Neena Gupta: I was destined to get it now
Neena Gupta on how writing in Bollywood is changing, getting roles that stand out and experimenting with her style game
She doesn't want to call it her comeback. "I was always there, I never went anywhere," says Neena Gupta. "What should I term it?" she wonders. Neena Gupta 2.0, you tell her. "Bas, ek thappa sa lag gaya. Every actor looks for that breakthrough role. Mujhe abhi mil gaya," she laughs. Gupta can refer to her life as post-Badhaai Ho (2018) and before it. The quirky comedy, about a middle-aged couple whose life turns topsy-turvy when they realise the stork is going to visit them, put her on top of the heap.
"Javed Akhtar called and told me that I am not surprised, but happy for you. No one can stop you now," recollects Gupta, who is currently shooting at Mehboob Studios for Rohit Shetty's Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif-starrer Sooryavanshi. When we catch up with her, it is the second day of shoot with the filmmaker and the Khiladi, who are known for creating box office history. Gupta now finds herself part of one such big-ticket project. She plays Kumar's mother, who is unlike the typical gajar ka halwa-feeding screen moms. There is a new dimension to her character.
Sanjay Mishra and Neena Gupta in Gwalior
"Now, I have hired a manager, the makers got in touch and things happened fast, within days I found myself shooting for Sooryavanshi," she says. There are other offers too, both in films as well as on the web, on which Gupta has to yet take a call. "Badhaai Ho opened up new avenues for me. It has given me better roles. Usually, I would have got some chhote roles here and there, but with recognition and accolades come the significant parts. I was destined to get it.
They could have approached anyone else to play my character in Badhaai Ho, but it was meant for me." Gupta attributes her success to the new writing in Bollywood. "I guess my timing was perfect. Films are being made on a lot of new subjects, which were not delved upon earlier. There are interesting parts now for senior actors as well. The audience has also evolved thanks to the digital exposure. There is Netflix and social media. The audience, especially the youngsters want novel subjects and quality content."
A still from Badhaai Ho
Apart from movies, Gupta has also done television and theatre, since she began acting in the early '80s. "I am open to anything now again, but it should challenge me. An actor has to adapt to all types of work. I am doing web shows as well as audio shows." She recently wrapped up Jaspal Singh Sandhu and Rajeev Barnwal's Gwalior with Sanjay Mishra as co-star. He was junior to her at the National School of Drama.
"I always ask Sanjay why does he look so buddha, when in reality, he is much younger than me. He tells me, 'I have always looked like this. Main buddha hi paida hua tha'," she says. About her character in Gwalior, she says, "I play an uneducated woman, who rises to the occasion, during a cash crunch." Gupta now wants to balance the different worlds of shooting for Gwalior with that of Sooryavanshi. "The working style is distinct on both sets. Every film treads a different path, an actor should know how to strike a balance."
She will also be seen in chef-turned-filmmaker Vikas Khanna's The Last Colour. "It has been doing the festival rounds, but because of my shoot schedules, I can't travel to the various festivals." Now that she has arrived, Gupta has also been doing what the stars do — donning red carpet and airport looks. "I don't have a PR machinery in place to tip off the paparazzi, so I have been sharing my looks on Instagram while travelling. It's fun, I started doing it as a joke." She has also been making sartorial statements ditching the saree for the chic look. Has designer daughter Masaba influenced her?
"I wear a lot of her creations, sometimes we discuss what I should wear, but basically I love shopping for clothes. I keep buying, I can't resist the urge. Often, I don't know where to wear them.'' In 2017, Gupta had shocked many by sharing a post on social media that "she was a good actor looking for work" when she realised that she was not getting the roles she wanted. The actor had no qualms asking for work on a public platform even after being an actor for decades. It was unheard of. Priyanka Chopra's reply to her post was "inspiring". Two years later, Gupta finds herself not asking for, but getting work. She now wants to savour every moment of it.
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