In an industry where everyone has their guard up against the tiniest of things, Neena Gupta’s interviews are a refreshing change. The veteran actor drops truth bombs about her place of work in a very matter-of-fact tone. In conversation with Rajeev Masand, Gupta spoke candidly about the challenges of bringing up her daughter Masaba as a single parent.
Never quite making it as a lead in films, Gupta told her daughter to not pursue an acting career in Bollywood. “I told her – ‘If you want to be an actor then you go abroad. Jis tarah tumhara shakal hai, body hai, tumhe yahaan Indian milieu mein bahot kam role milenge (The way you look, the way your body is, you’ll get very few roles in the Indian milieu) even if you become a good actor. So tumko woh heroine nahin milegi. Toh Hema Malini nahin banoge, Alia Bhatt nahin banoge (You will never become a heroine, you will never become Hema Malini, you will never become an Alia Bhatt).”
Gupta touches upon something quite interesting over here about Bollywood’s narrow definition of a ‘heroine’. The heroine needs to ‘look’ (fair, slim) a certain way, and is required to largely have a personality (sweet, mellow) that won’t clash with the hero’s larger-than-life character. Actors like Vidya Balan or Kalki Koechlin have tried to change the status quo with their repeated attempts, but neither of them have been broken the mould that tight-grips Bollywood yet. On the other hand, we have the example of Parineeti Chopra, who had to ‘reinvent’ herself to survive the cut-throat business of being a Bollywood heroine. Neena Gupta’s pragmatism towards her daughter shines a light on a deep-rooted problem in Hindi films, that prevails even in 2019. While perhaps, also subtly reminding everyone of just how deep our racism runs.
In the same conversation, Gupta spoke about her regrets of being too transparent about her personal life with the people at her work place. Gupta’s decision to have her daughter out of wedlock, impacted the roles she began to get, which was of women seen as ‘vamps’. While the leading lady roles went to Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil and Deepti Naval.
Gupta isn’t bitter about her decision, but she does regret Masaba’s loneliness during her growing up years.
Having been a working actor for more than three and a half decades, Gupta broke into mainstream consciousness after 2018’s Badhaai Ho grossed more than 200 crore at the box office. Since then, Gupta has been seen at numerous award ceremonies and participating in many interviews. And it’s such a joy to hear her speak without that filter.