Lilette Dubey: I came into the film industry at the age of 47 when many women were packing up and going home – Exclusive – Times of India

Lilette Dubey, who calls herself an ‘accidental film actor’, is one of the most talented actors we have in this industry. At an age that is deemed unsuitable for acting debuts, the actress thwarted every established convention in Bollywood. In a freewheeling interview with ETimes, Lilette opened up about never wanting to be a superstar, her take on social media platforms, her ambitious project, and more. Excerpts…
You started acting in films quite late as compared to others. What prompted you to step into the film industry?

Not quite late, but very late.I came into the film industry at the age of 47, when many women were packing up and going home. Now, things have changed because of OTT, but that’s how it used to be back then. As I have said in many interviews, I am an accidental film actor. My husband got transferred to Mumbai, and that’s when I came here. The irony is that when I was very young, in my early twenties, a few big producers approached me to come and act in films. However, my family did not permit me.

After coming to Mumbai, Shyam Benegal, who had seen me in many of my plays, approached me with a role in Zubeidaa and I accepted. Before this, I did a TV series, so I was familiar with the camera. Films began to arrive one after the other after Zubeidaa. I never went to meet any directors. I had no manager. So that’s how my film career started.
What was the reaction of your family when you decided to enter the film industry?

My daughter was all grown up by then, so she never had any problems. They all knew I love theatre and this is just something I will be doing on the side to enjoy myself. Coming into films at that age, people are very respectful. I had a solid experience in theatre so nobody treated me like a newbie. My parents were like, ‘Do you want to do this also?’ I told them yes, I wanted to do this. They were like, “Okay, then do it!’

I feel like I have had a very unusual film career journey because most of them started very early. Many filmmakers asked me why I hadn’t come 20–25 years earlier. I think this can be an inspiration for others. Life is full of surprises, and you can do things late in life, too.

In one of your interviews, you said that you never wanted to be a ‘superstar’ and now that OTT has levelled the playing field for everyone, the star system in Bollywood is actually diminishing…

Yes definitely! It doesn’t matter now how you look or speak. What now matters is your acting skills. During lockdown, or even before that, many streaming platforms gave people exposure to good content. Your taste is fashioned by what you are exposed to. We were used to typical Hindi cinema, and then suddenly we were exposed to good international content. You see good acting happening all around you, your taste has got to get refined.

You decided to explore social media during the lockdown. How has your experience been so far? How do you deal with negativity and trolls on social media?

I was pushed to be on social media. I was happily living my life without it. People used to come and tell me how important it is to be active on social media. However, I got work even without being on social media. I think it is a jhanjhat to keep posting something or the other. The only reason I agreed to be on social media platforms is to keep my fans informed about my work. It is just so that people remember my work when they cast me. I don’t do reels, and I don’t talk about my cats and dogs on it. I cannot do all this.

I have never experienced any trolling on social media because I don’t write or post anything that will get me trolled. I don’t want to be provocative. I am not there to give my opinions. I am mostly there to just talk about my work. I sometimes wish people on their birthdays. I am not behind getting millions of followers. Anyway, I feel apart from the big stars, many people just get paid followers. There is no big deal in that. I am not interested in telling people about my private life. Social media is for validation. I feel it is very presumptuous of people wanting to know everything about someone. That’s why I never got on board with it.

You have been in this industry for a long time now. Have nepotism, groupism, insider outsider issues ever bothered you?

It doesn’t apply to me so I have never been bothered by all these things. I don’t get into all these things.

From amongst all the actors you have worked with so far, who has been an absolute delight to work with?

There have been a lot of actors I have loved working with. However, my two absolute favourites are Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. It was an absolute honour to work with them.

You will be seen in ‘Noorani Chehre’. Tell us something about your character in the film.

I play a grandmother in this. It is very unlike anything I have done before. I thoroughly enjoyed playing my character and I am glad that the director thought of me for the role. He could have thought of many actors for this role but he chose me. This is one project I am super excited about.

What’s next?

I am reviving a huge mythological drama ‘Jaya’ next year. It is a rock musical based on Mahabharata. It is about the Pandavas and the Kauravas. I wanted to do it in 2021 but I couldn’t do it because of the pandemic. I will be doing it at the beginning of 2024. It is my passion project. I love this play a lot. It is a rock-themed drama which is quite unusual.

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