Maya in control!

I f ever there is a list of actors whom we miss on the big screen, Deepa Sahi is one actor who will easily make the cut. “Tamas”, “Maya Memsaab”, “Aar Ya Paar”, “Oh! Darling Yeh Hai India”, Deepa worked on both sides of the cinematic divide but in an industry, where there is nothing like overexposure, she left us thirsting for more.

This month she is returning to turnstiles as a director with a romantic comedy, a road movie called “Tere Mere Phere”, which tackles the good old man-woman relationship with Vinay Pathak and Riya Sen in the lead. “I have always wondered that man and woman have been living together for centuries but still they have not been able to sort out their issues. Despite all the education, men still try to badger wife into conformity and wives could still be heard saying ‘aap to rehne hi do' in the midst of a conversation. This game of one-upmanship has been going on and on…sometimes the fights are absolutely absurd but they are real. I have tried to look at it in a light-hearted fashion through two couples on their honeymoon in the hills.” She agrees in the last few months road movie has become quite a fad. “I wrote it before the trend took root. For me mountainous terrain is more of a metaphor as a wrong turn could take you miles away from your destination. Also it represents the new discoveries you make as you go along the way. Some of the locations we have shot at were not planned. It was part of the cinematic journey we took and goes well with the subject.”

Are there any autobiographical portions? “Of course I have taken from people around me but it has very little to do with Ketan (Mehta) and me. We have been together because we have been able to accept each other as individuals. Also we connect because both of us are detached from monetary considerations. He is even more detached than me. His filmography shows it,” says Deepa, who fondly calls Ketan ‘Guruji'.

Romantic comedy

Deepa knows she is carrying an image and that a romantic comedy was not expected of her. She says people, who don't know her well, get surprised when they find me laughing and when she cast Riya, some media people clarified is it Raima I was talking about because they feel Raima suited my perceived image “Riya has got the spunky charm – cute and chilly – required for the role.” But the image was not a hoax as she was indeed working on a comparatively serious subject with Hema Malini and Nana Patekar when recession hit her hard. “The resources almost dried up. It is then that I decided to go on a holiday and ‘Tere Mere Phere' evolved.”

Wasn't acting an option? Deepa rewinds to make her options clear.

“People don't believe but I was always interested in direction. Acting happened to me by chance. During my student days at NSD, I got an opportunity to direct an adaptation of Girish Karnad's ‘Hayavadan'. But the leading lady dropped out 48 hours before the show. Everybody felt since I know the character inside out I would be the best person to fill in. The performance was appreciated. After that a friend, who was studying at FTII asked me to act in the diploma film that she was expected to make as part of her course. The film was screened at some film festivals and a hoity film critic of The Village Voice described my performance as ‘sublime'. Soon I became the talk of the town. The director called me that Govind Nihalani is looking for me. I insisted that I came here for direction but I was told that anybody can give an arm to work with Nihalaniji. So that is it. I was fully committed to whatever films I did but I never saw it as a career. As an actor you have to shoot for 15-20 minutes a day. At times it is even less. The rest of the day goes into make-up and other things, where you don't have much of a say. I didn't have that kind of patience.”

Keen observer

But the kind of performance she gave in “Tamas” was no ordinary job. “When you are the youngest in the family, you are largely on your own. Parents expect you to follow your siblings. I was one such case. I was a keen observer of life. My elder sister died when she was 18. It made me greedy for life. It taught me life is short. There is no time to please others. I saw how one day my grandmother changed from coloured clothing to pristine white. Then I spent couple of years in Meerut which was notorious for communal riots. All these observations helped me in playing Karuna. Maya reflected the dreamer, I am,” says Deepa adding that she did few films but the impact of each of these films was such that the industry tried to typecast in all the roles that she played. “After ‘Tamas' I was deemed fit for only serious arty roles and got offers to join a political party. After ‘Maya Memsaab' I was flooded with so-called bold films and after ‘Hum' I was expected to be the next bhabhiji of the industry!”

Usually creative people in our film industry compromise, isn't it? “Yes, people do get burdened by the pressure of expectations. They forget the joy, the unpredictability of the medium. What's the harm in facing the lows? After all trees also shed leaves in autumn.” It is this penchant for exploring new vistas that made her try animation. “I was always fascinated by the immense possibility of special effects in our mythical tales. Lord Vishnu comes flying on Garuda…things like that. With Ketan I tried to give animation industry a concrete shape. It took four-five years. There was no infrastructure we had to start from scratch and there are no limits. I am glad that we have been able to contribute meaningfully even if it meant I had to put others plans on hold.”

It seems films like “Maya Memsaab” and “Aar Ya Paar” are more suited for modern day sensibilities of multiplex audience. “It is, but I believe the idea should strike you instead you going after an idea.” The acceptance of ‘bold' heroine is greater than ever before. “We have yet to accept that physical intimacy is part of life like many other things. Still a woman has to be dressed in a certain way to connive, to manipulate. A girl covered from head to toe could be equally dangerous but the same nonsense is going on… ”

Deepa says her dream project is a film on Rani of Jhansi, whom she calls the real heroine. “But you are not always able to do what you want. The project demands 50-60 crores. The industry, today, is not ready to invest so much in a period piece.” But the ‘Heroine' is on! “Things haven't changed much. Industry still wants stars for big budget projects. And I don't feel ‘Heroine' would be Rs.50-60 crore film if you take out the star-fees. Ketan's ‘Rang Rasiya', which I feel is his best work till date, has to wait for so long for release because the industry people felt it is four-five times over budget in terms of the cast it has. Recently a section of the media asked me what am I doing to generate controversy around my film…If this is the way forward then I am sorry….”

I have always wondered that man and woman have been living together for centuries but still they have not been able to sort out their issues.