HYDERABAD: A Country Called Childhood is a beautifully told memoir of growing up in Amritsar in the tumultuous 1950s and 60s by award-winning actress Deepti Naval. A candid chat with the veteran actress/author about her memoir, movies and more
A multifaceted personality, Deepti Naval is an Indian actor, director, writer, painter, and photographer. Deepti has carved a niche for herself in the Indian film industry, winning critical acclaim for her ‘sensitive and close to life’ portrayals that emphasised the changing role of women in India. Deepti in her latest stint of being an author has penned down her memoir. A Country Called Childhood published by Aleph Book Company is a beautifully told memoir of growing up in Amritsar in the tumultuous 1950s and 60s by the award-winning actress.
In extremely visual and evocative prose, Naval describes an unforgettable childhood filled with love, adventure, mystery, tragedy, and joy. She uncovers, in great detail, life in an unconventional Punjabi family while plunging the reader into the distinctive sights, smells, and sounds of a fast-vanishing India. Starting at the moment of her birth on a rainy night, she tracks her journey to adulthood, a path punctuated by many personal turning points as also momentous events of national importance, such as the Sino-Indian War of 1962 and the Indo-Pak War of 1965. Moving and illuminating, A Country Called Childhood shows how Deepti’s early love affair with cinema and the experiences of her childhood shaped her career as one of the country’s most admired actors.
Deepti made her debut in the year 1980 with Ek Baar Phir, and has since appeared in more than ninety films, including Chashme Buddoor, Katha, Saath Saath, Kamla, Ankahi, Main Zinda Hoon, and Mirch Masala. She has received the Best Actor award in several national and international film festivals for her roles in Leela, Firaaq, Memories in March, Listen Amaya, NH10, The Boy with the Topknot, and others. She also won the Best Screenplay award at the New York Indian Film Festival for her directorial film, Do Paise Ki Dhoop, Chaar Aane Ki Baarish, in 2010. As a writer, she has three books to her credit — her first collection of poems, Lamha Lamha, published in 1981, Black Wind and Other Poems in 2004, and The Mad Tibetan: Stories from Then and Now in 2011. A candid chat with the veteran actress/author about her memoir, movies and more. Excerpts.
What was the inspiration behind penning the memoir?
Life itself was the inspiration. My childhood was incredible and I wanted it to share those memories with everyone. The thought of a memoir was lingering in my mind for a long time, but it finally came to life now.
You have written about the memories of the Indo-Pak war. Any particular incident that remains etched in your mind?
During the 1965 war, we used to sleep on the terrace and there was a mosque adjacent to our house. My father used to read at night before sleeping and one day a funny incident happened. My mother was blowing the light off as those were blackout days and my father was turning it on again to read. People around us thought that there was a spy in our house giving out signals to the enemies (laughs).
How much time did the memoir take to get completed?
Interestingly, 20 years ago I had started to write it, but wrote only a few chapters. The book took me six years of focused time and energy. There was a huge surge of memories so I had to take help from the publisher to give it a structure.
Is there any chapter in the book which challenged you while writing?
The exercise of writing the book triggered a lot of memories. I had to leave out many incidents but still, the book is about 400 pages.
A Country Called Childhood. A very interesting title. What made you choose this?
This was a phrase in one of my chapters that the publisher liked and kept as the book’s title.
Poetry vs prose. What soothes your mind most of the time?
Poetry is for my mind and soul, whereas, the prose is for everyone.
You have been a part of many cult films. How do you think the movie industry has changed till now?
A lot of things have changed. It is now an entirely different movie industry. In our time all were a little laid back but now everyone is so professional and skilled. But again, the innocence and simplicity we had earlier are now lost.
Any memories you would like to share about Hyderabad?
We were shooting for the film Yatra in Hyderabad. I remember I was fascinated with the Hyderabadi lingo.
When can we see you on screen again?
Last six years I have been focused on writing. You will see me in Goldfish with Kalki Koechlin soon.