pops up instantly is of Deepti Naval. She starred in Chashme Buddoor, Saath Saath, Kissi Se Na Kehna, Katha and Rang Birangi, among other hit films.
“Tum Ko Dekha Toh Ye Khayal Aya” filmed on Ms. Naval and Farooq Shaikh in Saath Saath (1982) still evokes intense feelings of innocence and romance.
Recently when I had an opportunity to interview Ms. Naval during her Boston visit to attend the Hindi Manch National Convention, I wanted to talk to her about romance. She, however, wanted to talk about her upcoming book.
The interview, thus, started at a bad note. She almost cancelled the interview and gave me her phone number in India, asking me to call her there, and do the interview on phone. There was a complete silence for a few moments.
As I was almost getting ready to leave, I suddenly asked her where does she live in India. She said Mumbai and Kulu Manali in Himanchal Pradesh.
“I spend more time in Kulu Manali than in Mumbai,” Ms. Naval added. “I am very connected to nature. I have been always close to nature. Very drawn to nature.”
As she began talking about nature, her face blushed and eyes glittered, and I knew instantly that she really meant what she was saying. Given my own closeness to nature, we found a common ground and finally the interview started.
Although Ms. Naval is known more for her acting in iconic Bollywood movies, she is a prolific poet and writer as well as an accomplished artist and photographer. She paints landscapes. In Nagar in Kulu Manali, she has set up Deepti Naval Studio, a sort of museum where she has kept all her all paintings, photography, film stills, books as well as posters and other memorabilia from her films on permanent display. It is open to public for viewing.
“This is the space I have created where I have consolidated all my work in one place,” Ms. Naval said. “It’s very intimate space. True lovers of art go there.”
Ms. Naval, who was born in Amritsar in India, moved to New York City at age 17 when her father got a teaching job at the City University of New York. She said she had inherited all her talents from her parents. Her father, Uday Chandra Naval, did his Ph.D in English at the age of 64 and also wrote a book called The Striped Zebra: The Immigrant Psychology. Her mother was an artist.
Ms. Naval’s father was a professor of English at Hindu College prior to moving to New York. For about year, he did odd jobs like watchman in New York City. Once he got his teaching job at the City University of New York, Ms. Naval and family joined him in 1971. Ms. Naval studied arts at Hunter College in New York. She majored in art with minor in English and psychology.
New York was exciting for Ms. Naval, but she loved Bollywood and wanted to be an actress. It was not easy for her to even tell her parents about her desire to go to Bombay (now Mumbai) and act in films. She finally gathered courage and told her parents about her dream and moved to Bombay. The rest is history. She has acted in about 70 films and written several books.
Lamha Lamha was her first selection of Hindi poems published in 1983. In 2004, she had a new collection titled Black Wind and Other Poems. In 2011, Ms. Naval published a collection of short stories, entitled The Mad Tibetan.
Now, Ms. Naval is working on a new book that will focus on her childhood memories and is expected to be released by the end of 2019.
She writes in both English and Hindi. When she moved to New York, she wrote in Hindi and when she returned to Mumbai she switched back to English. After attending the Hindi Manch convention in Boston, she said she is getting inspired to write in Hindi again. Her upcoming memoir, however, will be in English.
When I asked her which were her own favorite poems, she recited two from her collection Lamha Lamha: Registan Ki Raat and Chalo Duur Tak. “This is romantic in me,” she said.
And then finally we started talking about the topic—the romance—I wanted to talk about initially. She said that romance or infatuation that we all go through in our life is very different from real romance and it means different things to different people.
“I am a romantic at heart. You feel for the nature, feel for life, you feel for things, your romance for life,” said Ms. Naval, adding that clouds, rainfalls, trees, mountains and nature evoke romance in her life.
Among her favorite writers include American poet Maya Angelou, Arundhati Roy, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Her favorite movies are: Guide, Sangam, Mera Naam Joker, Pyasa and Bandini.
When it comes to songs, Ms. Naval says: “I am old songs junkie.” She said there are endless Bollywood songs that she loves, but the following are her favorites: Jane kahan gaye who dinn and Sajanwa barri ho gaye hamar.
About Boston, Ms. Naval said she was impressed by the engagement of Bostonians in poetry.
“What Hindi Manch is doing is very credible,” Ms. Naval said. “Hindi Manch should be everywhere.”