Deepti Naval loves to lease out a shikara on Dal Lake everytime she visits the place during Ramzan.
Born in Amritsar, Deepti moved to New York with her parents, where she completed her graduation. She then came back to India to join films. We met the extremely versatile and talented actress at her Versova house, just as she had returned from shooting her first-ever film in the valley of Kashmir. She gave everyone masala chai to all the visitors, as she loved the chai very much! And then, she started talking about Kashmir..
She said, “Kashmir was my filmi fixation. One of the reasons for me to join Hindi films was that they were shot in Kashmir. So I felt that if I became an actress, every now and then I would get to go to Kashmir to shoot. But my films were extremely realistic, far away from fantasy, so much so that forget about singing and dancing in Kashmir, I would not even have danced around the trees of Versova in Mumbai. This is the first time I am shooting there for a film called January 19 (based on the tragic incident of the Kashmiri Pandits having to flee the valley on January 19, 1990). It’s a coincidence that my friend Farooque Shaikh’s first film Noorie was also shot in Bhaderwah, Kashmir, which is the same place I was shooting in. I remember when I first came to Mumbai to join films, you have to meet people, but I said to myself, ‘Woh sab baad mein’, first I must go and visit Kashmir. This was in 1978. I went to Kashmir and stayed all by myself at the earlier Hotel Oberoi in Srinagar. I was really khush. Having been born in Amritsar, my father would take us every year to Kullu Manali but not Kashmir. But Kashmir was my filmi fixation. I used to sit on the shikara and take rides everyday. It was May 2 and there were yet no tourists. The shikara person Maqbool would make kahwah for me. While I did not get to shoot a film in Kashmir, years later I grabbed a chance to work on a documentary on pandits and became a part of it without money, just because I knew I was getting to go to Kashmir. I stayed in one of the boats on Dal Lake (opposite Zabarwan Park). I finished the shooting and came back to Mumbai, but would keep going back to that boat and take pictures, as I am also a photographer. On one of my trips, I suggested to the owner if I could lease out the boat for myself and, to my utter surprise, he agreed to do so for 99 years. I rushed to Delhi and brought a friend along. We both got into burkhas and went and signed up my lease. This was about four years back. I have done up that shikara now and go and stay during Ramzan, when the whole valley is reverberating with the sounds of azaan.“