Age is just a number. Or rather, it should be. But most of the time, this doesn’t apply to our heroines. While a hero over 50 is seen to be entering his golden age, for a heroine it is the other way around. It is said that he is leaving his golden years behind and is expected to gracefully fade into woodworking. Times are changing and, fortunately, good roles for mature actresses are also being written today. One of the beneficiaries of this change is Neena Gupta. Thanks to her performances in movies like Badhaai Ho, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan and series like Panchayat, she is full of bargains. Neena She recently appeared as a 90-year-old grandmother on Sardar Ka Grandson and her brave performance won hearts. He also revels in the joy of his well-received autobiography Sach Kahun Toh. Excerpts from a fluid interview with the actress who has always lived life on her own terms …
It was the moment of the first confinement. I had time to reflect and someone suggested that I write. Fortunately, everything flowed smoothly this time. I tried before, but couldn’t write for long.
Did you ever feel like it might be a bad idea?
I never felt it was a bad idea. It is strange, but it was as if I had taken a path and did not want to turn around. I just wanted to get somewhere and kept going. The road was difficult but never
It has great reviews and the reception has been excellent …
I was nervous that people wouldn’t like it. I’ve been writing from the beginning so I wonder who would want to read about my childhood days at Karolbagh and NDA. I felt like people just wanted juicier stuff and that’s very little in the book. I had my doubts. But the praise and reception I have received is incredible. I am ecstatic by the way people received it.
Do you think it will put aside recurring questions about your past or raise new ones?
I don’t care if the false image that the media had created of me changes. I have reached a point in my career and in my life where all of this does not matter.
I have a feeling that people will think differently about me as a person, but if they don’t, it doesn’t matter. I have suffered, I have taken it easy, I have lost a lot, but now everything is in the past and it does not matter.
There is a certain credibility attached to your name now. How does that feel?
It is a huge responsibility. It’s like when I watch Hollywood movies because it stars a certain actor. Is the same. My approach to accepting roles has not changed. I always see it from a layman’s point of view. If I’m not convinced that I would enjoy seeing my character on screen, I won’t. Before I used to make movies that I prayed they would never see the light of day. I played misspelled characters because I didn’t have a job. I’ve never done anything on television that I didn’t like. But there I could choose. With the movies, I needed the money, so I had to do such a crappy job, you can’t imagine it. There is a movie that comes out a lot on television and I shudder when I see myself in it. So yes, now I have a responsibility and I am quite clear about what I like and what I don’t want to portray. It may be right for you, but it’s not right for me.
How has work from home been for you?
I miss going out of promotions to different cities. I miss meeting people, having fun with them, eating and drinking together. But I thank the Almighty that even in this scenario we can work virtually. God knows when this will all end, so whatever we have,
From your initial films as Mandi and Utsav to now Badhaai Ho and Sardar Ka Grandson, how much have you evolved as an artist and how much has the industry evolved in your opinion?
With every show, movie, or play I did, I discovered more of my flaws. I realized what I was missing and what I had to work on. For example, on the screen, up close, you look twice your size. So, I realized that I can’t get fat. Over the years, I have become my own best critic. I know where I went wrong. As for the industry, it is currently in a great phase for cinema. I am thankful that I am still working. I have a great job in store. It’s a great phase for everyone, writers, producers, directors, etc. The audience is accepting newer topics so that people are creating better content. OTT has also helped a lot. You can make a low-budget movie and the masses will be able to watch it on streaming platforms.
What is your opinion about the age gap that is increasing between the male and female leads? Does it mean that there is a lifespan for an actress but not for her male counterpart?
There is no problem here. The same thing happens in our society. A man in his sixties marries a man in his twenties. But change the roles and tell me, can a sixty-year-old woman marry a twenty-year-old man? It does not happen. At least, I haven’t heard of such a thing. So in our society, a man can be with a younger woman, but not so often the other way around. If it doesn’t happen in reality, how can you show it on the screen? Then one is used to it. Initially, I would say yes, the actor is much older than me, but then the other option was to sit at home and not work.
Meryl Steep was seen in an affair with Keegan-Michael Key, twenty years her junior, on The Prom. Do you see something like this happening here?
No, it can’t happen here. I don’t think much happens in the West either. Even if it does, it is generally along the lines that the man will find a younger girl and leave the older woman. That’s the mindset.
You played Kanwaljit Singh’s mother in Sardar Ka Grandon. You have often played her lover both in movies and on television. Was it strange to see him played as your son?
We are professionals and that is why it does not matter. I’ve played Feroze Khan’s older sister, for that matter. I have also played the mother of actors who are only ten years younger than me. Maybe someday the audience will see Kanwaljit and me again, playing our real age in a drama. My role was so good that nothing else mattered.
What was your first reaction when you heard the story of Sardar Ka Grandson?
When I found out that I would be playing a 90-year-old man in the movie, I told my manager that I wasn’t even going to hear the story and that it was a no from me. But he told me to listen to the narration and then decide. Kaashvi (Nair), the director narrated the script to me and when she finished I told her that I am a game. He had questions about the whole house moving process as shown in the movie so I asked him about it and he said he had done his research. In fact, the other day someone commented on my Instagram post that they had seen this happen in Germany. This is the case, although rarely. Also, I don’t feel like the love between a grandson and a grandfather has been explored much in our films. It is something else. Touch your heart.
What was the hardest part about playing a nonagenarian?
I got so many photos of people’s grandmothers and they told me I look exactly like them. One of my friends sent me a picture of her grandmother in the winters with the same cap and scarf and said I looked like her. Then I knew we passed the appearance test. But initially we had some problems. We experimented a lot. We made a mold and it was scary. Then I tried many things and different people worked on the prosthetics. We had to keep in mind that it cannot hinder my performance. They wanted something complete, but I couldn’t get excited. So we decided
in patches around my cheeks. It took me two hours to get ready every day. The worst part was that we were working late and after packing up while everyone rushed to their rooms, I was stuck there to remove my makeup for a good hour and a half.
It was fun. We shot in Patiala at the end of December. It was so cold
I used to wear two leg warmers on top and then wear my costume, two pairs of socks, and then a cap. We shot around a farm, so the place was beautiful. The weather was nice and the food at Patiala was fabulous. We lived in a beautiful old palace. We got to know each other very well and Arjun (Kapoor) was a lot of fun. He kept telling jokes. He is a very hardworking boy. We rarely saw him in the evening for dinner because he intermittently fasted so that he would eat early. He was disciplined and did his workouts diligently. But on set we had a great time. Kaashvi is a cool cat too, we always kept goofing around on the sets.
The film revolves around his character’s memories of his past. What is your strongest memory of your life before becoming an actor?
I am from Delhi, so when I came to Mumbai in 1981, it was difficult. He had no godfather and had no idea of the rules of the game. So after every two months, I would want to go back, but something always came up. Although I still miss Delhi, Mumbai is my home now. But when I go back and visit places that I used to go to during school and college, sometimes it hurts a little. It is a sweet pain that will always remain and those are the most nostalgic moments of my life.