Veteran actress Neena Gupta has delivered compelling performances in every medium of audio-visual content.
Be it the 1982 Richard Attenborough directorial ‘Gandhi’, ‘Woh Chokri’ for which she bagged the National Award for Best Supporting Actress, her comeback vehicle ‘Badhaai Ho’ for the big screen, or the riveting drama ‘Saans’, the travel-based TV series ‘Yatra’, ‘Kamzor Kadii Kaun’ for TV or the comedy-drama ‘Panchayat’ for OTT, the actress has always outperformed herself.
However, she particularly recalled how tough it was for her to work in the licensed TV show ‘Kamzor Kadii Kaun’ inspired from the British original series ‘Weakest Link’. So much so that it affected her health. In a recent conversation with IANS, the actress took a walk down the memory lane of her journey as an actress, working across the medium of entertainment and the second season of her hugely popular series ‘Panchayat’.
Many people, especially the ’90s kids will remember her for her stint in ‘Kamzor Kadii Kaun’ but for Neena, a person with a very calm and sweet demeanour, the experience of working as a show host, who practices roast or insult humour, was quite exhausting.
She remembers, “I had a month-long rehearsal because it was a licensed program. Moreover, there were some rules which I had to follow like I only had to wear black. After that one month, I had to go for an MRI as a result of the tedious amount of rehearsals we went through.”
Despite all the efforts, the show didn’t click with the audience at large because they weren’t acclimatised or ready for an insult based humour, perhaps they still aren’t today, as Neena says, “People did not like this kind of humour and it flopped. I guess people do not generally like the roast culture here where we make fun of other people but as an actor I think it was a very difficult thing for me and I worked very hard for it.”
Her other piece of work that has gained a cult status over the years and has become a bible for cinephiles is the 1983 satirical black comedy ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’ where she worked along with some of the towering personalities of Hindi cinema.
The actress shares that she jumped on the opportunity to work in the film because the volume of work was far too less back then. The other driving force for her to say ‘yes’ to the project was the team of accomplished theatre personalities.
She states, “There used to be very less work back then and in such a good set up where there were good theatre actors who were going to work together so there was nothing to think about specifically when I signed for that film. So more than a drive it was about doing that project as the work was very less and there was always someone who was going to replace you if you didn’t take the part.”
Sharing how things unfolded on the sets of ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, she mentions, “When we started shooting that film we used to rehearse it like a play. And I also had a good track with Ravi Vaswani (in the film) which was cut because the film was becoming too long. But doing that film was too much fun and I used to take auto rickshaws and spend my own money to go to the location.”
Her show ‘Panchayat’ is about to drop on Prime Video on May 20.
Ask her what’s her mindspace like currently with ‘Panchayat’ and her daughter Masaba Gupta’s anthology’ Modern Love: Mumbai’, both coming up on Prime Video and she says, “To be honest I don’t have any space in my mind (laughs). ‘Modern Love: Mumbai’ is already happening and then ‘Panchayat’ is going to drop and post that we have ‘Masaba Masaba’ (on Netflix) as well. It’s been 2 years since ‘Panchayat’ came out, there have been a lot of expectations. The only thing running on my mind is to meet these expectations.”
She is a firm believer of content being the ultimate driving force for the audience, “I believe that if something is good then a lot of people are going to see it. And the fact that ‘Panchayat’ is on OTT gives the advantage of people watching it anytime they want and unlike the regular television show which has a specific time of airing.”
She has reinvented herself at every step of her career, not to forget her artistic brilliance as a writer-director and actor in ‘Saans’. However, she looks back at her journey in a different way as in her opinion things would have been “much better” had she got her break a little earlier as she feels she “would have done much better and more qualitative work”.
“But it’s your destiny I feel”, she says as she appreciates and accepts the audience’s love that has come her way. “I feel thankful that I have gotten work for now. Actually, when I look back it’s not been very bad and I had done very good work when satellite television started and I have done some amazing plays as well. I am really thankful to God for whatever I have got and I have got such good parts to play”, she concludes in the same vein of calmness.
By Akshay Acharya