Deep Focus: ‘There are so many stars in my sky who have brightened up my film journey,’ says Divya Dutta

07:00 AM Nov 14, 2021 | Roshmila Bhattacharya

A career choice at four

When I was four years old, I went for the shoot of the Mithun Chakraborty and Ranjeeta Kaur-starrer, Taraana, in Kashmir. The director, Deepak Bahry, who was my uncle, was shooting a song on the snowy slopes of Gulmarg. Mithunda lifted me up in the air and asked, “Meri heroine banegi? (Will you be my heroine?)” And from that day, I only wanted to dance in front of the camera too.


I danced to one of Ranjeeta’s songs from the film all the time. And as I grew older, I would daydream of going up on stage and picking up a Filmfare Best Actress Award even though no one in my family, apart from my mama, was remotely associated with films. My mother, Nalini Dutta, was a doctor, and so is my brother, Rahul. But I guess, when you really desire something, the universe conspires to give it to you. I did an ad film with my uncle and then, in the ’90s, I found myself shooting for two films simultaneously, Ishq Mein Jeena Ishq Mein Marna and Surakshaa.


I distinctly remember a rain sequence in the latter being shot on the beach. Super excited to be finally facing a camera for a movie, I was on my feet all night and even at the shoot, I couldn’t sit still. Watching me flit around, my Surakshaa co-star Suniel Shetty commented, “Heroine to achchi hai, par yeh baithti kyun nahin?”

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Mum’s the world

My first film with Shabana Azmi was Umrao Jaan in which she played my mother. On the first day of the shoot, she called me over, asked my name and if I had learnt my steps. I nodded nervously, “Yes, ma’am.”

I started with a dance sequence and even though I wasn’t looking in her direction, I knew Shabanaji was watching me intently. She’d been my favourite actress when I was in school and I couldn’t believe it when she later complimented me, “Bahut achcha kiya.”

It was Shabanaji who introduced me to Javed (Akhtar) saab at a Holi party at their home, telling him that I was one of the finest actresses we have. It was a huge compliment, more so when he told me that if Shabanaji was saying so, there must be something special about me. Since then, both Javed saab and she have been encouraging, acknowledging and appreciating my achievements, which is so rare.

More recently, we did Sheer Qorma, a special film because of its subject, made more special because she was playing my mother again. The film has been winning a lot of awards and accolades, but my biggest reward is when people tell me it gave them the courage to open up to their mother about their choice of partner. I feel so liberated, they tell me, and it makes me feel so good.

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My mother was my best friend, I didn’t take a step without her, and even now, I know she’s watching over me, telling me reassuringly from up there, “Don’t worry, ho jayega, main hoon na.”

Finally, a National Award

I waited so long for the country’s highest acting honour, it finally came in 2018...Best Supporting Actress for Irada. It was heart-warming to see how many people were genuinely happy for me and the prestigious National Award changed a lot of things. For one, I’ve finally got rid of the “under-rated actress” tag and today, I feel I truly belong in this beautiful place.

Booked with the stars

The first star in my sky was Amitabh Bachchan and when I finally got to work with him in Baghban, I was mesmerised by his presence and literally struck dumb. However, on camera, my character was really nasty with Hemaji (Malini) and Mr Bachchan whom I’ve loved all my life and that was making me really unhappy. So, much so that one day, when I returned home, and my mother asked my how the shoot had gone, I burst into tears, finally telling her what was bothering me.

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The next morning, I greeted Mr Bachchan with my usual “good morning”, but he intuitively noticed I wasn’t my usual chirpy self. He beckoned me over, then started complaining about how I was behaving very badly with him. Defensively, I blurted out, “But sir, this is just a role.” And in that instant I realised that you cannot take your role to heart. He made me understand that and I have never forgotten that lesson.

He launched my first book, Me and Maa, and has written the foreward for my second book, whose title, The Stars I My Sky, says it all. Amitabh Bachchan and Yash Chopra, Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar, Shah Rukh Khan, Irrfan Khan and Salman Khan, Gulzar, Shyam Benegal and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Dev Anand, Gurdas Maan and Naseeruddin Shah, Raju Hirani, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Sriram Raghavan… There are so many stars in my sky who have brightened up my film journey. As a child many of them left me starry-eyed. And though it’s been a difficult road with the occasional downers, I’ve held on to the child with the stars in her eyes and the gift of words that I got as a legacy from my mother.

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