I just love colours. I cannot imagine my life without colours!” is her quick reply when you ask Neena Gupta what importance colours have in her life. Neena will be seen essaying a widowed woman, clad in a white saree in chef Vikas Khanna’s directorial debut The Last Color, based on his book by the same name. The veteran actress, who will portray Noor, has been known for the bold choices she has made in her life — from the roles in films, TV serials, short films and plays to some of decisions she made in her personal life.
She always broke barriers and didn’t feel ‘less of herself’ while asking for work on Instagram. Known for films like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, Issaq, Mandi, Utsav, Gandhi, Daddy, Laila and so on, Neena will be soon be seen in the much talked about Veere Di Wedding. As for The Last Color, she will be seen alongside real-life street children who have been trained in workshops for months to bring alive the story in a simple cadence. The film’s trailer was screened at the 71st Cannes Film Festival which was received very well. The film revolves around the Supreme Court’s order against an age-old tradition of not allowing widows in Vrindavan to play Holi.
Here’s chatting up the actress...
What fascinated you about The Last Color?
The script and the role were the first criterion for me to say yes to the film. Second was the director — the way Vikas (Khanna) has portrayed various characters in the film, the way he has tried to break stereotypes. Then come the co-actors in the movie, timing, other arrangements amongst other factors. But the most important of all is the script.
You have been quoted as saying that you didn’t need to slip into the character, the moment you wore white, you became Noor. Give us a peek into the character — what is Noor like?
Whenever you play a character, you think of a role model. I used to look around myself if I had met someone similar but couldn’t find anyone. There was no role model. So I started preparing in my own way. I started talking slowly, walking slowly — these were some ways that helped me in slipping into the character. I told myself that I should now be like that for a while, at least physically. And then when I went to Varanasi and wore my costume, I forgot about everything. I was flowing like river Ganga. All I would say is that it came to me on its own and I felt good about it.
How was your experience of working with Vikas?
Vikas has already been to Vrindavan and has done lots of research. He shared all the information of widows with me. Even the minute details like how much food they eat every day, what is their typical day like and so on. To be precise, Vikas shared all real information with me, so I never felt I was new to this place.
In some parts of the country, not just widows, but women in general are not treated as equals. Do you think cinema can be a strong tool in highlighting the issues of women?
Yes, it can be. However, it will take time because there is a lot of inequality. I sometimes say that it is a curse to be born as a woman and it is even worse to be born as woman in a poor family. A lot of young filmmakers are making films and taking up such issues which is a very good beginning. Although, it will take time, I believe that it could change. Even if one film helps in changing the life of one woman, it is remarkable.
From doing films like Mandi, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, to doing TV and going on to do a short film for the web, how would you describe the change in the medium and your own transformation as an actor?
I feel that I am a much better actor now. When I see my old films, I say to myself ‘Oh god, why did I do this movie?’ I understand things better now. I am choosing better projects. I am refusing anything which does not excite me as an actor. I have done some amazing films in the past nine months after my Instagram post. I have worked with directors like Anubhav Sinha, Dibakar Banerjee, Amit Sharma.
What would be your message to all other women?
Well, I am too small a person to give a message. But I would like to share that when I came to Mumbai, I struggled for many years and every year was a new beginning for me. I am always thankful to god for whatever he has given me. So I would say, work hard and have self-esteem. Self-esteem comes from hard work and be thankful for whatever you have.
Do you think Bollywood has become progressive enough to make films that would do justice to female actors?
The films which I have done till now might not be that progressive but yes, the focus of filmmakers has shifted. It is also a very good time for actors because people are making good cinema now.