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Lillete's life goals

In her 60s, ‘accidental actress’ Lillete Dubey is happy to live her life very much for herself

Saionee Chakraborty   |     |   Published 24.07.18, 12:00 AM

Lillete Dubey at GD Birla Sabhagar. Picture: B. Halder

We have to catch up with the sparkly Lillete Dubey when she is in town. July 7 was no different when she was in Calcutta with Gauhar, the play she has directed on Gauhar Jaan, the first Indian female artiste to cut a record on gramophone. When we land up at GD Birla Sabhagar at 5pm, Lillete is on stage. Over the next hour-and-a-half, we try to chat. Last-minute preparations, a key member rushing in from the airport just before the show and an audience at the gates. Madness? Lillete made it look like cakewalk. And then she settled down to chat. 

You’re looking fab!

Looking fab?! (Laughs out loud) Oh god! 

We think you love the stress. 

Actors, especially on stage, are masochistic and directors more so. They put themselves through so much torture every time they do a show. And we thrive on it, obviously. I say I love what I do! For me, my mojo is theatre. And I realised that I don’t care how much money I make; I want to wake up with this thing to look forward to that I do. I am completely my own master and I do exactly the kind of work I want to do. It also keeps you active. 

How are prioritising things at this stage in your life?

I lost my husband (Ravi Dubey) three years ago, which is a very life-changing thing for you, your family. It happened suddenly. The kaleidoscope has been completely shaken up. The way you look at life begins to change a lot. It’s like you are so aware of the fragility of life and at same time, you are aware of the preciousness of life. You become grateful for everything. 

What’s really centred me a lot is my work. I was in the middle of shooting for a Channel 4 series called Indian Summers (a drama series). The second season was about to start in June and Ravi died in the middle of May. I kept telling them, don’t wait for me. They were wonderful; they said they wanted me. These are things you don’t forget. 

I feel so lucky that I am doing theatre, I can travel as much as I want, that I still keep getting other work. I said ‘no’ to a very big series in which I was playing the lead.… I would have been abroad for four-five months and since my daughter, Neha, is having twins in September, I am too excited! I love babies! I used to tell my husband that I wanted at least four. He would be like, ‘Kindly have the other two with someone else!’ (Laughs out loud)

When were your at your most confused state?

As you get older, you become like a sieve. I think you are most confused when you are in your 20s because at one level you are very young and the world is your oyster, but at another level, there are too many things that you have to decide upon. 

I am in my 60s. There is such a liberation as you cross the decades. You give a flying hell about anything. This is me. I remember the liberation started with my 40th birthday. I was not going to please anyone or had anything to prove to anyone. I got more and more comfortable as I crossed the decades. Accepting who you are, accepting people, accepting that nothing is black and white. There is no moral judgement. If you like me, that’s great and even if you don’t, that’s also perfectly cool. You live your life very much for yourself. You get compassionate and tolerant. I don’t have to hide my age. I am an absolute zero social media person. 

How are you choosing your work?

I have always considered myself an accidental actress who just sort of tumbled into films. I have done more than 50-55 films in the last 18 years. I don’t know how.... I have realised that Hindi films are a certain animal. Do not expect too much out of it. The kind of fulfilment I look for, the kind of expectations I have from Hindi films are very different. I am doing it a) for the money, b) for exposure, c) to be part of a team where some very good actors may be acting, d) for having fun. I am not doing it because it is a great script or I have a great part. 

I don’t want to do anything sleazy. Actors are just part of the bigger picture. The script is not mine, the sur is not mine, I am just an actor. If I can be honest and do it with integrity… that’s all that my job is. 

I am doing an out-and-out crazy comedy with Rishi Kapoor called Jhootha Kahin Ka. It’s a complete lark. Rishi is a lovely actor. I am enjoying working with him. The director (Smeep Kang) is very good with comedy. Once in a while, I enjoy comedy. 

(A crew member informs us that the second bell has gone off. Lillete doesn’t look hassled in the least) 

There is no space. We are just beginning to carve a little space for ourselves. It is still so male-dominated. I have nothing against all my friends… from the Bomans (Irani) to the Naseers (Naseeruddin Shah) and the Anupams (Kher). I have worked with all of them. But you see the amount of work there is for the older male actors compared to the senior female actors.... 

Forget about me, I am talking about people who have had long innings and done some terrific work in their younger days. How much work are they getting? Madhuri (Dixit), Juhi (Chawla) ko dekho…. There is no work like Susan Sarandon, Glenn Close, Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Meryl Streep… parts are written for them. To tell you the truth, they are also fighting it out over there, but they have a bigger space. 

What are you working on now?

I have been very lucky. I worked on the series, Indian Summers, which did very well. I worked with Roshan Seth who is one the finest actors... underrated… it also had Julie Walters. Then I did a film for a South African female director last year which only had South African actors… a female-oriented story. 

These are indie films. I worked on the film adaptation of Dirty Paki Lingerie which was a huge success… it had a Pakistani-American writer, an Egyptian-American-Muslim director, an American DoP. 

I did a short film (#PuranaPyaar) with Mohan Agashe and am completing a web series (Akoori) for Zee’s digital platform… about a mad, Parsi, dysfunctional family in Gujarat which has Darshan Jariwala and me in the lead…. I am in talks for an interesting television series. If I do that, I’ll be coming back to TV after 20 years. Also, the latest thing that has started happening in the last couple of years is that people want me to come and speak. I am doing very little of it. I gave a Google talk in California! 

And, like your character in #PuranaPyaar, do you want to be in love again?

Of course! I am in love with life. I’ll never be looking to get married again, ever. Been there, done that. But I would be very happy to get a companion. I would look for the same things I looked for in Ravi… intelligence, a sense of humour… and who also has the same way of looking at life that I have… who has a passion for something… who doesn’t have to have my passion at all, but who has a zest for life and is a decent human being. As much as work gives you a sort of an anchor, I think an emotional connection is an enriching and important dimension of your life. Anyone who says ‘no’ is deluding themselves. 

In any relationship, what you are looking for ultimately is a deep friendship, a connect. I was lucky to have a very good friendship with my husband. He was my best friend for five years before I got married to him. Unfortunately, we knew each other’s deep, dark secrets.... (laughs) 

(“The play has started!” a group member informs us. Lillete bids us good bye)  

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