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March 7, 1998


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Pretty smart!

V S Srinivasan

Tara Deshpande. Click for bigger pic!
Twenty-two years have gone into making this woman, tall, shapely and very beautiful. The only hitch is a voice huskier than usual. But Tara Deshpande has converted even that into an asset during her stint as an MTV VJ, using inflexions in that voice to have her young viewers scraping up the walls. She's nowhere really yet, but the stars are already keeping a watch out. In acting terms, she's armed and dangerous.

She has starred in films like Plus's Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin, HMV's Bada Din and Kaizad Gustad's Bombay Boys. And that exhausting, exhaustive role as Begum Sumroo that brought her rave reviews.

Getting to meet Tara is as easy as picking up a telephone. You call, an appointment is quickly fixed up, and you're on your way.

With Nirmal Pandey. Click for bigger pic!
Tara's house is located right behind Wankhede stadium. But despite years of watching cricketing legends go in history being made, cricket didn't interest her. In fact, she'd hoped to be a genetic engineer. Too bad, she took up arts in college.

You are ushered into a sprawling hall where everything is in its place. Quite unlike the house of the average actress and to heighten the difference there are books, books and some more books on display.

Wearing a black top and jeans, Tara walks in, flashing a smile that is frightfully unsettling. Tea is served as she coils down onto the sofa, crossing her ankles, and long before you can pick you up jaw and slide it back into place, she begins conversation, beginning, like all good girls ought to, at her professional beginnings.

Click for bigger pic!
She did her 'A' levels from Cathedral and John Convent school and graduated from St Xaviers College in economics and political science. She was interested throughout in acting.

"I did mostly amateur theatre and a little professional stuff. I've been into it since I was 14 or 15. I travelled a lot... So, for me, though theatre was serious it was more of a hobby. I never intended to take up acting as a profession."

But fate, in the form of a worried family, intervened. No studies abroad for good little girls, it said, and bundled a few film and veejaying offers at her, just to entice her down the road to fame.

"I was on one hand thinking whether I should travel for two hours and go to the University and study or do something that was just like my hobby. So I said, 'What the heck, let me do what I wanted to rather than studying what I didn't want to.

With Marc Robinson. Click for bigger pic!
So she did Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin first. Director Sudhir Mishra saw her first when she was doing a play for the British Council. And she liked his suggestion about a film about what happens one night.

"It was a nice concept, very different from the done-to-death formula films. I knew it would be a male-dominated film but I did the film for a lark." If the marketing had been handled better, she feels, the movie might have done better. For, though the album did well, the movie was released as a matinee and not in the best of theatres either.

"The film could have been a cult film," she says, adding that there are facets of the film are visible in films that came later.

Tara does like doing comic roles, but then comedy is essentially a male domain, she says. Few roles are envisaged for women and the few that there are, are for fat and over fifty. What provokes people to think that she's a serious actress is that one of her serious plays, Begum Sumroo, was a big hit. So big that now the group is even going to tour Britain in August.

With Danny McGill. Click for bigger pic!
Begum Sumroo truly changed Tara's life. Shabana Azmi was slated to play the role Tara eventually bagged. But Tara had shown little interest when she was first asked to audition for the role. Then producer Uma Da Cunha saw the rushes of Bombay Boys, another film Tara starred in, and suggested her name to Alyque Padamsee.

Tara was uncertain since people told her she was too young to do the role. But when Alyque called again, Tara decided not to spurn the chance again. She was picked without a hitch.

Bagging the role was apparently easier than doing it justice.

"I had to rehearse from 6.30 am to 11 pm and I had to undergo military training and Kathak dancing to prepare for the role. I was also taught stuff like fencing, which was important for me in the play."

Tara, though touted as being very high-brow, says she has no real problems doing a masala film. Though she does not want to do a film made by a director with eight films in hand and, therefore, with little time for the one she stars in.

Like a David Dhawan?

"No, I'd love to do a film with him. At least he's clear what he wants to do. He's not here to give social messages; he wants to make an entertainer and he is doing just that."

So is Tara actually considering commercial cinema?

Yeah, do gaane kya ho gaye, everyone wants me to do a commercial film now. I have a few offers I am considering opposite top stars, but I'm still looking at it. I don't want to waste three months of my life doing something I don't like." Isn't that hubris, taking the gods of celluloid so lightly?

Click for bigger pic!
"Yes, I am quite detached. People ask me, 'How come this does not affect you?' But I am pretty interested in writing, and am in the process of writing a book of short stories and poems. I'm not someone you can control. I just keep moving. I love playing chess, squash, long-distance running, cooking... Love watching movies, going out with friends, but am not much of a party animal. I prefer travelling, hiking and have tonnes of hobbies."

She looks at you warningly. "I love privacy, I don't like being asked personal questions. I have a simple existence." For someone who prefers peace and a quiet life, isn't she headed in altogether the wrong direction?

"I just want to act. I'm doing commercial cinema, am trying for a big banner in a big way. If I retire and have children, I should really be proud of what I have done.

"You are judged only after 20 years. If you look at Waheeda Rehman's work, you realise that she was a great actress. You will be judged by a new generation. Look at films like Bandini or Pather Panchali. Such themes will hold. So it takes time for such a film to do well..." And you watch, and sometimes hear, fascinated.

Not, you realise, just a pretty face. But, still, what a pretty face...

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