New Delhi, November 21 (Indian Express): Indian actress Deepti Gupta, who has worked in a number of Pakistani dramas including Neeyat, Malaal, Ijaazat and Ishq Junoon Deewangi says that unlike Indian serials, Pakistani tele-dramas have a poetic story telling style which had given her full scope to display her talent.
One has heard of Pakistani stars working in Indian films, but how did Deepti, an Indian, find a place in Pakistani tele-dramas? Here is the story in her own words:
“Sultana Siddiqui, who owns Hum TV [a major Pakistani entertainment channel], saw Pehchaan made by Pakistani director Mehreen Jabbar in the US. The channel officials called me and said they really liked my work and they had another serial in Australia for me (Manay Na Ye Dil). Given how things were in Hollywood, this was refreshing. Most of my work has been for Hum TV, and I have the greatest regard for Siddiqui and Momina Duraid, the creative mind there. They’ve held on to great, poetic story-telling, unlike Indian TV serials. I don’t know if I could have found a similar space for myself in Indian serials.”
“It was only after I left India and became a part of minority communities in Singapore and the US that I realized my privilege back home. The roles I wanted and didn’t get made me aware of the stark racial politics in the US. In this milieu, Pakistani dramas were like an oasis. They allowed me to play characters that are complex and full, and that have arcs — a character who has a small moment, like making chai, and then a big dramatic scene. This is why these dramas are so dear to me.”
“Of course, there were problematic elements to some of the characters: I mostly played the wife who will be scorned for a prettier girl. Nevertheless, I decided very early that I am going to play these parts from a place of strength. This gave me something exciting to play with, sometimes working against the script.”
“Thankfully, Momina Duraid finds really great writers, and it was such a pleasure to play characters that stood up for themselves. Jabbar is very progressive; she is an actor’s director, and it was always a dialogue with her, whenever the characters I played posed some difficulty.”
On the recently imposed ban on Pakistani artists and the Zindagi TV pulling the plug on Pakistani dramas, Deepti said: “I never felt any tension with the Pakistanis I worked with. The people who carried out the attacks on Mumbai were Pakistanis and Muslims, but that does not speak for the entire Pakistani or Muslim people. By the same token, all Hindus should not be condemned for the RSS’s actions. When I found out Mahira Khan is working in Bollywood, I was delighted. And I was so sad when Pakistani artistes were banned.”
“I grew up in a very conservative Hindu neighbourhood. I owe my depth of understanding and empathy across religious lines to the love and affection I have received from the people I worked with, and from fans in Pakistan. This experience has expanded my world view and made me a better human being. When Pakistani actors work in India, it’s a small but significant opportunity for the people who interact with them to build bridges. To take that away is a disservice to our own growth as a tolerant society.”
Growth as an actress
Deepti grew up knowing that her heart was set on Bollywood and being told that she did not have the looks for it. After doing theatre in college in Delhi, she went to Singapore and thereon to the USA, to train as an actor. She moved to New York in 2004, and waited tables and baby-sat, while auditioning and acting. A chance response to an advertisement on the online platform Craigslist led her to the Pakistani director, Mehreen Jabbar. Thus, beginning with Jabbar’s Pehchaan and New York Stories, she played leading roles for a decade in Pakistani dramas, which were shot in Australia, South Africa, Mauritius and the USA. Indians got to see her when Malaal, Ijaazat and Neeyat aired on Zindagi channel this year.
Simultaneously, Deepti has continued her work in Hollywood, acting in films like Rated and Walkaway, writing and directing (the short Happy and You Know It), and doing commercials and TV shows.
Now living in Los Angeles, Deepti, who is in her thirties, spoke about the industries’ obsession with tall, thin and fair/white women.
“In school, I never told friends I wanted to act, because I felt people will laugh at me. I never considered myself typically beautiful. No one is writing songs on teri bhoori bhoori (your brown) skin. My weight has always gone up and down. Saying that I wanted to be an actress felt audacious.”
“After finishing Class XII, when I told my father acting is what I wanted to do, he cautioned me about my skin colour, my nose and about the small number of aspiring actors who actually make it. He was worried for me and that made me consider the odds against me. I don’t know if they have changed. In fact, our ideas of beauty have become even narrower. If Hema Malini started today, she would not have survived. Earlier, Bollywood would lighten up Indian heroines, but with globalization, fair skin has become even more accessible and more of a fetish.”
“I did a lot of theatre as a student at Kirori Mal College in Delhi, and with the Act One troupe at Mandi House, alongside NK Sharma, Ritesh Shah and Piyush Mishra. I also acted in films, like Nirankush (1997) produced by the Films Division. After finishing my Bachelor’s, I couldn’t get into mass communication and drama programs. I spent a year in depression. In 1999, an opportunity to do an MA in theatre studies in Singapore came my way, and I left India.”