Neha Dhupia 2.0

07 August,2022 06:33 PM IST |  Mumbai  |  Nasrin Modak Siddiqi

In the fickle glamour world, Neha Dhupia has been holding onto her spot in the limelight for 20 years. She talks about keeping the unconventional ex-Miss India story going

Dhupia believes that a crown does not change the person, it changes the circumstances around her. Pic/Shadab Khan

At the recently held Miss India contest in Mumbai, former Miss India, Neha Dhupia was felicitated on stage. It was a night of many firsts - the first time that former Miss India Neha Dhupia*s father saw her being crowned. The first time her children were seen on a public platform. The first time her parents, her husband and children were on stage with her. For Dhupia, 20 years after being crowned Miss India 2002, this was a joyous moment she could not describe in words.

We meet her on a rainy Tuesday afternoon to talk about her journey over a cup of black coffee, and are charmed by her effortless style. In a freewheeling chat, she speaks about body acceptance, her choices of work, of being a relevant outsider to the film industry, and yet being relevant, and how she became one of indie cinema*s most recognised names.

Former beauty queen Neha Dhupia, who was felicitated at the Miss India event, seen with her kids on stage

The Miss India crown gave Dhupia a reason to always have her chin up. This time though she looked and felt different, and another sense of achievement loomed. The atmosphere was as euphoric as it was 20 years back; only now she had a personal army and a team behind her. "When you win Miss India, it*s a stamp of approval that you*ve worked hard on something. Being re-crowned 20 years later is a moment of joy. I thought I was prepared for it, but when I saw a clip of friends I*ve had for 20 years talking about it - I got a little fuzzy," says Dhupia, who felt this was an appropriate moment to bring her children on stage (they are shielded from the media). "In all probability, they will ask where they were - [I] can*t tell them ‘You were fast asleep on the most important day of my life*. We will withdraw into privacy with them, but just to be able to wear that crown, hold my children in my arms, have my husband and my entire life in front of me was priceless."

Dhupia believes that the person doesn*t change when she is crowned in a pageant; things around her change. It becomes a problem if the person changes. "You have to remain that same person, put in the same amount of hard work, hustle, show gratitude, be excited about going to work and be mindful that it can be taken away from you if you don*t put in the effort," she says. "If your chauffeur hasn*t come in, take a rickshaw and get to work. Your sense of achievement isn*t defined by the length of your trailer - all this gets taken away the instant you don*t bring numbers at the box office."

This isn*t new-found wisdom; it*s an inheritance. Her parents told her to reach out to them when she needed to. "In the same breath they told me," she adds, "hits and flops are not a problem - just the fact that you are going to work is great. If there*s a personal or professional attack, or you are not feeling good about something, that*s a problem. You could be the biggest star and not feel good about yourself. None of this is related."

There have been times when Dhupia*s choices have paved the way for others, but sometimes they went unnoticed. Being cast as a cop when you are eight months pregnant (A Thursday), for instance; or to host a podcast (#NoFilterNeha); or to drive size-inclusive sartorial choices. Not to forget being cast in movies such as Ek Chalis Ki Last Local or Fas Gaye Obama, which would have been applauded more if premiered on OTT.

But Dhupia doesn*t have time for regrets. She has been reinventing herself at a time when very few people travelled from film to reality TV, successfully. She was the host on reality shows such as the Roadies for more than five years, where the target audience was between 18 and 24. "I don*t know if I did it too soon or if I was ahead of my time," she reflects, "but I wouldn*t say I*ve been there, done that because that makes me a thing of the past. I want to be relevant continuously, and do work that people will watch. It*s tougher now because we live in the time of social media and 60 per cent of social media users are under 19. So how do you stay relevant in that market is the big question."

Whether it is embracing greys, walking down the ramp for a plus size brand, or posting no-filter pictures on social media, Dhupia has been driving the change she wants to see and that*s an unabashed use of her crown.

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