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Chat with Lillete Dubey

Lillete’s world


Athira M

 Lillete Dubey

Lillete Dubey celebrates her life as an actor and feels lucky to have got a svelte figure

Lillete Dubey breaks into a hearty laugh when you ask her the secret of her svelte figure. Happily tucking into “traditional Kerala food” at the Fifth Element restaurant of Vivanta by Taj in the city, she shoots back: “Do you think I am doing something special? See… how I am helping myself.” Her plate is heaped with rice, pavakka roast, vellarikka pulissery, fish curry, appam, thoran and the like.

The 50-plus Lillete Dubey floors you with her looks, warmth and, of course, her acting. She was in the city to participate in the 16th International Film Festival of Kerala. Her movie Delhi in a Day, directed by Prasanth Nair, was screened in the Competition Section.

Shopping for a Kerala sari


“I’ve been to Kerala before with my plays, but not to the city. I am not a regular at film festivals. But debutant directors are special for me. Since I had missed out on the screening of Delhi in a Day at the other film festivals, I didn’t want to disappoint Prashanth again. I want to do some shopping and sightseeing as well. Buy a Kerala sari and, if possible, some jewellery.”

Thrilled to have squeezed in two days for herself, she says it is a rare break as she is usually travelling with her plays or acting in movies. Now, that could be a reason for staying and looking young, she reasons. “I am just lucky that I am like this. It is perhaps in the genes,” she says.

As the meal progresses, she talks about her father and her entry into theatre. Her father, the late Govind Kiswani, was an “engineer by profession and a physicist by passion” and her mother, Leela, was a gynaecologist. “We are a family of professionals, especially doctors. Thanks to my father, I got exposed to a whole lot of things. I call him a Renaissance man. He instilled in me a love of music (Lillete had taken music lessons as a small girl),” she says. “Above all, he taught me to give my best in whatever I did,” she adds.

Theatre, a passion


Theatre was a passion since her school days. But she did not let that hamper her academics. Lillete got herself two post-graduation degrees – in English and in Mass Communication. “Theatre is my first love. I don’t understand why people say that theatre can’t give you money. If so, I wouldn’t have been running a theatre company (The Primetime Theatre) for the last 20 years. I am not doing theatre for a social cause; something is either good or bad, that’s it. I am particular that a play should say something,” she says.

Lillete has acted in, directed and produced some of the best English plays, many of which are still running. Her repertoire includes Mahesh Dattani’s Dance Like a Man and 30 Days in September, Vijay Tendulkar’s Kanyaadan and Partap Sharma’s Sammy. She proudly talks about plays such as On a Muggy Night in Mumbai, touted as the first play on homosexuality from South East Asia, Bodhidharma and Wedding Album. She is now travelling with her first Hindi play, Aadhe Adhure, and a non-Indian play August: Osage County.

“The subjects are so different and so strong. There is so much freedom I enjoy in theatre. In films, the roles are limited. You can’t expect such strong roles like those given to Judi Dench or Meryl Streep or Susan Sarandon here. Hindi cinema is dominated by male actors. It is true that there is a bunch of really talented film-makers out there in Bollywood. But, in general, the industry is happy choosing safe, predictable subjects,” says Lillete, whose roles in Monsoon Wedding, Chalte Chalte, Baghban, Kal Ho Na Ho and My Brother Nikhil didn’t go unnoticed. In her kitty is Madhur Bhandarker’s Heroine, David Dhawan’s remake of Chashme Baddoor and Sunny Deol’s home production.

Short takes

Hollywood outing

She is playing Dev Patel’s mother in John Madden’s British comedy-drama flick The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, starring Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Maggie Smith. It is about a group of British retired employees staying in an elderly home in India. It is set for a February 2012 release.

All in the family

Lillete met her husband, Ravi Dubey, through theatre. Their daughters, Neha and Ira, too are into acting. Ira, who is part of her mother’s plays, is now making rapid strides in Bollywood.

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