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Aunty roles won't do

Bollywood is fun. But it's theatre that lets her play both a 27-year-old and a 72-year-old, says Lillete Dubey

— Photo: R.V. Moorthy

Lillete Dubey: `Cinema goes too much by the look of the actor.'

IF THERE'S anyone who can ride a buffalo, and manage to look thrilled about it, it's Lillete Dubey. Though her popularity escalated as a film actor with movies such as Zubeidaa, Monsoon Wedding, Kal Ho Na Ho, Pinjar, Lakshya and the recent Morning Raga (where she takes a little trip on a buffalo), she still claims to be a theatre person. Right from college, this Delhi-based actor has taken the stage, doing a range of roles that she admits only theatre can offer.

"I'm tired of doing aunty roles in movies, ya... " she complains. The first movie she did was Zubeidaa, directed by Shyam Benegal, and that was the pioneering "aunty role". "Since then, I've not been able to shake it off!" She relates a conversation she'd had with Benegal when he was making a movie on Dalits right after Zubeidaa. She jokes about how he could've forgotten to cast her in that movie too, since he'd looked at her and said plainly: "But it's a Dalit movie... you can't be a Dalit."

"I do have a lot of fun in Bollywood," she says, "But cinema goes too much by the look of the actor. On stage, I can be a 25-year-old, a 72-year-old, an Anglo Indian... But in films, they're just dying to cast me in aunty roles over and over again!"

Lillete has also directed some plays such as 30 days in September and Breathe In Breathe Out. She's now taking her latest offering, Zen Katha, around the country. It is the story of Bodhidharma, the force behind what is now Zen Buddhism. "Very few people know that the Bodhi was born right in our country, in Kanchi, and grew up here, discovering himself and the truths of the world." She says before writer Partap Sharma approached her with the script, she had only had a very foggy idea about Bodhi as "some chap who had something to do with China, Buddhism, and martial arts."

Asked if the play was in keeping with the trend of spiritualism, Lillete says: "Yes, it is fashionable to say Om, meditate and be Buddhist. But I chose to direct Zen Katha because the script was damn good. And original, for god's sake!" She thinks doing adaptations of Western plays is way too easy. "How did we build a body of literature? By allowing people to write, to come up with fresh ideas. Similarly, we need to build a body of plays. But no one is going to write if no one is willing to perform it." Also, Lillete says that we're in "such an age of violence and materialism" that the play is totally relevant today.

ROHINI MOHAN

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