By Tani Dhingra
‘And one day she discovered that she was fierce, and strong, and full of fire, and that not even she could hold herself back because her passion burned brighter than her fears’, these famous words by Mark Anthony seem to realistically portray the force behind the firebrand that is Neena Gupta.
AGE DOESN’T MATTER OF COURSE
She is audacious, gorgeous, super-talented and a super-mom; all packed into one. She once ruled the charts and TRP’S of the evolving Indian Television industry. Her contemporary roles were way ahead of her times then, and thus, are relevant even now. This remarkable actress who has just turned 60, is nowadays busy in redefining the way our cinema and its audience see the age number.
Neena Gupta has a lot of going on in her favor. Her movie, ‘Badhaai Ho’ has been a runaway hit, which in itself is a very courageous choice as a comeback film with its controversial concept and the lack of A-list actors in the overall venture. But, this is Neena Gupta, the bold resplendent actor who nonchalantly took on challenges then; is doing the same now. She was the actress in the 1990’s who flag-beared feminism, before its meaning was also unknown to most. Interestingly, now after all these years, she has been nominated for the best actress award parallel to the likes of A-lister Alia Bhatt; who are actually half her age. Same of course cannot be said about her looks. Even today her timeless beauty and personality is able to shade in the persona of her younger contemporaries. But it is her passion, willingness to work and the thirst to do good work that’s taking her places.
SHE CAME..SHE CONQUERED…
Neena Gupta had been the star of the Indian Television Industry. She was never the one to go for run-of-the-mill saas-bahu cult family dramas. Rather, she opted for challenging realist roles. Her mature acting skills and demeanor led her to deliver some of the most skilled performances in the Indian television industry ever. ‘Dard’, ‘Khaandaan’, ‘Siski’ were some serials that actually were instrumental in changing the outlook of the Indian Television industry as a whole and millions of its viewers. Her roles in these serials proved that good cinema could also become commercially successful cinema.
A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
The Indian television industry has changed now. But the 1990s belonged to male directors, male technicians, and male actors. The female actors mainly solved the purpose of decorating the scenario. Same was expected out of them by the audiences. She went on to direct and act in ‘Saans’, giving another stellar performance; which in itself became a landmark for the growth of the Indian TV.
Neena Gupta is a breath of fresh air in these female-suffocating times.
She wanted to make a mark in the Bollywood industry as well. But due to her personal reasons, somehow all the meaningful roles went to the industry veterans like Smitha Patel and Shaban’s Aazmi; leaving no room for this beautiful actress. She had the looks, the personality, the experience, the talent; but, sadly no work. However, Neena Gupta did not budge. Working her way ahead with smaller, but smarter roles; Neena Gupta delivered powerful performances, yet again. Her parts in ‘Daddy’, ‘Khalnayak’ and ‘Jaane bhi do yaaron’ were well appreciated for their maturity and class. Her acting prowess saw the appreciative light of the day with two National Awards (for Bazaar Sitaram and Woh Chokri).
A STRONG MAN CAN HANDLE A STRONG WOMAN. A WEAK MAN WILL SAY SHE HAS AN ATTITUDE.
This rings true for our society as well. Neena Gupta has forever been this rebellious female, who has made bold choices and stuck to them with unabashed loyalty, both in professional and personal lives. In the era, when women were only recognized by their husband’s name and fame; Neena Gupta had gone out and given birth to a love child (With Sir Vivian Richards, the famous cricketer from West Indies), Masaba Gupta without an official wedlock. In an industry laden with hypocrisy this proved as a huge shocker.
Her social image and thus, the roles offered to her took a severe blow on that account. Neena Gupta was offered only negative roles and those too were scanty. But, her resolve to love and well develop her daughter into a strong woman remained undeterred. She kept no secrets and helped Masaba to accept and appreciate her roots and upbringing. After all, strong women grow strong children.
THE LIFE-CHANGING INSTAGRAM POST
Neena Gupta has always been a shy person. This had been the major reason behind her not going out and asking for work directly from friends and acquaintances. But acting was what she loved and wanted to do. Due to her absenteeism in mainstream cinema and marriage to a Delhi based accountant, people had begun to believe that she had retired and shifted bases to Delhi.
Somehow, the name of Neena Gupta seemed to have been erased from the list of available actors. Thus, in order to set things straight and in direct contrast to her shy nature, on 28 July 2017, Neena Gupta posted on her Instagram about being in Bombay and being out of work. The post was well received and appreciated by Masaba Gupta and various industry biggies like Priyanka Chopra for its honesty and outspokenness. The post served its purpose well and seemed to refresh people’s memory of her acting prowess. As a result, she was offered many meaty projects.
LIFE AFTER ‘BADHAAI HO’
After the tremendous response on her Instagram post, she was offered ‘Badhai ho’ with Ayushmann Khurrana and Gajraj Rao. Her character Sangeeta, of a pregnant middle age woman won lots of love, appreciation and awards. The movie has been able to re-launch Neena Gupta in Bollywood as a name to reckon with, especially in the middle aged category.
As of now, she is in her own creative happy space, working in multiple movies. Interestingly, her strong personality is mirrored in her work choices as well. She plays the role of Noor in ‘the last color’, a widow in Varanasi who suffers a life of complete abstinence as per tradition. The story revolves around her friendship and support with a small, but strong girl which is able to transcend societal barriers.
Neena played the role of Tabassum (Rishi Kapoor’s wife) in ‘Mulk’, who stands strong when her complete family is adjudged and made to suffer as a terrorist when a member of the family chooses terrorism. In ‘Sooryavanshi’ she plays the role of Akshay Kumar’s mother with whom he shares an interesting relationship. Her upcoming film ‘Panga’ with Kangana Ranaut revolves around the lives and family of a national-level kabaddi player.
Neena Gupta was also starred in Made In Heaven series. Neena plays the mother of the groom and is wonderful (of course). And it’s also kind of hilarious to see her play this upper-class perfect respectable woman.
Neena Gupta has essentially been an honest and independent individual all her life. With sheer hard work and passion, with eccentric choices and without a mentor or guide; she has been able to make her mark in an industry that has forever been male-chauvinistic. She has finally arrived and there is no stopping her now…