Veteran actress Deepti Naval turns another year older today but still she looks gorgeous as ever because of her simple looks and beautiful face. She was born on February 3, 1952 in Amritsar, Punjab but was bought up in New York City, as her father got a teaching job at City University of New York.

This Week That Year: Once upon a time with Deepti Naval's Miss Chamko
Deepti Naval and Farooq Shaikh (inset) in Chashme Buddoor

There is something about her that makes you want to stroll down sun-dappled lanes towards a cinema that mirrored everyday life in a way that was engaging, enriching and entertaining. Perhaps it’s her girl-next-door charm or maybe it’s that Miss Chamko smile that scrubs away all that’s wrong with the world, leaving it sparkling. And even if that’s a delusion because the towel to test the detergent was freshly laundered, you still buy it, like Farooq Shaikh aka Siddharth Parashar in Chashme Buddoor, never mind if it left him fighting a rash the next day because he left his face lathered with shaving cream way too long.

Three decades later, point Deepti Naval towards Sai Paranjape’s iconic 1981 romcom and breaking into peals of laughter she admits Sai was perhaps the only director who could reprimand her without so much as a peep from her. “Knowing it was my fault, I’d stare at the floor, silently listening to her. I had so much affection and regard for her,” she reminisces.

She listened to Sai when the director told her that for the Chamko scene when she comes into the bachelors’ pad selling her detergent, she should smile only as much was absolutely necessary. “Having grown up in Amritsar, I understood her middle-class morality remembering my mother telling me to look straight ahead when walking on the street and not make eye contact with anyone. With these values ingrained in me, I understood that smiling too much at a strange man could be misconstrued so the Chamko smile was bright, professional and rationed,” Deepti chuckles.

This small town wisdom came from a girl who’d just graduated from the City University in New York and was the first Indian-American actress to migrate to Mumbai and Bollywood. “I had no knowledge of the craft and went about choosing my films based primarily on instinct. Naseer (Naseeruddin Shah) told me during Katha that the best thing about me was that I wasn’t trained in acting,” she says.

Farooq was equally encouraging, telling her, “Dipps, you are capable of so much more, don’t get distracted, stay focused.” One of the best loved jodis of the ’80s, the duo went on to pair in many more films, including Ek Baar Chale Aao, Kissi Se Na Kehna, Rang Birangi and the TV serial, Hasrat Mohani. “But it was only during Listen… Amaya that released in 2013, that we actually chatted about life, writing, cinema and how it had changed since Chasme Buddoor and Katha when we made these classics without realising it. In the early days, he’d only tease me,” she recalls, adding that the one subject on which they could never come to an agreement was food. “I enjoy my salad, while he relished his wholesome meals. That’s why even though I invited him often to my place, he never visited me socially, grousing he’d only get ghaas phus.”

On February 3, Deepti will bring in her 66th birthday quietly. “I was hoping to spend it in Himachal but I have to be in Delhi for a retrospective at the Daulat Ram College but there’s nothing better than talking films with young people,” she smiles, adding Listen… Amaya, Saath Saath will be screened there.

Saath Saath… Farooq wooing Deepti with Jagjit Singh’s first Hindi film song penned by Javed Akhtar. “Tum Ko Dekha To Yeh Khayal Aaya…” The smile flashes… Brighter and unhibited.

Farooq was no longer a stranger and nor was movie town. As his equal in the film she could remind him of the integrity and values he was fast losing in the struggle to make a better living, bring him back on track… Ah if only we could hold on to that world, those ideals too… “Hum Jisse Gungunaa Nahi Sakte, Waqt Ne Aisa Geet Kyun Gaaya…”

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