My world view: Deepika Deshpande-Aminby Vinta Nanda December 2 2020, 12:06 am Estimated Reading Time: 13 mins, 20 secs
It’s a fascinating journey to go down a long winding road with a friend - when the conversation is nothing else but about her, writes Vinta Nanda
Of Deepika Deshpande-Amin, the Indian film, television and theatre actor, known for Bollywood films Fan, Raanjhanaa and Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania and many TV shows including Farmaan and Tashn-e-Ishq, is the story I am telling today.
She was born Deepika Deshpande in Mumbai. Her paternal grandfather was the Sahitya Akademi Award-winning Marathi poet Atmaram Ravaji Deshpande. Her maternal grandmother Kusumavati Deshpande, was a writer of Marathi literature and professor of English Literature in Nagpur University.
Deepika’s father Ulhas Deshpande was Air Vice Marshall in the Indian Air Force and her mother Kshama Deshpande is a Khathak dancer and disciple of the Kathak maestro Gopi Krishna.
This very lovely person, always smiling – never seen her without one on her face - grew up in Delhi, attending school in Loreto Convent and studying Economics (Hons) in Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University. Now, she lives with her husband and daughter in Mumbai.
She got her first break with director Lekh Tandon’s and Gul Anand's serial Farmaan where she played the lead opposite another one of my favorite actors, Kanwaljit. Some of her noted serials are Tashan-e-Ishq, 9 Malabar Hill and Junoon. Deepika has also played important parts in director Shyam Benegal’s serial Amravati Ki Kathayein and his 10 part historic series Samvidhaan. In the critically acclaimed series Siyaasat, on Epic Channel, she played the role of Ruqaiya Sultan Begum.
Deepika Amin began her theatre career with plays directed by noted theatre director Barry John in Theatre Action Group. Her other co-actors in that stage of her life were Shah Rukh Khan and Manoj Bajpayee. She has been a member of Prime Time Theatre Company for many years working in several plays directed by Lillete Dubey.
She has also acted in plays like Girish Karnad’s Boiled Beans on Toast and Wedding Album (directed by Lillete Dubey), Partap Sharma’s Sammy and the musicals Annie Get Your Gun and South Pacific.
So I’m not going to make you wait any longer. I’m taking you over to listen to her speak about herself in this freewheeling interview – listen to this amazing artist who is also a trained singer in Indian Classical music and plays the guitar.
You were born in Mumbai and grew up in Delhi. What was the difference in the two experiences and what is it that brought you back to Mumbai?
Though I was born in Mumbai, I never lived here. My only memories of the city while growing up was visiting relatives in the holidays, where we did the usual touristy stuff. So it was not like a homecoming to Mumbai. It was a career move, I was getting offered a lot of work so the shift made sense. The city was totally new to me.
The main difference I see, which I realised after I moved, is the safety aspect. In Delhi the boys in our theatre group made sure to drop all the girls home at night. In Mumbai, even at 2 am it’s safe to drop off anyone to the nearest rickshaw stand. Many times, I drive home alone at 3 am after a shoot, without a second thought. The independence women enjoy in Mumbai is wonderful. Nobody interferes and the attitude is to live and let live.
I know it’s fashionable to trash Delhi people, calling them status conscious and social climbers. But in Delhi, I have had the warmest, kindest, most sincere set of friends. Theatre people, teachers, social workers, artists, professionals and so many others. I have never ever had anyone judge me based on my clothes, my car or where I lived. In fact, I have encountered these exact judgements in Mumbai high society. It all depends on the kind of people you interact with.
Life in Delhi is gracious. Wide roads, leafy trees, open spaces and a real sense of history. I miss all this. But Mumbai has an addictive, fast paced buzz. For a working woman, Mumbai is definitely the best city in India.
How did your paternal grandfather, the Sahitya Akademi Award-winning Marathi poet Atmaram Ravaji Deshpande, and maternal grandmother Kusumavati Deshpande, who was a writer of Marathi literature and professor of English Literature in Nagpur University influence you? Were they the two who connected you to the world of literature and art? How?
I come from an illustrious, artistic family. My grandmother Kusumavati Deshpande was a professor of English Literature at Nagpur University. She had studied in London, which was a huge achievement in her time. Unfortunately, I have never known her as she passed away even before my parents were married. I wish I could have known her. She had such grace and quiet confidence. Her books and essays are part of the Marathi syllabus even today.
My grandfather A.R. Deshpande was a Judge by profession but was famous for his Marathi poetry, which he wrote under the pen name Kavi Anil. Many of his poems have been set to music and performed by renowned artists. Poems like Ajuni Rusuni Ahe & Aaj Achanak Gath Pade have been sung by Kumar Gandharv. Others like Keli Che Sukale Baag, is sung by Usha Mangeshkar & Wate Var Kaate by Vasantrao Deshpande. These songs and his poetry are loved and popular among all Maharashtrians. When people realise I am Kavi Anil’s granddaughter, they look at me with great affection and respect. However, our relationship was of grandfather and grandchild and not at any literary level. I do remember reciting poems from school to him, which he listened to fondly. I was quite young when he received the Sahitya Akademi Award, and I remember the excitement in the family. I had barely finished school when he passed away.
Today I appreciate the genius and talent of my grandparents and wish I could have learned more from them. I hope I have inherited at least a fraction of their talent.
What were the pros and cons of a childhood as the daughter of an Air Force Officer?
I am proud to be the daughter of Air Vice Marshall U.A. Deshpande. Kids of Defence officers are a class apart. You are brought up with a certain world view, manners, etiquette and discipline. The most important thing you learn is a modern, cosmopolitan outlook to life. We travel and live in new places, meeting and befriending people from all over India, we learn to adapt to situations and display a resilience of character. People talk about financial disparities, but while growing up, I lacked nothing. Sure, we didn’t have mansions and imported cars but when it came to holidays, clothes, gadgets… I had them all.
When my father was transferred after I finished college, he encouraged me to live alone and pursue a career. Many girls I knew were married off even before graduation. Some people live their lives in one place yet make no attempt to broaden their minds or learn about other people and places. When I see the conservative mindsets of some rich business families, I thank my stars my parents were not like that. My parents were proud of my acting dream. Once I started working, I was always financially independent but I know they would have supported me if I needed it.
Tell us about your relationship with your mother and your relationship with your daughter – how are they similar in certain ways and different as well?
My mother has been the primary artistic influence in my life. She grew up in a very cultured and musical family. Her father, my maternal grandfather, was the Director of AIR Baroda. Remember, this was pre TV days and radio was king. Great musicians like a young Pt Ravi Shankar etc., would frequently visit their home. My Mom learned kathak from a very young age and after her graduation, became a disciple of Kathak Maestro Shri Gopi Kishen.
After marriage, she did not actively pursue her dance career but growing up in Delhi we were always attending music, dance and theatre performances. As a child, I remember attending fantastic programs at Kathak Kendra by legends like Birju Maharaj and wonderful dance dramas by Bharatiya Kala Kendra and plays at NSD and Sri Ram Centre. She is the one who encouraged my love for theatre and has always supported me a hundred percent.
My daughter Rhea has definitely been influenced by me in the field of music and theatre. Since she was a child we would sing together the entire score of Les Miserables, old Hindi film songs. My mother and daughter are my best theatre buddies. We see all the plays we can, Marathi, Hindi and English.
When we travel, play watching is a top priority for Rhea and myself. I hardly shop abroad, I just spend all my money watching plays. We make lists of plays and plan our itinerary around them. We have actually gone running from one theatre to another to catch a second show.
When did the acting bug bite you and how did you deal with the challenges that you faced in the beginning?
Going to the theatre is in the blood of Maharashtrian families and even in Delhi we would regularly attend all the plays performed by the NSD repertory. This is where we saw wonderful plays performed by stalwarts like Surekha Sikri, Manohar Singh and Uttara Baokar. Perhaps this is where it started, but I have always wanted to be an actress.
I regularly took part in school plays and seeing my interest, my parents enrolled me in Sushma Seth’s Children’s Creative Theatre. This is where I got my taste of ‘proper’ theatre.
I was doing Economics Hons in Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi when I joined Barry John’s Theatre Action Group. After that there was no looking back. The others in the group included people like Shah Rukh Khan, Manoj Bajpayee, Rituraj Singh, Divya Seth. Some of us had just finished college and some were still studying. Barry conducted regular theatre workshops, we performed so many plays and travelled all over India. We also did plays in collaboration with other theatre groups with actors like Raghubir Yadav and Ashish Vidyarthi.
I don’t think I faced any great challenge then. I was working with Teamwork Films, an organisation that totally supported theatre and the arts. I never had a problem juggling work and theatre. Those were great days. Theatre is the purest, all-encompassing art form and I simply love it.
Tell us about your journey in television?
While I was doing theatre in Delhi with Barry John, I met the renowned director Lekh Tandon, who had seen my plays. I happened to be visiting Bombay when he called me again to meet him and the producer Gul Anand. They offered me the lead role in the series Farmaan, which effectively started my career in television.
We shot the entire series in Hyderabad. I had wonderful co-stars like Kanwaljeet, Raja Bundela, Kalpana Iyer. The series was a success and I won the Most Promising Newcomer Award. Soon I started getting good offers. That is when I decided to make the shift to Bombay.
That was the Golden era of television and I was fortunate enough to be part of classic shows like Junoon, 9 Malabar Hill, Safar, Kismat and Shyam Benegals Amravati Ki Kathayen.
Would you like to tell us about your marriage, how you met the man of your life and what happened thereafter?
My husband Vikram Amin is in the steel business. Our families knew each other well. He was based in Dubai but would come to India often on work, when we would meet. He is a movie buff and theatre lover like me. Theirs is a highly educated, progressive family. His father, a Gujarati Hindu was an engineer from MIT, US and his mother, a Christian, had studied at Cornell University, US and was a professor of Women and Child Development at Nirmala Niketan.
After our marriage, we moved to Jakarta Indonesia, where Vikram was the President of a Steel Plant. We lived there for 6 years and I simply loved my time there. My daughter was born in Jakarta.
I did not give up my theatre and was part of an international theatre group called the Jakarta Players. I acted in many plays and also directed three. One was a Hindi play for the Indian Embassy.
You continued your journey in theatre, film and TV after returning to India.
Yes but it wasn’t easy getting back. Television had changed from weeklies to dailies; to stories driven by kitchen politics. Women characters that were strong and inspiring earlier had now become petty and spiteful. Nothing appealed to me. Not the characters or the system of working. It was all quite disheartening.
Theatre, as always, threw me a lifeline. I began working with Lillette Dubey’s theatre group, Prime Time, and that was a fulfilling experience. I acted in plays by India’s finest playwrights Girish Karnad, Mahesh Dattani, Vijay Tendulkar. We travelled the world performing these plays in countries like USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Pakistan, Muscat, Dubai, Malaysia and of course all over India.
How did films happen after this? Which are the memorable ones?
I guess word got around that I was back and Casting Directors started approaching me. The first big film I did was Raanjhaana with Sonam Kapoor and Dhanush. After that other films came along like Humpty Sharma ki Dulhaniya with Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan and FAN with Shah Rukh, Mardani 2 with Rani Mukherji, Ghoomketu with Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Anurag Kashyap, Shyam Benegal’s film Well Done Abba and Rough Book by Ananth Mahadevan. I had a beautiful role in the film Gone Kesh, directed by Qasim Khallow. (its available on Amazon Prime).
Good roles came via web series like Siyaasat on Amazon Prime and Epic. The series What The Folks and the Desi Mom sketches have proved to be extremely popular and fun.
What are your forthcoming projects?
I’m looking forward to two releases - Ram Prasad Ki Tehrvi directed by Seema Pahwa. It has fabulous actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Konkana Sen Sharma, Supriya Pathak and I’m so happy to have been part of it.
Another one is Invisible Rain, directed by Vikas Khanna, with Shabana Azmi. Hopefully it should release next year. And of course, I’m praying that theatres open soon, after COVID, so that I can get back on stage again.
Where are you as a person and professional at this stage in your life – and where is it that you see yourself 10 years from now?
Life is good personally – we are well settled, my daughter is studying in Brown University, in the US; we used to travel a lot before lockdown.
Professionally I am dissatisfied. I yearn for better roles. Woman oriented, strong roles are scarce today. Women my age are stereotyped as mothers, constantly nagging their children to eat or get married. Female characters are one dimensional. There was hope from the OTT platforms but that seems to be fading. I do have a secret desire to write, and maybe produce my own content. Now that I have said it out loud here - I might get around to actually doing it, hopefully before 10 years!