History & Culture

Ek Mulaqat: Saying it with verses

Remember those large glinting eyes, broad unassuming smile and low, gentle voice? Thirty-five years later Deepti Naval still looks the Miss Chamko from Sai Paranjpye's cult classic ‘Chashme Buddoor’. Though she entered cinema selling a frothy detergent in the romantic comedy, she emerged as an actor of substance. From convincing Farooq Sheikh into buying the washing powder in the film to mouthing rebellious Punjabi poetess Amrita Pritam’s evocative verses in her recent theatrical debut, Naval has traversed the many layers of diverse characters with honesty.

She was in Chennai recently for the staging of Saif Hyder Hasan’s ‘Ek Mulaqat’ that explores the relationship between the influential Urdu poet and lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi and Pritam. It beautifully delves into intimate conversations between two people who expressed their feelings for each other through heart-rending poetry. So Sahir wrote:

Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayaal aata hai

Ki zindagi teri zulfon ki narm chhaaon mein

Guzarney paati toh shadaab ho bhi sakti thee...

(Sometimes my heart feels that if I lived in the warmth of your tresses my life may have blossomed…)

It brings alive the romance of a time when politics, society and culture moulded human bonding. The play goes much beyond the intense love story to capture the humorous banter, emotional ups and downs, bitter-sweet memories and their literary genius.

Shekhar Suman as Sahir draws a truly believable portrait, bringing alive the moods in the verses with clarity of expression, perfect Urdu diction and impeccable stage presence.

As for Naval, she bares Pritam’s soul with rightful restraint, but sometimes looks like being at the edge, waiting to travel deeper into the role.

A few hours before rehearsal, the actor sits relaxed in Hyatt Regency’s ninth floor, sipping coffee by a huge French window with a view of the city bathed in the bright morning light.

“It’s exciting to step into the shoes of someone you have known and admired,” says Naval about essaying Pritam on stage.

She was introduced to the writer by film director Basu Bhattacharya.

“After the first meeting, I was so keen to interact with her that I would make it point to go to her house whenever I was in Delhi. The impact that she had on my thinking was tremendous.”

Though popularly referred to as the ‘goddess of defiance’, who lived and wrote on her terms, Naval found in the novelist and poet a voice of Indian womanhood, who was deeply concerned about didactic and unjust values.

She was also drawn into Pritam’s unabashed talk of love for the two men in her life — husband Imroz, who was ten years younger than her and Sahir.

“It was unlike any other affair that we hear or read about. Sahir was like an image in her mind that she engaged with till the last breath even while she reciprocated Imroz’s care and affection. It is a little complex to understand yet I am sure many women will identify with it,” says Naval, clad in an elegant beige and pink sari.

Talking about her foray into theatre, Naval says she had been putting it off despite offers coming her way. “I wasn’t sure if my voice could be heard in the last row or if I would be able to learn the lines by rote,” she laughs. “Thankfully you now have these invisible mikes that made me take up the challenge.”

Naval is also known for her painting and photographic skills. She studied fine art at the Hunters University in New York before taking up acting. “I always wanted to expand my creative horizons. When roles that mattered to me started drying up, I took to the brush and camera to connect with myself and the world,” says the actor who has always dared to be different.

A seeker of the wilderness, she often takes off to the Himalayas. “I just throw a few belongings into a knapsack, pack my sleeping bag and drive off. I love the solitude of the mountains. I write, take pictures and get inspired by the colours of Nature. I have travelled along the entire Tibetan stretch.”

Her book ‘The Mad Tibetan’ is an ode to her adventurous self while her collection of poems “Lamha Lamha’ and ‘Black Wind’ are the essence of her journey of the mind beyond geographical terrains.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 4:35:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/Ek-Mulaqat-Saying-it-with-verses/article14397100.ece

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