In an industry, where a contemporary star, Kareena Kapoor, admits she was told her career would be over after marriage and baby, Neena Gupta decided to raise her daughter as a single mother in the ’80s. In an industry where fear of judgment forces artistes to appear self-sufficient, the actor asked for work via Instagram.
You point out her unconventionality, and the actor is quick to dismiss it. “Just because I have a daughter doesn’t mean I am unconventional. I am very conventional. That’s the image the media has created. I still have a balti bath. I still use Margo soap and neem toothpaste. I still put coconut oil in my hair. I don’t use any chemicals on my face. I don’t use a moisturizer. I eat ghee ki roti. This is not unconventional,” the Badhaai Ho star said.
Neena Gupta spoke to indianexpress.com during the launch of her maiden audio show Ae Dil Hai Complicated on Audible Suno, where she hosts inter-caste couples, same-sex couples and other couples who still haven’t found acceptance in society.
During the conversation, Gupta talked about the stereotypes she battles in the Hindi film industry today. The actor also revealed why she has given up on the possibility of older actors leading projects.
A few months ago, I was present in the studio when you interviewed an inter-caste couple about their hardships. I loved how you were interacting with them in a non-scripted, spontaneous manner. As an artiste, what’s your takeaway from these real-life stories?
I would get their answers and take it from there. I have never followed any script. It’s very overwhelming and I feel more sympathetic and less judgemental about people because everybody doesn’t have my kind of circumstances. Every person comes from different backgrounds, circumstances, mental abilities and attitudes. We are quick to judge people and call them good or bad. After doing this show, I realised we shouldn’t be judgmental at all.
What was your reaction when you were asked to come on board the show?
I was very excited and intrigued by the whole idea because the topics they told me were very interesting. I was also shocked by what people were saying and how openly they were talking about it. Some youngsters were so open about it that it caught my interest.
In the beginning, I mentioned you have walked a path considered unconventional because of the time you came in the industry. It wasn’t as progressive as it is today. You have seen both the phases.
It’s not progressive even today. The only difference is that there are more, smaller platforms. By smaller, I mean that you can also make a Rs one crore film. There’s more experimentation because of the low cost. That’s the difference.
Do you think if Saans were made as a film today, it would get box office success?
I am trying to do a web series on Saans 2. Let’s see how it goes.
It’s refreshing to see you on Instagram with your pap pictures. How much do you enjoy this attention?
I am addicted to it now. Everywhere I go, I take pictures. Sometimes, I forget to take pictures, and I feel so bad. I am really enjoying it.
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You conduct yourself on Twitter with a lot of candour.
I love it. I am enjoying it. Everyone including old, young and children, they need appreciation the most. Why do you deck up when you go out? So that people compliment you. Same goes for social media. I love it when people say they love me and say nice things about me. Everyone loves to be appreciated.
You have spoken about the stereotypes that you had to battle in Bollywood when you were young. What are the stereotypes that Neena Gupta faces today? Do you feel you still have to struggle a lot?
Yeah. It’s like after Badhaai Ho, everyone wants to give me Badhaai Ho type roles. That ‘middle-class UP’ person. I want to do different types of characters, but it’s okay. I am still very happy with what I have got. I am very thankful that I have got it now. Better late than never.
In my interview, actor-director Seema Pahwa said when it’s about box office numbers, the industry still vies for young faces, and that’s why roles for older women are still given to younger actors.
Yes, they do. I have to accept this. Had Ayushmann and Sanya not starred in Badhaai Ho, it wouldn’t have worked. It wouldn’t have worked because of me and Gajaraj Rao.
But the story was about you both.
Yes, but if these two weren’t there and the film was made only with Gajaraj and me, it wouldn’t have run at all. That’s the truth and I cannot do anything about it.
So, even if the story is about older…
(Interrupts) Yes, even then you need youngsters to pull it through. That’s how we are. It will take a lot of time to change (the mindset). I might not be even alive.
What’s the one prejudice against women you think Bollywood will never get over with?
This question is wrong because our society is itself prejudiced against women. So, why criticise only film artistes? A film will reflect the beliefs of the society. And what’s a woman’s role in society? Taking care of the house, the kids and serving her in-laws. So, the films will also be made accordingly. If the society changes, the films will change.
So, we keep talking every year about how representation of women in cinema is getting better. Do you think this is just high talk, and we have a long way to go to reach that space?
Long? We have 500 years to go for that! It will only change after that.
Have you always been someone who makes peace with the reality around her, or did life calm the rebel inside you?
I have never been a rebel. I have always accepted and moved on. It keeps me happy. It doesn’t make me bitter.
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