It’s not always that a 73-year-old woman achieves stardom, but that’s what has happened with Navnindra Behl, who plays a deliciously wicked mother in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Khufiya. Without giving too much away, it can safely be said that Behl is the most surprising element in the spy thriller stacked with extraordinary talents. This is not the first time Behl has worked with Bhardwaj, who thought of her when he was writing the part, though she still auditioned for it. Behl first heard of Bhardwaj when she worked on Gulzar’s Maachis in 1996, for which the former composed the music. He cast her in his 1999 series Gubbarre but it is with Khufiya that she is getting widespread acclaim. Behl is a star of theatre in Punjab where she taught for many years at the Punjabi University in Patiala and wrote three short plays and two full-length plays, among other works. Her play Norah was based on the life of an Irish woman who dedicated her life to Punjabi rural theatre in the early 20th century. She has taught several well-known actors in the Punjabi film industry, most notably Suvinder Vicky, another latecomer to fame. Behl was married to the late Lalit Behl, an enduring partnership of 45 years that saw them writing and performing plays and acting in and directing shorts and series for Doordarshan in its “golden period” when directors like Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani were working for the passion of it. “We used to get hundreds of letters for our work,” she recalls. Kanu Behl, the radical filmmaker whose Agra premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year, is her son. “He has his own vision,” she says, calling him her “best friend”. He has yet to write a part for her though.
No Airport Looks for Chennai
Chennai is still free of the paparazzi culture that has engulfed the Mumbai film industry. “The media here is more interested in hearing us speak than in what we wear,” says actor and director Suhasini Maniratnam. There are no airport looks or party red carpets to photograph, she says, though she was disappointed at the recent crashing of the private cremation of director Vijay Antony’s daughter, Meera, who is said to have committed suicide. “This is a new culture here of chasing such a tragedy,” says Suhasini. She also spoke at length about living with Mani Ratnam, and the gratitude she feels when they eat dinners on their deck outside, the moonlight falling on their table, with fresh food made by their talented cook. Thirty-five years on, they still have lots to discuss. The famously reticent director of Ponnyin Selvan I and Ponnyin Selvan II clearly opens up with those close to him, whether it is his wife or his assistant directors, with whom he shares his dreams. His next much-awaited film is his reunion with Kamal Haasan, 36 years after the Tamil classic Nayakan. Suhasini, niece of Kamal Haasan, says watching them talk is like, “seeing two boys together”. “They are so excited, they agree on everything,” she adds. The movie, tentatively titled ‘KH233’, as in the actor’s 233rd film, is being produced by Raaj Kamal Films International and Mani Ratnam’s Madras Talkies with Udhayanidhi Stalin’s Red Giant Movies. Suhasini says there was a time her husband was not recognised much in public, preferring to let his movies do the talking. “But the success of Ponnyin Selvan has changed all that, and he is mobbed wherever he goes in Chennai now,” she says.
Scene and Heard
The Women in Cinema Collective formed in 2017 by a band of 18 brave women in the Malayalam film industry, has changed the way co-founder Revathy thinks. The actor and director who is part of the collective says whenever she was faced with uncomfortable situations in the past, she would smile diplomatically and evade the question. Now that she has the tools and language of response, and understands the notion of consent, she says she would not be so polite. Revathy has had a stellar career across the southern languages and Hindi for 40 years now but she learnt the power of saying no fairly early on. “Anyway, I was very careful about the kind of roles I would do and the costumes and camera angles,” she says, adding that she would sit with a book between takes and keep to herself.