Saimi Sattar reckons Neena Gupta has remained timeless despite the passage of decades. 2018: She was seen as the middle-aged Priyamvada Kaushik whose pregnancy is the cause of much consternation for the entire family. She won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actress for her realistic portrayal.
Flashback to 1999 and Saans, where she portrayed the character of the wronged wife who refuses to play martyr. The serial, which she also directed, was path breaking for the way it depicted the woman who, though much in love, refused to break down into histrionics that are the norm even now on television.
Go back even further to 1982 when she portrayed he role of Abha in Gandhi and capped it the very next year by swinging around in a crane along with Pankaj Kapoor, Satish Kaushik and Satish Shah in the iconic Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron as Priya.
The decades might have changed but Neena Gupta has held steadfast in the industry with her nuanced performances, howsoever small, that made a mark. But she is hungry for more. “For both actors and directors, this is a golden time. There is so much variety in films and then there is web which means that there are so many platforms. It doesn’t matter what the format is for it is acting. I wish I was younger when I could do much more. But even then, it is fantastic.”
Any other actor might have decided to quietly fade away given the controversy that she unleashed when she decided to be a single parent, but then Neena is made of sterner stuff. And this has paid dividends as the society and the industry has changed offering content that she is in sync with. “One reason is society and women are changing. How many middle aged women are going to the gym now? Earlier they wouldn’t have even heard of it. The second reason is the platform. Web series have seasons. If you did a TV serial, we were stuck for two years where actors even with smaller roles get noticed. The whole scenario has changed,” she points out.
Moreover the lines between arthouse and commercial cinema have blurred. “Badhaai Ho is an arthouse film but a commercial hit, which didn’t happen earlier. That’s the change. It is a mainstream film done artistically and is at the same time, realistic,” she says.
Her latest venture is Adi Sonal one of the six parts of the omnibus, Shuruaat Ka Twist. “The director Heena D’Souza came to me with the story and I really liked the subject and that’s why I agreed to do it. It is the story of a middle class household with a husband, son and daughter-in-law. The beautiful undercurrent of a relationship between me and the daughter-in-law which is subtle and which you don’t realise till you see the end forms the crux of the story,” says Neena. Describing the character further, she says, it is like one of those typical housewives who spend the entire day wearing a night gown with a chunni. “She is just doing her duties the way she has been taught. The end comes as a surprise,” she says.
While choosing her roles there are several things that she keeps in mind. “The whole script and the role should excite me. The other things that I look out for are the directors and the cast,” says Neena.
While she has worked with stalwarts like Pankaj Kapur, Naseeruddin Shah and more, acting with the younger lot of actors has been a learning process too. “They are so hardworking and disciplined. There is no generation gap. We were like friends and had so much fun. In between shots, we could talk about just anything. We discussed our problems. I learnt a lot from Ayushmann and the way he chooses his role,” she says.
She also feels that the industry has changed the way it treats women. “The industry is more professional. Women are more respected. Male actors are much more decent and directors now are more open to suggestions,” she says.
She elaborates further about the difference between directors of yore and the younger ones. “While working with Subhash Ghai or Shyam Benegal, you were to scared to give a suggestions. While these directors are not a walkover, they are ready to take suggestions if it improves the quality,” she says.
A National School of Drama alumnus, she feels that the place has influenced her in varied ways. “I am very committed and disciplined. I work hard and don’t mind giving several takes. I don’t argue and I respect the director’s decision,” says the actor who just turned 60 but defies the norms agreeing.
She is philosophical about the experiences that she has had in life. She points out that, “I’ve come to the conclusion that everything that happens comes to some use someday. Even me talking to you will be of use some day. Maybe you ask something and I will think that I’ve never thought of it that way. So whether it is NSD or Mumbai or my parents, they’ve influenced me a lot but how and where it will be of use, I don’t know.”
Looking ahead, she has a pilot ready for her iconic Saans, “I am looking for a platform,” she says.
When one wonders about the state of Indian television, she is quick to retort. “Why should we bother about TV being caught in a bind when we have such amazing content on other platforms. They must be having an audience. It must be selling times. When it won’t sell, they will change too,” she says.
When one asks Neena, who lived and studied in Delhi, about her favourite places in the city, she retorts, “I am a Mumbai person. But I like to eat at Nathus. I love to roam around in Connaught Place and shop at the emporiums in Baba Kharak Singh Marg. I often went to shop for chudis at Hanuman mandir. Now, when I come back I go for my walks to Lodhi Garden and visit India International Centre.”
However, there are some things about the city that she doesn’t like. “Dust,” she says emphatically and adds, “Unprofessional and poking your nose in each others affairs.”
When you talk about Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, she is categorical, “I don’t think one should remake such a film.” Yes, just the way it is difficult to imitate the amazing grace that she has about her persona.
Writer: Saimi Sattar
Courtesy: The Pioneer