Strong female roles attract Lillete Dubey

Lillete Dubey

She is affable, she is gregarious, she is talented, she is Lillete Dubey. Known for her stellar work in Bollywood (the list of movies is too long), she is also a well known face in the world of theatre.

Lillete is in the city for the staging of ‘Salaam Noni Appa’, a heartwarming and comic tale of an autumn romance based on Twinkle Khanna’s comic short story.

Lillete, who has directed the play and essays the role of Noni Appa, spoke to Rajitha Menon about her unknown fascination for strong women characters and more.

What made you choose this play?

I am very restless as a creative person. I like working on very different subjects. After ‘Nine parts of desire’, a beautiful but intense piece about the survivors of the Iraq war, and musical period piece ‘Gauhar’, I realised that I have not done any comedy for a long time. At that time, I happened to read Twinkle’s story and it appealed to me — it is a charming story with Twinkle’s signature tongue-in-cheek humour.

Also, I am very close to my sister. The story is about two sisters in their late 60s who only have each other. I related to it on many levels.

So there is no common thread in your projects?

Whenever I look back on my works I see that all of them have very strong female characters, which is not a conscious choice. Even Noni Appa is very women-centric. I don’t do it deliberately.

How has the response to this play been?

The play has done extremely well. Older and younger people have loved it. We got a male dialogue writer to give a different perspective to this women-centric play and the end result was something everyone loved, including Twinkle.

Which is the scene that you enjoy enacting the most?

(Laughs) There is no particular scene. I like playing a cute character.

What are the challenges faced while adapting stories to the stage?

It may seem easy but having a set story is very constraining to the writer who is adapting the tale to the stage. You have to be true to the characters and the story and somehow weave them together so that they work together as a dramatic structure than a narrative. Characters can be young, old, divorced, upset, emotionally disturbed — how do you show all this in a play?

If there was one aspect of theatre you could bring into cinema...

Trained actors who know their craft. Also, the kind of homework that actors on stage do to understand their character is a training. For example, if I play a character I think of minute details like whether she would wear nail varnish or not, if yes what colour. This research translates into performance. And an emphasis on content is something cinema can learn from theatre.


Writing English dialogues for adaptations is quite a task. Lillette recalls a funny instance from the sets of Karnad play ‘Boiled Beans on Toast’. “In that all the maids were saying things like “Oh, that’s so awful”. I asked him which maid talks like this? He said it’s okay as people accept such things in plays but I put my foot down and said that they should speak pigeon English mixed with a little Kannada and Tamil.”

“When he writes in Kannada, the subtle differences in caste come through in language. But how do you do that in English?” she wonders.

Theatre is about multi-tasking

The best performances on screen are the more internalised, restrained one. You can just zoom into someone’s eyes and the audience will understand without the person having to say a word. However, in theatre, you have to internalise and then project it outwards for the audience to pick up nuances.

For charity

The Rotary Club of Bangalore will present ‘Salaam Noni Appa’ on July 13, 7 pm onwards at Chowdiah Memorial Hall, Malleswaram. The funds raised will be used for Rotary Teach Mission, under which they intend to refurbish 108 Anganwadis.

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Strong female roles attract Lillete Dubey


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