Like torn halves of a page, two lovers meet for one last romance in Ek Mulaqaat

By Sibendu Das
  • Published 16.05.15
Shekhar Suman and Deepti Naval in Ek Mulaqaat. Pictures: Sayantan Ghosh

After an intense performance on stage, Deepti Naval sat with t2 in the GD Birla Sabhagar green room and spoke about her relationship with Amrita Pritam, her need to express and her first love! Read on....

You knew Amrita Pritam personally...

Yes, very well, for a long time. She was very dear to me. Director Basu Bhattacharya had introduced me to Amritaji in Delhi in the early ’80s. Basuda was doing a docu on her and mentioned to her that I write poems. So she asked me to read out a few. After listening to my poems, she called her publisher and said ‘tusi aao itthe and listen to this girl’s poetry’. That’s how Lamha Lamha [Deepti Naval’s first poetry collection] happened. So it was poetry that brought us and kept us together.
What kind of a person was she?

She was very bold. She lived life on her own terms and was an inspiration for us. Very soft-spoken and demure but internally strong.

Is it easy or difficult to portray someone you know personally?

No, it is not difficult. It helped me. For any expression needed on stage, I would always think how she would have expressed. I cannot impersonate her completely, because she used to talk very slowly. Stage pe itna time nahin hai... but her essence is very much within me.

What is your observation on the Amrita-Sahir relationship?

Sahir was more inhibited when it came to expressing his admiration or love for women. He was a little shy and too reserved. But Amrita was very forthright. She loved him and made no bones about it. She admired him because of the writer that he was.

How much of that relationship do we see on stage?

Whatever Saif (director) has put into the play in terms of Amrita’s equation with Sahir, most of it has been drawn from her autobiography Rasidi Ticket.

Which moment in the play is closest to your heart?

It is when Sahir says ‘tu is tarah mere ghar aayi....’ I have to control my tears at that time. I don’t know what it triggers inside me, something it triggers, and I feel a huge connect from Amrita’s point of view with those lines by Sahir.

You recite a lot of poems by Amrita on stage...

Her poetry is written in very difficult Punjabi. It’s not simple Punjabi. She wrote very theth Punjabi. Theth means very unadulterated, not refined but the real, raw Punjabi.

You sang a song during the play and the audience broke into an applause. It’s a revelation!

Arre, nobody in my childhood encouraged me to sing, otherwise I might have not been an actress but a singer! Nobody noticed ki yeh achchhi gaa leti hain... I am just very fond of music. I keep humming. One day during the second rehearsal in Bombay, I was casually humming one of the lines when the recordist said, ‘You must sing this.’ Shekhar also said, ‘Yes, you sing this and don’t recite.’ That’s how I ended up singing in the play. Otherwise I am a bathroom singer.

Have you trained in singing?

No, I have not been trained. When I was a child, we did go to a music class for four years in Amritsar. But now I have forgotten everything. What has happened because of that four-year training is that I will not go out of sur. Par, training mili nahin uske baad.

You also paint, write and do photography. What drives you to so many art forms?

I feel there is an intense need within me to express myself. That need compels me to go for different art forms. Acting is one thing. It takes care of your emotional life. You are constantly using your own personal emotional reservoir in acting. But at the end, it is the director’s take and the writer’s. But if I write something, it is completely mine. If you read my poetry or short stories, it is my take on life. It is what I have to say about life. Writing is, I feel, closest to me though I love acting. Writing is my first love!

Your films range from Ek Baar Phir (1980) to NH10 (2015). What’s your take on today’s Bollywood?

I am a little disgruntled by the fact that when one has lived so much, now the roles that I get are like two-bit — two scenes here, three scenes there... chhota chhota roles. You need something meatier, like a Memories in March. I am very happy to get a Memories in March, to get a Listen... Amaya [with Farooq Shaikh]. I did NH10 purely to experiment with myself as an actor, to see if I could bring out something evil and pathetic. I have never done anything starkly negative. And I am very surprised that people appreciated that.

You travel a lot. One destination you love going back?

There is a little village called Stok, near Leh. I love that village. It is one of my secret little destinations where I like to go and get lost. Nobody gets to know where I am. I stay there, walk around, just be with nature. It is very lovely.

You have directed the film Do Paise Ki Dhoop, Chaar Aane Ki Baarish. When will it be released?

The film is ready but we have major heartaches in the area of who is going to put in the money for the print and publicity. If nothing else works, eventually people will see it on YouTube. Thank god, there’s YouTube!

Bollywood lyricist and poet Sahir Ludhianvi had once caught a cold and was finding it difficult to breathe. The poet Amrita Pritam, who was also his lover, had then rubbed Vicks on his chest. In Amrita’s words, “I went on and on, as if I could spend the rest of my life doing it.”

That intimate was the chemistry between the two, yet they never married. What would you call it? Unfulfilled love? An unwise decision? What was the equation?

Playwright and director Saif Hyder Hasan brought the two lovers together on stage, albeit in spirit, in Ek Mulaqaat, a play held recently at GD Birla Sabhagar presented by Centre Stage Creations in association with t2.

Played by Shekhar Suman and Deepti Naval, the characters came alive through their poetry, love and admiration for each other. Set on the terrace of Amrita’s Delhi house, the play begins with a phone call from Mumbai, followed by Sahir’s entry. Amrita is surprised and elated to see Sahir. When the two meet, poetry can’t be far behind. Deepti’s rendition of Amrita’s “theth” Punjabi poems and Shekar’s flawless recital of Sahir’s Urdu poetry drew much applause.

They speak, play cards, remember good old days and spend the evening untying many a mental knot that had grown over the years. As we, the audience, eavesdrop, a passionate, honest and mutually-respecting relationship comes to the fore.

I loved the play. It gave us a glimpse into the old Bollywood era. The two actors did a wonderful job. Deepti Naval is superb! — Kirti Bhagchandka, theatre student

I would have missed a lot if I hadn’t come. I came to watch the play especially for Deepti Naval but then Shekhar Suman turned out to be a pleasant surprise. — Arunima Ghoshal Banerjee, homemaker

I like Urdu poetry and enjoyed Shekhar Suman’s recital of Sahir’s poems. And Deepti Naval was a revelation! I never knew she sings so well! — Shraddha Sarda, homemaker