A female boss?' 'She's just having a bad day.' 'Don't bother with her, she's PMSing.' 'She's just out to show her power.' 'God forbid, if you're a woman and have a lady heading your team.' 'God forbid if you're a man and have to contend with a lady boss!'
Heard these cringe-worthy statements before? Well, Neha Dhupia's Maria from Tumhari Sulu breaks these stereotypes with such a resounding whack that you want to stand there and applaud just for her. It's so difficult to put her character down in words - she's what any right-thinking person is - rational, warm, fun-loving, strict, yet understanding. In Maria, Neha Dhupia has arguably given one of her best performances till date.
"Thanks, it feels good to know that people found my character interesting, and my acting worth their while. Of course, we wanted Maria Sood to shape up in a certain way that would make people think differently about the women workforce, especially about female bosses. If we have managed to do that, it's a great feeling," says Neha Dhupia, as we caught up with her over the initial response to her film.
The actor, who has worked in Malayalam, Telugu and Punjabi films besides Hindi, seems immensely pleased by her choice. But she confesses it was less of a choice and more of a diktat from her friends whom she would give anything for. "Atul (Kasbekar) and Tanuj (Garg) are very close friends. They just called one day and told me, 'Neha you must do this role', and I said yes without even batting an eyelid," says Neha smiling. "It helped that Maria is practically me. I didn't find it out of place to play her, it was rather natural. There was not a thing amiss."
The near-all-woman ensemble was another incentive! "Really, how many times do we get to work with an all-women cast? And this one breaks all stereotypes at various levels; one in your face, one is that the director is a guy. There you go!" says the actor who has worked alongside Vidya Balan and RJ Malishka Mendonca in this one.
Neha admits that Tumhari Sulu is a special film in various ways. "It is one of the films you would cherish for life, or at least, I would. Lovely and warm, a slice-of-life sort of cinema. The story is fresh and my co-actors are so talented," she says speaking about her experience with not just Vidya and Malishka, but the entire gamut of female actors she worked with in the film.
With adman-turned-filmmaker Suresh Triveni, best known for his Mauka-Mauka ad series for the 2015 Cricket World Cup, at the helm, Neha feels that the film was always in expert hands. "The beautiful part was that a man was helming this project that had a motley of women, each of whom had strong writer-backed roles. Moreover, our director is also the writer of the film. That speaks so much for feminism and what the thought stands for, doesn't it? I personally feel Suresh is a talent to watch out for in the coming years," says Neha.
Ask her about her experience filming the iconic 'Hawa Hawai' song of Sridevi from Mr India and she gets all excited. "I couldn't contain my excitement when I first learnt that they are going to rework the song and Vidya, Malishka and I are to shake a leg for it!" she beams. "The thing is I am a huge fan of Sridevi, and 'Hawa Hawai' is an absolute favourite since back then. Add to it the company I was to dance with - just beyond exciting."
No labels for her
If there is one thing that Neha is certain she doesn't want to be stuck in, it is in any role - as an actor or as a person. So, apart from acting in films, the actor kicked off her own production firm Big Girl Productions last year. Her first show #NoFilterNeha is a series of unadulterated, uncensored audio podcasts with Bollywood celebs, most of them friends she has cultivated over the years in the industry. The podcasts have since then had two successful seasons on the Saavn app. "I am happy that #NoFilterNeha has worked with the audiences. See, I am now in a space where I can afford to experiment and move away from the expected norm. My production house is an extension of this thought," she says, hinting at more digital content in the coming months.
Life ahead looks exciting for the lady. She has been invited to feature in a Karan Johar short film, a sequel to Bombay Talkies. Like in the 2013 film, the sequel too will have four segments to be directed one each by Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Zoya Akhtar. Neha is also hosting the BFFs show on Colors Infinity and is also slated to host the next season of Roadies.