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Neena Gupta: Sach kahoon toh

The Badhaai Ho actor looks back the highpoints and lowpoints in her own career, the state of India’s film industry, and her current project - the Australian film Hindi Vindi

Reading Time: 7 minutes

 

Known for her honest and forthright approach to her work and life, actor Neena Gupta drops some truth bombs in this chat with Indian Link. The award-winning actor, director, producer and writer is characteristically unguarded in her sincerity as she looks back at the highpoints and some low points in her career, and spills the details about upcoming projects.

Torsha Sen (TS):  Neena Gupta, thank you for joining us at Indian Link. What brings you to Sydney?

Neena Gupta (NG): I’m here to do a film called Hindi Vindi, in which I play a grandmother to this very fine actor called Mihir Ahuja, who you must have seen in The Archies (2023). The very famous singer Guy Sebastian is also playing a role. He has also composed the music of the film. It’s a music-based film – my character is a musician who used to teach music in India before moving to Australia. This film is a very interesting combination of music and emotion. It’s an unusual story – I liked the script very much. We’ve been doing good work and we’ve been having fun. Guy was very good, and Mihir is a very hardworking young actor.

Mihir Ahuja and Neena Gupta
Mihir Ahuja and Neena Gupta take a breather on the sets of Hindi Vindi (Source: Supplied)

TS: In your media interactions you are constantly asked about your personal life, whereas you have a huge body of work that rarely anyone talks about. Do you feel your career doesn’t get the spotlight it deserves? Actor Neena Gupta

NG: It didn’t get the spotlight it deserves. But now I am getting the spotlight which I deserve. But you see, this profession is such, everybody is interested in your personal life. Aapka bed, bedroom mein kaise hai. People think we probably sleep on golden beds! So, I have to accept that I am an actor, I am known, so people are interested in my personal life. What I didn’t know (earlier), where I made a mistake, was that you have to be very careful about your personal life. I used to think the journalists who came to interview me were my friends. (I know now that) they’re not your friends – they’re just doing their jobs, as you are doing yours. Look at Mr. Bachchan, for example, and others, how carefully they talk. (I did not adopt that approach) and that is why I was misinterpreted, and ugly things were written about me. So, it was my fault. I mean, if the other person thinks that they can (extract) masala from me, that is their job. So, you must be very guarded when you are in the public eye. Very careful with what you say. Main do sentence bolti hoon, uss doh sentence mein se doh words koi lekar ke uchhal sakta hai. They don’t know the previous sentence or the next sentence. Baaki to dekha nahi na kisi ne. So you have to be very careful.

Neena Gupta
With her Filmfare Award for Best Actor in the background (Source: Supplied)

TS: Would you like to take some credit for bringing about a shift in Indian films, where senior female actors are getting unconventional roles as leads, and are not just the roti-dhoti maa? We certainly see more actors taking that risk now.

NG: Yes of course. I got a message recently from an old friend, my age group, who I was not in touch with her for some time.  She wrote to me saying Aapne darwaze khol diye humare liye (you have opened doors for us). Yes, so I will take the credit.

TS: You’ve been in the industry for four decades. What is good about it? And what according to you, is bad in the industry that should change? Actor Neena Gupta

NG: It has changed a lot. Change toh dekho aata rahte hain. I’ve been through the time when Shayam Benegal was making beautiful films – Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda (1992) with him was such a nice film. Then I’ve seen the days when we made beautiful television – Buniyaad (1986), Kabir, and Saans (1998). Abhi achanak badi filmein aa gayi toh wo gaya. Ek cheez hit ho gayi toh everybody wants to make the same. Abhi sab Animal (2023) banayenge. Ya Pathaan (2023) banayenge. It is a circle, it keeps changing. It’s part of the game.

TS: You spoke about Saans, which was one of the most iconic TV series of the ‘90s. I particularly remember because it was ahead of its time back then. Would you ever go back to writing and directing?

NG: In fact, just a few days ago, I was thinking I want to go back to TV. Because you see, itna content ban raha hai, koi dekhta hi nahi hai. I do so much hard work, which hardly anybody sees! I was part of a very nice anthology recently, which nobody saw. I feel very bad that my labour is going waste.

TS: The film for which you won a National Award, the documentary Bazaar Sitaram (1993) – not many people have seen that. Actor Neena Gupta

NG: Woh chhodho, documentary. The film for which I got the Best Supporting Actor National Award, Woh Chokri (1994), woh kisi ne dekhi hi nahi! So I was thinking of a return to TV. The only thing is I cannot do daily soaps, they take a toll on your health. And yet, getting something up on Amazon, Netflix, Sony, or Zee TV is a very tough thing. It’s not easy because everybody’s in the queue. Big film producers also are producing for them.

TS: Right. And everyone’s gotten the idea that, you know, there’s business there, and at least you get a release.

NG: Yes. More than anything there is safety. So they’ll take a chance with very big stars, whose films are now becoming successful, and that’s a very good thing for the industry because then the smaller films will be made. Because the money will be there. I have already thought of a subject (for my own project), in fact, only two days ago.

TS: Would that be anything related to Australia at all? 

NG: No, sorry!

Neena Gupta
Back in 1998 Neena Gupta created TV serial ‘Saans’ as a writer, producer, director, and played lead alongside with Kawaljeet Singh (R) (Source: IMDB)

TS: That’s unfortunate! Now, Neenaji, you are from NSD, you are a qualified actor, and you’ve had your share of struggles. In fact, I’m sure you must be aware of the kind of struggle even now that people from NSD or FDII are facing. And yet, we see social media influencers, who have no experience in acting, being offered roles, including lead roles. What is your view of this, and how should those who are struggling navigate through this?

NG: Everybody has their own struggle in life. A housewife has her own struggle, which is the biggest struggle (in my opinion). You have to move on. I am right now facing a struggle in another sense – my projects are not being seen. That is my struggle right now, whereas my struggle was different when I started. For many years (in the interim), it was different again. The only thing what I have learned is that whatever God has given you, say thanks. And whatever you have not got, don’t criticise. Don’t say ke usko award mil gaya toh wo toh isliya mila kyuki woh kisko janta hai. Jab mujhe milega then I will say ‘awards are very good’. Mujhe nahi milta toh then I will say ‘award he bakwas hai.’ Aisa nahi hai. I’m justsaying, don’t be bitter about what you haven’t got and move on. If you keep moving on, you will get somewhere. Mujhe 60 saal ki umur me mila. Mila toh sahi, hain na?

(Source: IMDB)

TS: So, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.

NG: Woh toh bade heavy duty baatein hai. Me toh chote shabdo me bol rahi hoon ki aage toh badhna padega, nahi toh kya karoge? Mar jaoge?

TS:  And also, there are more mediums these days than you guys had back in the time.

Neena Gupta:  When I came to Bombay, it was only films. Only films! We could not even get a chance to meet the producer. Subhash Ghai ji se milne ke liye mujh ko kitne saal lag gaye the. Aur photos khichake le gaye thi main, bade paise kharchke, toh bolte hain ‘main photo-woto nahi dekhta’. Photocorrect kar dete hain na… Tum se mil liya theek hai.’ To ab toh bohot chances hein lekin competition bhi bohot hai.

TS:  Which five projects, from your entire body of work, would you choose to show people today? Actor Neena Gupta

NG: Main kuch bhool na jaoon. Jitna yaad hai, I will say Khandan, Saans, Kabir, Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda, Badhaai Ho (2023) and Mast Mein Rehne Ka (2023). Can I add another one? The Last Color (2019).

TS: A fabulous list! Tell us, if a biopic were to be made on you, who would play the young Neena Gupta, and what would it be called?

NG: Title toh hai – “Sach Khaun Toh”! Who would play me? Mein khud!

TS: Ha ha! But if you had to pick from the leading actresses today?

NG: Okay let’s see – who do we have, Alia, Deepika, Priyanka, Kiara, bhool jati hoon main, aur kaun hai?

TS: Kriti, Ananya ….

NG: Maybe I’d like Masaba to do my role, she’s a very good actor.

 

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TS: That’s a good choice. Biased, but good!

NG: Dekho, biased hona bada zaroori hai. Aap apne bachchon ke liye biased hain, na? Sab apne bachchon ke liye biased hote hai. Abhi yeh sab badi-badi baatein karte hai… Are bhaiya, main actor hoon aur mera bachcha actor banna chahta hai, toh main usse promote karoongi naa. Koi doctor apne doctor bachche ko promote karta hai na. Toh yeh pata nahi kaisi badi badi bate karte hai. Kuch (issue) nahi hai, yeh hota hai.

TS: Coming back to Sydney for a bit, have you had a chance to look around?

NG: I’ve been to Sydney and Melbourne a few times, and have seen the sights a few times now. So, this time round, I’ve been shopping instead.

TS: That’s even more interesting!  Thank you so much, Neenaji, for giving us your time.

NG: Thank you. I would like to say, come and see our film Hindi Vindi when it releases. It has a lot of Australia in it and it’s in English mostly. Plus, it has some very good music for you to enjoy.

TS: Looking forward!

Read more: A chat with Mihir Ahuja on his upcoming film, Hindi Vindi

Torsha Sen
Torsha Sen
A seasoned journalist who observes passage of time and uses tenses that contain simple past, continuous present, and a future perfect to weave stories.

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