From talking about getting back to acting to how she created a space for herself and made her daughter aware about the howabouts of the film industry, actor Neena Gupta gets candid at #NoFilterNeha Season 5. By Team Viva
How was your time during the lockdown?
Frankly, they have been the best four and a half months of my life. I could enjoy living with peace in my lovely house, without any restrictions, sit out and walk around. With my staff and driver around, I felt like I found a new family. This was also for the first time, I and my husband stayed together for four months. Otherwise, he lives in Delhi and I live in Mumbai. Although, even at home, we both stayed busy at times. But this has been the most amazing time of my life.
Any everyday issues at home…
Majorly, majorly (laughs)! I’ve learned sign language because my husband is mostly busy on his conference calls. The adjustment took some time but I let him be. He too tried to let me be also because he had no alternative. In any case, he didn’t have time to interfere in my life so it was fine. But still, it was interesting. Quite calming, I’d say.
Your Instagram game is on a roll…
Well, sometimes, I don’t post for long. I do whenever something hits me or I see something happening around me or with me. For instance, the sign language. I posted about it because I used to laugh at how I was doing it every day.
I also posted about the sweaters woven by the local girls. So it is all genuine and I don’t post for the sake of posting anything. I do it because I want to say something through the posts, something that has happened to me and is genuine. Well, I think it’s why people like it.
Did it come from Masaba (Gupta, daughter and fashion designer)?
No. The matter I do, I don’t consult. Sometimes, I make a mistake while posting. And then, I get a message from Masaba immediately, “Mom, you’ve done it wrong,” then I tell her to set it right. And then, she sets it right!
Over the years, how do you think things have changed in terms of stereotypes and work for women?
It has all changed very recently. Like in past two years only. Everyone, women and actors of my age group, are also getting some very interesting work. Otherwise, it hasn’t been very good. There was nothing at all. Now, I feel that everybody is able to find something that suits them, not just the younger lot.
What do you have to say about the PR scenario, then and now?
Well, I must say, for me, it’s quite irritating and a hassle to follow the corporate setup. Ek kaam ke liye 10 aadmi hote hain (there are 10 people for one chore). With 10 people around, there are a hundred new things to handle and listen to. Everyone has their own perspective and talent. They have to be paid accordingly. And amid those, there are some who don’t know much yet because they are not coming from the same place. So, I don’t understand this business environment at all.
Have you ever felt out of place on a film set?
So, it was the first day of shoot for Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan. I was rehearsing a dialogue in a way that it looks realistic, in front of the camera, and the director came up to me and said, “Nahi, iska surr thoda ooncha hona chahiye (the pitch should be a bit higher), let’s begin like that.” I asked why. I understood the reason when he explained me that I am speaking over the phone at a noisy place. Toh shorr wali jagah agar aap ooncha hi bolenge na. I understood the logic and did the same.
But as soon as I got back at the hotel, I felt that I have to work on that level now. It’s for comedy that I’ll have to change the way I act or react in a particular scene. That’s what the script demands. It’s not like Badhaai Ho! This reminded me of the series Srimaan Srimati, in which I played a role for a short duration. I began from a high note in the show. It was a little problematic for me in the beginning but I realised this is how comedy works.
So these are the some of the instances where I felt a little out of the place but I won’t say I was caught into doing it (laughs). Haan, phasi hu ek-do baar shuru mein, when I had to do roles, which had no beginning, end, logic to it or sense. I have done many of those but then you need money, so it’s okay!
What would you say to your younger self?
If you want to get better roles, more roles, you want to become a star, a heroine, whatever is in your head, modesty is not a good policy. You cannot be shy. You have to get going and call up people. Focus on work, not on men — two important things.
What would you say to Neena Gupta 2020?
Well, this year has been a waste. Ek saal toh barbaad ho gaya humara. Now, I’m getting back to work, so every day is important for me. I tell myself that it’s very important to look after your health because you want to do more work. Don’t let even one moment of your day go waste. Kuch karo, padho, suno, baithna nahi, kuch na kuch karte raho. Set your wardrobe up or do anything, but don’t just sit idle and waste time — two important things.
What has Masaba taken from you? What have you passed on to her?
I think, children watch their parents and learn. There are certain things which are genetic. I know what she has got from me or what she has got from her father or even my father. I think it’s all a combination. One day, she shouted at me and I told her, ‘Don’t shout’. She replied, ‘I’ve learnt from you only’. Well, because she saw me shouting at my father once or twice when he was living with me, her reaction was the same for me. That’s the parent-child relationship, isn’t it? Children learn 40 per cent from the parents and their behaviour and the rest, 60 per cent is genetic, DNA!
List one quality each that Masaba should and shouldn’t take from you.
I feel happy that Masaba has inherited this very important quality from me — she can laugh at herself. One bad thing she has got is taking immediate and impulsive decisions. But the good part is that she already knows that.
What would you say about finding love at 50?
We met on a flight from London to Mumbai. He’s based in Delhi but he was coming for some work. I was in business class upstairs and he was somewhere behind. But one lady wanted him to change his seat and that’s how he came and sat beside me. This is how it started and that’s why I believe in destiny so much. My life would have been so different. Now, he keeps telling me all the time that you are the one. To tease me, he often says that you trapped me intentionally. Earlier, I used to fight that it’s the other way round but now I say ‘yes I have trapped you. If you are happy then stay, if not then leave.’
Is it true that your mother was against you acting and wanted you to be an IAS officer?
Yes. They were very much against it. My mother used to look down upon Hindi cinema. She only watched English films during festivals and various occasions. But I forced my way out of it and said that ‘I have to go anyhow.’
What was your advice for Masaba while her getting into B-town?
During the initial days itself, I told her that it’s not sure whether you will be able to act or not. I also apprised her of the fact that you don’t have a traditional Indian face, so you might not get all the lead roles. I wanted her to know this reality and then start acting or go abroad, struggle there and find some work. I was very scared that she might say refuse to do so but she understood and went into a different direction.
Now, in our new series, Masaba Masaba, she has done acting. I am her best and worst critic. So she was too apprehensive about my reaction. And when I saw the edits, I was so impressed by her acting. So, now we joke about it that I told her not to go after acting but whatever is destined to happen, happens.
How was it sharing the screen with your daughter for the series, Masaba Masaba?
I was a little hesitant, I said, ‘I don’t know, we both will be conscious doing a scene together but she was so good and professional.’ Our scenes went off very well. The show is a little scripted but it looks so real. When you see the show you’ll feel it’s something that seriously happened between the daughter and her mother.
Did you give any acting tips to Masaba for the show?
Very little, maybe twice. Initially, when we were doing the readings, I told her to slow down her pace. Other than this, I only advised her once or twice while she was acting. And she took that advice very professionally and worked on it. I thought she would say ‘Mom I already know.’ But that didn’t happen.
Badhaai Ho! turned out to be a game-changer for you…
The film changed everything. It changed my life because people had never imagined me that way. Before that film, I had a very different image, and your acting assignments depends a lot on how people see and imagine you. So, Badhaai Ho had made a great impact. Now I make calls to directors and other people with great confidence. Recently, I sent a message to a director asking if he has any role for me in his new film. I didn’t had this confidence earlier. I tell this film’s director Amit (Sharma) that I can do anything for you because you have changed my life. I have so much gratitude and love for him. Not only because of my role but also because I love the film. I think it’s one of the best films I have ever done and seen.
Did you anticipate the film Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro to become such a hit?
Not at all. It was very low budget film. I did not have any conveyance, I used to take an auto rickshaw and my own food to the shoot. But even then we enjoyed the film a lot. I was very new at that time and getting to work with such good actors in the first film felt so good. I never expected it to become such a hit.
Is there a remake in process for it?
They were planning to make. I read the script too, it was huge. The makers said that they will come back to me for the dates Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro 2but that somehow got cancelled and never happened. This was long time ago.
Saturday, 12 September 2020 | Team Viva