She’s second to none

Having reinvented her look through experimental permutations and combinations, Neena Gupta is in the reckoning, writes Shilpi Madan

I want to play the heroine, the main lead in a movie that is based around me,” says actress Neena Gupta with her signature candour as we settle into a chat. “This is what I want to do next. What difference does my age make?” she says. Agreed.

Neena Gupta is a stellar actress, having made her mark in television serials including the iconic Buniyaad, Saans, and Ladies Special...and recently in the sleeper hit in the rather unconventional Badhaai Ho — where she carried off the role of a middle-aged pregnant mother with elan. Neena Gupta is simply incomparable, and adorable.

It took her Instagram post two years back to shake herself out of her self-imposed complacency. She posted that she was a good actor looking for good parts to act in. “Earlier I used to think that my work will do the talking for me. People will approach me to sign on roles. That does not happen. You have to go out, meet filmmakers, directors, producers...get an agent, invest time in your own image...and ask for work. There is no shame in asking for work when you know you are good at your work,” she says honestly. The sparkling alumnus of National School of Drama refuses to bask in the success of her recent releases, Mulk and Badhaai Ho, and instead has been busier than the proverbial bee shooting for different media conduits.

Mixed bag

“I have done a few vital scenes as Kangana Ranaut’s mother in Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s Panga. It is an interesting role that brings in a new dimension to the flow of events in the script. Then I have just wrapped up Gwalior, with Sanjay Misra, where we play a middle-class couple with a child whose lives take an unexpected turn suddenly. It was great fun acting with Sanjay, and the entire movie was shot in Gwalior, hence the title. With Raghubir Yadav I have shot for the webseries Panchayat where I play a rustic. It has been an interesting mix of roles luckily for me since my Insta post,” she laughs.

When and how did the case of depression arise, as she spoke of in one of her recent interviews? “See, as an actor, my work is erratic, as per assignment. Suddenly there are 15 days of lull, and then I begin shooting furiously. I am impatient as an individual. So then I do not allow myself to slip into this feeling-low phase. Each one of us goes through it. I keep myself busy, learning to prepare a new dish, cleaning up the house... I am a very good housewife, if I may say so myself,” she grins. “In a running house, like every other lady, I too face issues with a dysfunctional water purifier, calling up the pest control chap...that is life. I make sure I stay busy and constructively occupied.”

But then what is the biggest challenge she faces? “Staying fit at my age, to be in a state of readiness when work comes along. At that point I do not want to pass up a role on account of being unwell. I do yoga everyday, I watch my diet the best I can (sometimes I do indulge honestly, but then I am not competing with the gorgeous young girls making their debut these days) and go for a walk in the evenings,” shares Neena ji, as she is affectionately called by everyone. Values that she has instilled in her daughter Masaba, a successful fashion designer in her own right. “Masaba is honest, respectful and hardworking. These are values that I have always encouraged her to imbibe.” Pearls of wisdom for other mothers? “I strongly believe that every mother does the best she truly can for her child,” she says.

Born survivor

Neena Gupta is an exemplary individual, a born survivor, who (whether she likes it or not) constantly inspires others on the dint of her sheer mettle, determination and self confidence. It is a changed scenario on the sets, compared to the shoots that took place when she started out. “But I like it, the methodical approach, the promotional activities for the films I do. I am happy to do what I am asked to do as I want to reach out to the maximum number of people through my work. These days of social media and cross media promotions help in achieving this,” she says, having reinvented her look through experimental permutations and combinations on social media.

Meanwhile, she gets ready to shoot for filmmaker Rohit Shetty’s Sooryavanshi in October, where she plays actor Akshay Kumar’s mother and bonds genially with his love interest, Katrina Kaif. “An unconventional, interesting role,” is all she divulges as she wraps up the recording for 24 episodes for Amazon Audible “where I talk to writers about stories they have penned down, ask questions and delve deeper. Watch out for this release,” she says. Expect the unexpected, always, from Neena Gupta.

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