Interview English Hindi

Fascinated by human stories, says Namita Lal on why she quit her corporate job for acting


The actress shares her journey, from being the MD of a bank to playing Rabbo in a film based on Ismat Chughtai's controversial short story, Lihaaf.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Namita Lal’s journey as an actress has been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride. Spotted by Shyam Benegal during her student days at St Stephen’s College, she did not pursue the opportunity then as her father wanted her to concentrate on her studies. She completed her MBA and joined Standard Chartered Bank, rising steadily to become the MD based in Singapore.

But amidst it all, the acting bug never really left her. In 2015, she was offered the role of a 70-year-old matriarch in a play, Another Ticket to Bollywood. Her character was a huge hit and the play was followed by another production, till she bagged the role of Rabbo in a play based on Ismat Chughtai’s controversial story, Lihaaf.

The play was a huge success and the character of Rabbo was especially appreciated by the audience in Singapore.

Talking about that moment, Lal said, “Being a part of Lihaaf on stage in Singapore, I had fallen in love with Rabbo. After the play, I told my director that it [the play] should be made into a film and we started discussing copyrights. I got to know that Rahat [Kazmi] was planning to make this film. Sitting there, I sent him a message saying that I heard that you are making this film, can you consider me for an audition for Rabbo. Before that, it never came to my head that I will be doing the film.”

Playing the character of Rabbo on stage allowed Lal the opportunity to sink her teeth into the character and she even wrote the entire back story for her character.

Lal at the Rajasthan International Film Festival 2020 in Jaipur

"I imagined Rabbo as somebody who came from a small town. She probably had an older husband and one son, who worked for the Nawab. She is a masseuse and comes to this big town and into Begum Jan’s life and discovers this very lonely woman. And I imagined her, over time, getting attracted to this beautiful Begum Jan, who was in many ways, the opposite of her. I imagined her [Rabbo] as a dark, stout, not good-looking woman, who sincerely believes that she can add life to this woman [Begum] and in that, she starts becoming dominating. Her relationship with the young Ismat would also be that of intense jealousy. As soon as the little one enters the household, there is intense hostility and tension between Rabbo and her,” she said.

The film, Lihaaf: The Quilt (2019), is a period drama, based on Chughtai’s story, which was published in 1942. The film interweaves the plot of the same sex relationship between Begum Jan and her masseuse, Rabbo, along with the trial that Chughtai underwent after a case of obscenity was filed against the story.  

The play and the subsequent film that followed, allowed Lal to finally take the plunge into acting wholeheartedly, leaving her corporate life behind. Recounting her journey to Cinestaan.com during the Rajasthan International Film Festival held in Jaipur earlier this year, she said, “After Lihaaf, I took a sabbatical from my job for one year. In that one year, I made three more short films and played three totally different characters. After I had done Country of Blind (2020) and came back to Singapore and had travelled a few festivals with my films, I started loving it and realised that I can bring some of my corporate learnings into this world, which is already very dynamic now, so there are no entry barriers as such. I can provide certain expertise in the financial and development world and I can act as well.” 
 
While acting has certainly taken centrestage for Lal now, she is especially interested in stories that explore gender and sexuality. She said, “I am truly a non-judgmental person in the context of relationships and sexuality. Relationships are never straightforward. There’s no right or wrong and I feel that this isn’t much talked about or shown. I am not being militant about it and I believe in having fun with it… I have a lot of stories in my head and I am going to make those short stories, stories with meaning… I am very passionate about doing short stories, especially about relationships. I just get fascinated with human stories and I find a story in everybody." 

Lal won the Best Actress Award at the Caleidoscope Indian Film Festival 2019 in Boston for her role in Shoib Nikash Shah’s film Oxygen.

Amidst the current lockdown, Lal is busy posting videos and sharing tips on how to stay healthy and fit while staying indoors, on her Youtube channel.

Related topics

Rajasthan International Film Festival