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Neha Joshi: Was reminded of my bua dadi while playing the role

Updated on: 28 November,2023 06:08 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Letty Mariam Abraham |

Taking inspiration from real-life people, Neha Joshi breaks down the homework she put in to play Vajpayee’s mother Krishna Devi in the show, Atal

Neha Joshi: Was reminded of my bua dadi while playing the role

Neha Joshi

On most occasions, you’ll find actors complete with their starry attitude and surrounded by their entourage. When they travel on an outdoor shoot, they are pampered and treated a cut above the rest. However, Neha Joshi had no qualms wining, dining and sharing her shopping spree experiences with her co-travellers: the journalist mandli, who were in Lucknow for the launch of her upcoming show, Atal. Joshi’s carefree persona took us by surprise. While everyone tries so hard to stand out, the actor prefers to blend in.

It’s a mantra she practices at work as well. “My face is so Indian that almost every week, I meet at least one person who tells me that I resemble someone they know. That’s why it becomes easy for people to relate to me. I look like the girl-next-door, making people feel that I am one of them. Everyone is unique, but if my uniqueness makes people relate to me, then half my job as an actor is done. But it also poses a problem—sometimes, casting directors say I am too simple for the role, and at other times, I am rejected because they say that I am too glamorous for the role,” she laughs.

Neha Joshi as Krishna Devi Vajpayee. Pics/Instagram
Neha Joshi as Krishna Devi Vajpayee. Pics/Instagram

Joshi is set to play Krishna Devi Vajpayee, the late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s mother, in Atal. The daily soap, which sees Vyom Thakkar play the younger version of the leader, dives into the late prime minister’s early years and sees how his mother was one of the biggest influences in shaping his ideals, beliefs and personality. It is based on two books, Atal Bihari Vajpayee—A Man for All Seasons and Jannayak Atalji, authored by Kingshuk Nag, who is also a researcher on the show.

For Joshi, this is the third time playing a mother in a Hindi daily soap. She was previously seen as Bhimabai, mother to B R Ambedkar in Ek Mahanayak—Dr B R Ambedkar, and then as Yashoda in Doosri Maa. Does she worry about being typecast? “I don’t think so. It has been a few years since I did Ambedkar. Then I did Yashoda, who is a woman of today, and now I am going back by years. I feel actors get typecast because of their performances,” says Joshi. It reminds us of our previous interaction with actor Pavan Malhotra, who had stated that despite essaying a Sardar in several projects, no two roles of his were similar. Similarly, Joshi says she finds a distinct voice for each role. “Bhimabai came from a stratum of society where she was helpless. I remember shooting a scene in which her children are falsely accused of stealing jewellery from someone from a higher class. When justice is served, my character responds with a monologue. While shooting the scene, I was filled with a lot of pain and aggression. 

But my director said that I needed to cut down on my aggression. I had to reshoot the scene, now with the pain of being unable to showcase that aggression. [In contrast], in Doosri Maa, I played a woman who could speak her mind. In Atal, I play an educated woman at a time when educating women was not a norm. So, all three mothers are different from each other.”

Making each part different is easier said than done. The actor says she is guided by the character, its background and circumstances. Real life too serves as inspiration. To play the role of a spirited woman in Atal, she took inspiration from one of her grandmothers. “When playing Krishna Devi, I am also reminded of my bua dadi who became a widow at a time when it was a norm for women to shave their head. 
Instead, my bua dadi went to Mumbai, did a nursing course from Cama hospital and became a [mid-wife].” The nuances in Krishna Devi’s characters further helped the actor understand her better. “Krishna Devi was someone who wanted a free India, so she agreed with Atal’s thoughts. But at the same time, she understood her husband’s plight who provided for the family by working under the British.” 

A biopic is a huge responsibility. Joshi views her show as an opportunity to understand the leader—known as much for his creative side as for his strategic brilliance—from close quarters. “It’s interesting to learn about a person who was both a poet and a strategist. When you do a fictional character, your responsibility is only to the story. But in a biopic, the accountability is much higher. To play a mother who has given birth to such a prolific personality is interesting and a responsibility.”

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