‘Marriage thrives on balance’
In conversation with Neena Gupta who shares her views on women, marriage, television content and more.
Bold and beautiful. These are the words that come to mind when you meet Neena Gupta. Her style is understated, but her demeanour tells you exactly who she is — strong, independent and someone who walks the talk. She has always been upfront about the choices she made. Her belief in family as an institution is steadfast. No wonder, that’s what she talks about first when you ask her about her latest outing Badhaai Ho.
“It’s a very sweet film,” Neena says with her signature smile. “It shows how close-knit a family can be.”
She plays the role of a middle-aged woman who gets pregnant, causing embarrassment to everyone in the family, particularly her sons. In fact, this subject is deftly handled in the movie. After all, aren’t women the ones to suffer the most when something like this happens? “Yes, I have seen women who got pregnant much later, and they would avoid stepping out of the house for the sheer embarrassment they felt,” says the actor.
And it must be a difficult phase for their kids too. “Absolutely,” she says and adds, “The fear of log kya kahenge has always been dominant. Comments like Ab toh teri biwi ke pregnant hone ka time hai, par teri ma ho gayi… are very difficult to deal with. Things have changed now, at least in bigger cities.”
We hope that the movie ends with a good message and makes people a little more sensitive towards women who go through this phase in their lives. “Yes it does. This movie also reiterates family bonding. The emotions are real and the story is moving,” she says.
And how was her experience of sporting the pregnant belly? She laughs, “It was difficult. It was hot when we were shooting and I had to maintain the right posture. The belly was not heavy though. Eventually, I got used to it.”
The movie has a different dialect too. We wonder how much preparation went into it. Neena recounts, “We did rehearsals for the dialect. It’s beautiful. The writer used to be on the set at all times to ensure that we got it right.”
Her television days
Neena’s Saans was a highly popular TV series. It came as a breath of fresh air when saas-bahu saga was on in full swing. Ironically, things haven’t changed much. The content of Saans is still relevant. The modern generation is grappling with serious relationship issues. Marriages are falling apart and patience is thinning than ever. “I think it’s a very tough time for women who have started to work and feel independent. Marriage thrives on balance. And our men have still not grown up. In a marriage, one has to be a little ‘up’ and the other has to be a little ‘down’. But if you are earning, you are not going to be ‘down’. So how is the marriage going to work? Unless of course, the man also feels that the wife is equal to him.” Coming from a woman who herself is fiercely independent, her observations are thought provoking.
The content of Indian television, soaps in particular, is still regressive to a great extent. Does she foresee a change? “Well, I have thought about this too. But then I realised such serials are being made because that’s what people want to see. They are still relevant. What you see on television happens in real life too. May be not so much in bigger cities,” says Neena.
While women empowerment is being endorsed sincerely, it could well be limited to metros and bigger cities only, she says and explains, “There are women who still don’t have the freedom to do what they want, go where they want to. These restrictions still exist. So when they watch such serials, they relate with the character.”
She’s very much here
Neena’s post on social media asking for ‘good parts to play’ had created quite a stir. Perhaps, that helped her bag some really good roles. “Yeah it did. I first got Mulk. Then I did Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar. And The Last Color. There’s Ashwiny Tiwari’s Panga too,” she confesses. Perhaps, she was trying to highlight the irony that a National Award-winning actor was looking for work. “No, not at all. I was just frustrated. People had assumed I don’t work, and I live in Delhi. I got tired of these assumptions and had to figure out a way to tell the world that here I was, right in Mumbai and wanted to do good work,” says the actor.
Evidently, the memory of the whole experience is still fresh in her mind. “There was a time when I did feel the pang of not landing good movies. I used to feel really depressed. There were such good movies being made and I was not part of them. In fact, I stopped watching Hindi movies,” Neena adds with a laugh, though she seems content now with the kind of work that’s coming her way.
Perhaps there was a particular role she would have loved to play. “Oh, the one Ratna Pathak Shah had in Kapoor & Sons. I even met the director. But things didn’t work out,” she says.
Her hilarious short film Khujli with Jackie Shroff was very well received. It’s only recently that she came to know it was responsible for her getting the highly coveted role in Badhaai Ho. “My image was so different. They weren’t sure if I could do this role in Badhaai Ho until they saw me in Khujli,” she says with a smile.
Before we take her leave, we ask her who her favourites are. She replies almost immediately, “Alia Bhatt. She is intelligent and chooses her films well. I have worked with Parineeti. And Taapsee. She’s good. In fact, the new generation of actors is very hardworking and intelligent. They prepare for their roles well.”