Best Neena Gupta roles: It was during a special screening of the 1985 release Trikal at a film appreciation session in our university, that actor Neena Gupta caught my attention. The National Film Award winner essays the role of Milagrenia in this Shyam Benegal directorial, which was way ahead of its time. If you watch the film, you’ll know why she is an unmissable character in this cinematic gem.
Gupta’s filmography is full of many such gems, that are often relished only by viewers who appreciate what was once infamously known as “parallel” or “art” films. Things have changed in the past few years and Gupta is basking in all the opportunities she is getting to showcase her talent. The proficient actor holds the attention of the viewers even if she is in the frame for a few seconds. She is one of those very few actors who can pull the focus away from the lead characters.
In the beginning of her acting career, Neena Gupta, who started off with theater, was part of numerous applaudable Hindi films such as Gandhi, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, and Mandi. These films won her critical applause, but massive popularity for her film work has come only in recent years.
In the present cinematic climate, the 61-year-old actor is adapting to the changing norms and simultaneously pushing the boundaries. And while doing so she is also proving herself as an unparalleled actor.
Playing Priyamvada Kaushik, a middle aged woman facing social judgement for bearing a child, in the 2018 film Badhaai Ho came as a breakthrough role for the actor. The film tackles the stigmatised subject of a couple expecting a baby in old age, and the versatile actor aced the role with her stirring performance.
Act your age
The subject of Bollywood not casting age appropriate actors has been discussed oftentimes. Although, essaying a role which doesn’t match the artist’s real age isn’t reprehensible, but why must the opportunity not go to people who easily fit the bill, rather than those who will have to use prosthetics and CGI to morph into the character?
Neena Gupta, much like the onlookers, remarked at the casting of young actors for the role of 60-something sharpshooters in the biographical film Saand ki Aankh. Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar, both in their thirties, featured as the female lead characters Chandro Tomar and Prakshi Tomar also known as Shooter Dadi.
“Hamari umar ke role toe kamsekam humse kara lo bhai (At least cast us for the role that suit our age),” the veteran actor wrote in Tweet.
Yes i was just thinking about this hamari umar ke role toe kamsekam humse kara lo bhai https://t.co/6Fmrxn0HbE
— Neena Gupta (@Neenagupta001) September 24, 2019
The comment was blown out of proportion which followed a clarification from from the actor. Neena Gupta stated that she failed to understand how the statement was taken in ill context. “I wished that an older woman like me would have played it and it doesn’t mean I wanted bad for anyone else,” she explained.
The mould of typecasting
Actors have time and again spoken up about being typecast post major success of one of their characters. But Neena Gupta had to face a different set of challenges in the beginning of her acting career. The critically-acclaimed actor, who had a child, Masaba Gupta, out of wedlock with cricketer Viv Richards and raised her single handedly, was labeled “strong woman”, she claims.
“’Strong woman’ ensured I got vampish or single woman roles,” said the actor in an interview.
Neena Gupta, who believes this particular label is perceived in a negative context, mentioned, “My personal life got typecast into my professional life”.
In the buddy-drama Veere Di Wedding, she plays the role of a mother constantly looking for a suitable groom for her daughter, on the other hand, she takes up the role of a demure woman, Tabassum, alongside Rishi Kapoor in the Indian drama Mulk.
What is still less talked about is the actor’s comic timing (we mostly miss out on that when it comes to female actors), which she effortlessly brings on the screen. Particularly, her performance in the queer rom-com Subh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, wherein she essays the role of the protagonist’s mother, Sunaina Tripathi.
Mainstream Hindi films aside, she featured in the content-driven film The Last Color based on the book penned by Indian chef Vikas Khanna of the same name. In this film, directed by Khanna himself, she played the character of a widow who lives a life of total abstinence. The Last Colour was screened across various international film festivals, bagging the award for Best Feature film at the Dallas International Film Festival.
The crossover artist
The rise in OTT platforms has given actors abundant possibilities to shine. Like many contemporary actors from her generation, OTT enabled Gupta to find a fan following among the younger generation of viewers. The actor has so far starred in two widely-popular web series, Panchayat and Masaba Masaba. In the former comedy-series she plays Manju Devi, the Sarpanch of a rural village whose husband gets to call all the political shots of her career, while in the latter she was seen playing herself in the semi-fictional series based on the life of her daughter and fashion designer Masaba.
Speaking of her forthcoming ventures, she’ll be starring in Vikas Bahl’s slice-of-life film Goodbye alongside Amitabh Bachchan. Reportedly, the next seasons of her two web series are also in pipeline, despite the hiccups presented by COVID-19. From the looks of it, it seems like Neena Gupta is just getting started.