Neena Gupta on Badhaai Ho: Idea of an older woman getting pregnant drew me to the script
In her 36-year-long career, Neena Gupta has played several memorable roles, but she is overwhelmed with the tremendous response she has been getting for her upcoming film Badhaai Ho. The veteran actress will be seen playing a mother of two grown-up sons, who accidentally gets pregnant. The situation causes the family a lot of embarrassment and living in a middle-class Delhi establishment doesn't help their case. “People from the industry and outside are happy to see me back. I got an amazing response after the trailer came out; it's never happened to me before,” says an ecstatic Gupta.
"The idea of an older woman getting pregnant drew me to the script. It's a topic of discussion today but was no big deal back when women were married off very early and could have a child till they were in their mid or late 40s, by which time the other children were much older. That's still how it is in smaller towns," says Gupta, and the film’s director, Amit Sharma, nods in approval.
“My grandmother and great grandmother were pregnant at the same time. My dadi used to tell us lot of stories about it. My uncle and my grandmother’s youngest brother are the same age. My grandmother delivered first followed by her mother,” he says.
Gupta made her Hindi film debut with Raman Kumar’s Saath Saath (1982). This was followed by supporting roles in international films, including Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982). Gupta was also part of prestigious art-house productions such as Shyam Benegal’s Mandi (1983) and Trikaal (1985), and commercial hits like Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983) and Subhash Ghai’s Khalnayak (1993). She also won a National Film Award for her performance as a widowed single mother in Woh Chokri (1994).
However, the actress believes that she got more fame with her television projects. Her big break on the small screen came with Khandaan, Yatra and Gulzar's Mirza Ghalib followed by Shyam Benegal's Bharat Ek Khoj. She also hosted the Indian version of the TV series The Weakest Link, called Kamzor Kadii Kaun, and appeared in Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin, which gave her considerable popularity. She also directed successful television series, such as Saans, Siski and Kyun Hota Hai Pyarrr.
The seasoned actress, with a huge body of work behind her, feels she could have had a better run at the movies. “I had good roles in some of the films I did but they didn’t get the release. Then, some films didn’t get a big release. 'Choli Ke Peeche' (from Subhash Ghai's Khalnayak) became a huge success but I did not have a role in the film. I did not get to play many good roles. Badhaai Ho strikes a balance because it is a big film; it’s getting a big release and I have very good role in it,” says Gupta, who, recently saw the film with her husband and daughter, Masaba. “I was very scared initially because we had to live up to the expectations. But all of us loved it,” she says.
Since Gupta, the director and many of the cast and crew members hail from Delhi, it was easy getting the little nuances, language and dialect right, but physically it became challenging for the senior actress. “Physically, putting a ‘stomach’ for almost a month was tough. Also, it was a bit embarrassing but I was fine after a few days. For the posture, I didn’t use the crutches of any illness, I just played my character the way script was. I tried to mean the lines I had to say. Actually, I don’t have much to say in the film but I have a lot of reactions to give,” says Gupta, furthering, “Amit knew how a middle-class woman that I play will lie on the bed in winter. She will have a shawl wrapped around her. He is also a very good actor, so he used to act out the scenes. Sanya (Malhotra) is also from Delhi and Ayushmann comes from Chandigarh; he has a very good sense of humour. So it became pretty easy for all of us,” she says.
She continues, “Here, clearly the script was the hero. It was crisp. The subject cannot be dealt with total seriousness. It has to be made with some comic elements in it. And the best part is that comedy was not inserted into it, the situations are such that you will laugh. Also, the comedy is clean, it never gets cheap. The script had everything and there was no need for us to improvise at any point in time.”
Initially, Sharma had Tabu in mind to play the part that Gupta played, but Tabu herself convinced him to go for Gupta. “We hadn’t seen Neenaji on the big screen for a long time. In the beginning I was thinking of Tabu but she suggested Neena to me. Tabu reasoned that it won’t be shocking for people if she played a pregnant woman as she’s in her 40’s and there’s a possibility of her getting pregnant. Then I saw Neenaji’s short film Khujli and felt that she would be correct for the role. Now after watching the trailer Tabu called me to say, ‘See, my input was Neena.’”
Further, when Sharma went to meet Gupta for the narration, he was surprised with her professionalism and simplicity. “I had told Neenaji to meet us in simple clothes, and when we met her, she was wearing simple cotton salwar-kurta. She asked me if it was simple enough. She didn’t have a matching salwar so she had borrowed it from her maid. She is that simple; it was so amazing. She heard the script and immediately asked me when I wanted to start shooting. She surrendered herself and believed in me completely,” says the director.
For Neena, an alumni of the National School of Drama (NDS), and someone who feels at home with theatre (she returned to stage for the first time in 10 years with the play, Mera Woh Matlab Nahi Tha with Anupam Kher, in 2015), the experience of working in Badhaai Ho was like doing a play. “The experience was similar to doing a play, and when it gets over, the set gets demolished and you feel very bad about it. It was that kind of a feeling. We were all crying on the last day as we didn’t want it to end,” says Gupta, who recently shared an Instagram post asking for work. "I live in Mumbai and working. I am a good actor looking for good parts to play," her post read.
“I put up the post because everybody used to think that after my marriage I had shifted to Delhi and don’t work anymore,” Gupta said, and soon after she was inundated with many offers and better roles, including Anubhav Sinha’s Mulk (2018) and Badhaai Ho. Her upcoming films include Vikas Khanna’s The Last Colour, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s Panga and Dibakar Banerjee’s Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar. “It is the best time for actors with young directors coming up with new ideas, real stories. Earlier there was just a certain type of films being made. Now people are not scared of experimenting,” concluded Gupta.
Updated Date: Oct 17, 2018 12:13 PM