By Neeru Saluja in Sydney
She defies the Indian woman stereotype created by Bollywood. At an age when actresses hang their boots, she began her career in Hindi commercial cinema. Veteran actor Lillete Dubey needs no introduction as she is known worldwide for her films ‘Monsoon Wedding’, ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’, ‘The Second Best Exotic Marigold’ Hotel and over 100 Bollywood films.
She has now taken her talent to South Africa as she plays the role of the mother Lakshmi Isaac in the film ‘3 Days to Go’. The film will be the first South African film in the South Asian Film Festival (SAFF) and will be screened online on 23 May.
Directed by Bianca Isaac, the film tells the story of four grown siblings, who after their father’s death gather with their collection of husbands, wives, children and grandchildren and return to their childhood home in Durban, South Africa. Together this crazy family needs to survive each other, for 3 days under one roof, before they spread their father’s ashes and part ways again.
For her commendable acting in this film, Lillete was awarded the best actress award twice (Simon Sabela awards – Durban, South Africa and Global Indian Film Festival). She was the only actor chosen from India for this film and feels she has a karma connection with South Africa. “The director Bianca approached me through a friend in Mumbai. I was really touched as she had so many South African actors at her disposal but she was so keen to have me for the role. She went out of her way to connect with me. I have to admit I love South Africa, I have spent three birthdays there. The minute I landed in the country, I fell in love with it.
“This film is based in South Africa and revolves around an Indian family but tells a universal story. It is a typical dysfunctional family that reveals the experience of an immigrant and how they feel strong to their roots and family. I really enjoyed this film which boasted of a varied cast”, elaborates Lillete.
Though this film is added to her international film repertoire, Lillete still feels that Bollywood lacks strong supporting roles for actresses of her age. “The strong supporting roles are always taken by male actors. There are still roles for actors like Anil Kapoor, Anupam Kher and Paresh Rawal but their counterpart actresses who are equally talented are not approached with roles. It doesn’t seem there are characters written for them. Unlike the west where veteran actresses like Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Judi Dench still get roles. I’ve been blessed and lucky to do meaningful films and I’m quite excited about my recent film ‘Tryst with Destiny’ that bagged an award at the Tribeca Film Festival,” says Lillete.
As we talk how she has also experimented with comedy in films like ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’ and ‘Housefull’, the talented actress reminisces about late actor Rishi Kapoor as they starred together in his last film ‘Jhootha Kahin Ka’. “I was very fond of him. He was blunt, straightforward but a very warm person. It was a crazy crackpot movie. He was my neighbour in the film and had mistaken identities. There is also a dream sequence in which I am seducing him. Who gets films like this at my age!”
The theater actress who calls her cinematic entry as purely ‘co-incidental’, does not want to restrict herself to the hero’s mother or playing the vamp. “I bring my own personality and strength to the character. I would never want to play someone who will feel helpless. As a woman with two daughters and grandkids, I would not like to put any woman in that situation”, asserts Lillete.
So what’s next for the 66-year-old actress? “I am acting in a Bengali series where I play a liberated Punjabi grandmother. I am also working on a play based on Twinkle Khanna’s short story ‘Salaam, Noni Appa’ from ‘The Legend Of Lakshmi Prasad’. It is about a widow and her yoga teacher and how life is about living for yourself.”