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Friday, June 2, 2023

Neena Gupta: “Being a Woman in the Indian Film Industry, You Have to be Careful About Your Image”

Neena Gupta is one of the most formidable and fearless actresses in Bollywood today. 

Her no-nonsense and sincere personality is what really makes her stand out from the crowd.

Life has been no less than a roller coaster for her. Starting off as a single mother without any support, she continued to work her way and shine in her career.

Unlike other actors, Neena does not follow the culture of silence.

She recently sent out a tweet requesting work and that emphasised how there is no shame in asking such queries.

Subsequently, she has received a handful of projects, her most successful and latest one being Badhaai Ho, in which she portrays a middle-aged pregnant housewife.

In a special interview with Filme Shilmy, Neena Gupta reflects on her struggles and success in her career.

Congratulations on the success of Badhaai Ho. Almost years into your career, you’re getting the acknowledgement you rightfully deserve. How do you feel about this?

I was very excited when I read the script and it was amazing and there was no question of saying anything else but “yes, I want to do it.”

I was not bothered about what people will say because it was such an innocently done film.

I don’t think anybody will think of any other thing then just enjoying the film and emotionally getting attached to the film.

Badhaai Ho breaks taboos of all sorts. Did you ever expect the film to do so well? What has the success of the films led to?

Yes, that is true! I was never bothered about looking pregnant or getting pregnant at this age. 

I was not shy or embarrassed at all and I don’t think people who saw it also felt embarrassed.

When an actor performs, they don’t feel embarrassed so people don’t either.

It has given me that recognition and liberty to choose roles which I want to do.

Whether it’s playing a young widow in Woh Chokri or a middle-aged pregnant woman in Badhaai Ho, you’ve never been afraid of doing unorthodox roles. Are these the style of characters you’ve always wanted to play?

Yes. I have had a problem because here people think that you can do the kind of roles what your image is and the media had made my image to be a very strong woman, single mother, etc.

Strong women stereotypically meant negative women so I was offered with strong negative and dominating kind of roles and I was really sick and tired of playing the same type.

In fact, I used to joke and tell people I want to do Bichari (‘poor woman’) kind of roles like.

It affected me quite a lot.

The media created my image and people gave me that kind of characters because here in India, you don’t think that actors can do any sort of role – especially actresses get the roles according to what their image is.

It’s not that I have chosen to do all the roles which are unorthodox, but these are the style of roles that I have been given.

On The Kapil Sharma Show, you mentioned how your fearless personality has caused you mostly losses. What do you mean by this? Does Bollywood ostracise actors who are honest and speak their mind?

I don’t know about abroad, but being a woman in the Indian film industry, you have to be very careful about your image.

You must be wary of what you say to the press because there is a lot of responsibility on you.

People want to be like you sometimes and people look up to you so you have to be very careful because it can affect your career as well as relationships.

I would tell people about my mistakes of saying things and acting in a way that suits me… Without giving it a second thought.

I would act like this under the excuse that ‘I’m innocent and honest’ but at times, that honesty is not a good policy.

Sometimes you have to be diplomatic.

You must be proud of Masaba’s success as a designer. But reflecting back on yourself, do you feel somewhere your career suffered due to personal reasons?

Oh, definitely.

Firstly, whatever Masaba is today has made it herself. I’m very proud of what she does and of her work.

She is doing pretty well in that and is working hard towards her brand becoming bigger. I wish her good luck.

With regards to whether my career suffered due to personal reasons, no I don’t think so.

The child portrays and imitates whatever parents do and follow however they behave with others.

You do not preach to them, but they learn by the upbringing and mannerisms you give them.

What challenges did you overcome whilst being a single mother and not fully or actively working in the industry?

I feel people should not look at me like a single mother anymore and rather they should view me as an actress.

The journey was tough.

Though I didn’t have a husband and relatives to support and it was really difficult.

However, the joy of motherhood is immeasurable.

There is a rise in female-oriented content – which you’ve also been a part of. What is your view on this trend?

It is good that things are changing now and women are considered for all kind of roles.

I could not choose much as I didn’t have this liberty to choose much whatever came my way.

I solely had to earn a livelihood and now I don’t have to work to run my house so I can be more choosy and wait for the right projects.

Also, things have changed and varieties of roles have been written but still much less than how much men get.

Many have also spoken out against their sexual harassers in light of the #MeToo movement. What is your opinion about this campaign?

The #MeToo movement has created a stir and people will be much more cautious of coming such crimes.

I had my problems initially when I entered the industry, but I have put them behind me and moved forward.

Reportedly, you will be playing Akshay Kumar’s mother in Sooryavanshi. What does this role entail and do you feel it is a positive step, given that there is a narrow age-gap between you two?

I have no issues playing the mother character. As long as the role is good and that role excites me, which is all that matters.

I am playing Akshay’s mother in Sooryavanshi. It’s not a typical mother but something different and really sweet.

But besides that film, I have completed my shoot for Gwalior, have done The Last Colour, Panga.

I have also done a web series for TVF called Panchayat with Raghuveer Yadav, that is also a very interesting role and story.

By exploring various spaces and genres, Neena has proven that diversity is key for an actor.

Her courageous and confident persona is what inspires us the most.

We hope that she continues to impress and express through her outstanding calibre.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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