BY SUKANT DEEPAK
She has always loved his aesthetics, the way sound was used in his cinema, how he looked at human relationships through a completely different lens. More importantly, how he sensitively brought forth complexities in human connections in ordinary lives and relationships…their loves, traumas, joys and tragedies.
“My one regret is that I never got a chance to work with filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh and experience being part of the profound simplicity synonymous with his films,”says theatre person and film actor Lillete Dubey, who was part of the film ‘Season’s Greetings’, a tribute to late Ghosh that premiered on Zee 5 recently.
Directed by Ram Kumar Mukherjee, and starring Celina Jaitley and Shree Ghatak, the 45-minute movie, set in Kolkata is about Romita (played by Celina), who decides to introduce her live-in partner Usmaan (Azhar Khan) to her mother Suchitra (Lillete Dubey).
Talking about her role, Dubey says that the character is quite close to the person she is. “I live alone too, though in a very contented way. While Suchitra is passionate about dance and poetry, I am for theatre and literature. She is strong yet gentle, sensitive but fearless — we are kindred spirits in a sense and I resonated with her character immediately when Ram described her,” she told IANS.
Dubey, who has done several projects including short films and series for digital platforms feels that the same has managed to provide wonderful opportunities for all kinds of creative people in the entertainment business.
“The online platforms are the future and we can’t run away from that fact. Creatively, since the censorship is less stringent, and people have a chance to be freer than they ever were before, they are exploring all kinds of subjects and showing diverse content. Some of it is exceptional, some not so. Also, in these difficult times online content has been a comfort for a lot of people.”
A well-known theatre director whose ‘The Primetime Theatre Company’ will complete 30 years next year and will be staging 30 shows across five venues in Mumbai and then travelling to Delhi and other cities, besides opening two new plays and staged readings from short stories, says, “We will also be showcasing some of our popular productions as part of the festival. It has been a long and momentous journey. These three decades of doing original Indian theatre and taking it across the globe…Now, hopefully we will be able to do all these shows in these extraordinary times in February next year. But I do believe the human spirit will rally and, with precautions, we will be able to share our theatre experiences with audiences again.”
One of the very few independent Indian theatre companies that has not only survived but also done reasonably well, even financially during its three decades of existence, Dubey says that though it has been a hard struggle to achieve the same, but she was very clear about certain things when she set up the company.
“We would do largely original Indian writing and stage numerous shows of every play we produced, including taking them abroad. Most importantly, we would try to pay our actors and crew and make some money for the company too. All this with no support from the government and very little from sponsors.
I think long runs and a lot of invitations to perform by several organisations both in Mumbai and outside, helps to generate money for us and we have been lucky that our work is invited a lot. Also, having a model where the budget such that you never expect more than a 50 per cent sale of tickets so you don’t go into the red, if the halls are not full, is an important aspect of budgeting. Therefore tickets etc. have to be priced accordingly,” says the Dubey about her company which is India’s most travelled theatre company, having preformed over 3000 shows across five continents.
Asserting that all this was secondary and she does theatre because it is her soul food, and the joy lies in the creation of shows, she smiles, “The practical strategies are only so that I can keep doing it.”
For anyone who has been following her work, what strikes is the fact that she don’t stick to a genre or theme.
Dubey says that she decides to stage a script when it resonates with her strongly enough, almost asking her to do it.
“Maybe it is the circumstances I am in at that point in my life, that attract me to a certain subject and genre. Life stages often drive your artistic impulses. I’m certain I have picked up a story at a moment in time, because it was reflection of something happening in my own personal sphere at that point. And sometimes the subject matter is not personal, but so strong in content and its universality that it needs to be told.”
Stressing that it has always been important for her to explore a variety of subjects so as to avoid repeating herself and getting bored, she adds, “Look, I am also a very restless soul, creatively. I need to explore a wide variety of themes. Someone like me is always looking for new content, and new stories to tell, sometimes very eclectic, but as long as I find them interesting. I think it is the director’s job to infuse his/her work with his passion, whatever the theme, and get the audience hooked into the same passion when he presents it to them. That’s why my subjects have gone from Zen Buddhism to child abuse, from Gandhian thought to gender stereotyping, from classical music to the beginnings of Indian cinema, homosexuality to dysfunctional families etc. Also, I never want to become predictable in my choices to myself or to the audience,” says Dubey, who credits theatre director and teacher Barry John for “igniting the creative fires that still burn in me”.
For someone who started acting in films at the age of 47, there are no regrets for hitting the screen so late. “I might have regretted other things in life, but never this. I was busy studying, got married and had children very soon after, and films were never on my agenda. I was a dyed -in -the wool theatre person and was busy with that, home and children. And of course, my parents were highly educated professionals far removed from the world of Hindi Cinema and the thought of entering films never occurred to any of us.
The strange irony is that while I was in my very early twenties, I got a few offers for working in commercial Hindi films, but my parents completely dismissed the whole thing as did I. And then almost 25 years later, I came to Mumbai with my husband, and in a short while I was offered ‘Zubeidaa’ directed by Shyam Benegal. It was a delight to get a call from Shyam babu and when I met him, he asked me graciously whether I would like to work with him, and I happily accepted. And that was the beginning of my film career, just like that!”
She may have done over 60 films, both in India and abroad, besides international TV shows, but she still calls herself an ‘accidental film actor’. “I have never sought work or kept a manager to hustle for me till today. What has come, has come on its own, and I’ve enjoyed every bit of those films in different ways for different reasons. It was just meant to be at a certain point in my life and so it happened then. And wonderfully for me, it still keeps happening.”