Thespian Lillete Dubey on her latest Bengali web series, Shock Ahlad
She has been enriching the world of theatre for the past 28 years and also has a noteworthy body of work on celluloid including the Monsoon Wedding, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Corporate, and others. After making a digital debut on Zee5, with Akoori, Lillete Dubey is ready to explore Tollywood with her debut in a web series called Shock Ahlad, directed by Sudeshna Roy and Abhijit Guha. On a short trip to Kolkata, Lillete, looking ageless and classy in a black outfit, sat down for a chat with Indulge on her latest work. Excerpts:
How was the experience of being a part of a Bengali web series for the first time?
It was fantastic. The webspace is the future. I have always been very experimental and open to other media and different roles—since I have grown up doing theatre which offers a lot of variety to the performers. I play a repressed and abused woman in her 40s in 30 Days In September, an ambitious Bharatnatyam dancer in her 60s who is full of herself in Dance Like a Man, and a 90-something woman in Breathe In Breathe Out. All three are different in age, look, feel and personality. Then there’s Salam Noni Appa, a play based on a story by Twinkle Khanna, or Mohan Rakesh’s play Adhe Adhure, with Mohan Aghase. I find the webspace interesting, and I recently loved watching Kominsky Method, starring Michael Douglas. So, I am always open to new things, and Shock Ahlad gave me a different role.
So, what are you playing in Shock Ahlad?
I am playing a Punjabi grandmother whose daughter is married to a Bengali. She is very forward-thinking, fun-loving and a kind of granny with whom you bond and talk to since she is very open-minded about everything. It’s a fun character, very real, and nicely written, and I have a lot of Bengali co-actor friends in it.
Why have you been missing from Hindi films?
My new Hindi movie Jhootha Kahi Ka, a full-on comedy with Rishi Kapoor, is releasing today. But theatre will always be my first love. I am a very restless actor. Even as a director, my plays are always diametrically opposite. Regarding films, one must get something interesting to do as one gets older. And though I haven’t been seen in Hindi films recently, I have been busy doing some great work abroad. I did a South African film 3 Days To Go; there’s also an American indie film based on a play Dirty Paki Lingerie awaiting release. There, I play a conservative Pakistani khala (aunty) in New York, who’s a mother to two daughters, and a niece comes to live in. I did two seasons of a Channel Four series and a few web series too including a Tamil one.
Do you think in the current scenario of content-driven cinema, there is a spurt in roles for senior female actors?
Definitely, there is a change, but it’s very slow. Compared to the other films, it’s a very small step. Also, look at the splendid job that female directors like Alankrita Srivastava, Ashwini Iyer Tiwari and Zoya Akhtar are doing.
And when will we see you directing a film?
Well, I have been toying with the idea of directing a film for a long time now. Recently, when a big production house heard my story they wanted to go on floors without delay. But I got scared because I feel filmmaking takes at least a year of your life if you want to make a proper feature and you have to say no to anything good that comes your way. But you will definitely see me making films soon.
What’s the one thing that you love most about Kolkata?
Food, of course. I love any kind of fish. Today I had luchi and chholar daal for lunch.
What are your upcoming theatre productions?
I will be celebrating Primetime Theatre Co.’s 30 years in 2021 in a grand way with the revival of the play Jaya, a rock opera recreation of the Mahabharata. I did it 21 years ago. It will be on a very big scale with Greek-style grandeur. Also, I will be bringing a new play to Kolkata on September 1, based on the life of Devika Rani, played by Ira, and Himanshu Rai, played by Joy Sengupta. It has been written by Kishwar Desai, my college friend, whose next book is on Devika.
Fashion, fitness and more
I follow no strict diet, fitness or beauty regimen. It’s mainly good genes and eight hours of sleep. I wear whatever I feel comfortable in. I think you are born stylish or you are not. I love wearing saris especially the traditional ones for formal evenings. I love reading multiple books at a time. Right now, I am reading Amitav Ghosh’s Gun Island, Sapiens, Michelle Obama’s Becoming, Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke, A Suitable Boy and Emperor of Maladies.