Neena Gupta© GettyImages

HELLO! 100 Most Influential: Neena Gupta

HELLO India Logo
As told to Nayare Ali

Why she matters: An actor par excellence, a spunky single mum and a brutally honest woman with a sense of humour to match, Neena Gupta is in a league of her own. Comfortably flitting between OTT and commercial cinema today, she decodes her second coming and her relationship with daughter Masaba, and looks ahead with renewed optimism.

A few years ago, I had shared a post seeking a job. It went viral and people even called me brave for my vulnerability. Yet, my struggle continued. I was still acting in smaller roles. So much so that I wondered whether my post had made any impact whatsoever.

Neena Gupta©GettyImages

Then Badhaai Ho came my way. I didn’t know the director, Amit Sharma, at the time. But after one of the writers narrated the role, I met Amit and signed the film. In fact, I heard that Tabu had suggested my name for the movie. In Lust Stories 2, I decided to play a grandmother offering intimacy advice to her granddaughter because I felt it wouldn’t look crude if an ageing woman played the role. Having said that, this kind of progressive change will take years to come about in India. We might talk about women’s liberation today, but the ground reality is vastly different. I know this from personal experience.

Making Merry With Masaba

It really isn’t advisable to have a child out of wedlock — in retrospect. Being a single mom is challenging and is tough for the child, too. I feel like I deprived Masaba of a normal life in the absence of a father. She’s very introverted, and we don’t discuss this subject now. But she’s proud to be my daughter. And unlike my character in Lust Stories 2, I’ve never offered any kind of advice to her.

Neena Gupta and Masaba©Instagram

We’re a regular mother-daughter duo. We love each other but also fight, though there’s always mutual respect. Since her marriage, I wait for her to reach out to me. I don’t ask her questions like I did. It’s a difficult transition for any mother, but times have changed, so I believe it best not to interfere.

When she wanted to become an actor, I didn’t discourage her because I lacked confidence in her talent; I was worried about her unconventional looks. She doesn’t look like a Kiara Advani or an Alia Bhatt. I had advised her to train for Hollywood instead.

Neena Gupta Family©Instagram

Our interaction you see on Masaba Masaba is quite similar to our conversations in real life. After the show gained popularity, everyone acknowledged that Masaba was a good actor. But the fact remains that she isn’t getting work, and that’s frustrating. While she says her priority is her fashion business, I know she’s dying to star in a good movie.

A Style Savant

I’ve always been stylish. Today, my daughter is a designer. So while she influences me at present, she was influenced by me during her pre-fashion days. It might appear as though I never repeat my clothes, but the truth is I just style them differently. And I never borrow my outfits from designers; I always buy them. Besides my daughter’s collections, I like Anamika Khanna, Pero, Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Payal Khandwala.

Nothing But The Truth

Sach Kahun Toh was a long time coming. I had been wanting to write my autobiography for a while. During the lockdown, I was in my house in the hills of Mukteshwar for six months. By then, I had also lost my parents, brother and bhabhi. That’s when the flow of writing began. I can’t explain whether it was cathartic, or whether I had healed from the loss of my family members. But I do have this innate ability to be able to move on. I feel I’ve been compensated for all the hardship I survived in recent times.

OTT Is Overrated!

An old friend once sent me a message saying, “Thank you for opening the doors for us…” While it’s true that I work on a lot of projects in the OTT space, the masses only watch films in theatres, contrary to popular perception.

Actress Neena Gupta©GettyImages

To give you an idea... I recently worked on a movie titled Sabun with Jackie Shroff. We were shooting in East Vikhroli in Mumbai. Both Jackie and I had security guards around us. But the irony is that they were all singing Jackie’s songs from his 1983 debut, Hero! No one recognised me, so I asked my producer why he was wasting money on my security.

“Those people don’t watch OTT,” I told him. That’s why my manager believes I should sign more commercial films. But movies like Badhai Ho are a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The reality is that older actresses only get to play a mother, sister or sister-in-law.

Travel And The Truth about Marriage

While travelling, I believe the company matters far more than the destination. I attempted a solo trip last year, but soon realised it wasn’t for me. So this year, I took a much needed break and travelled to the South of France with my husband.

Besides travel, I also love watching Turkish dramas to relax after a hard day at work. People often ask who takes my videos. They’re often strangers who reach out to me as fans. I request them to shoot my videos. My husband also takes them when he’s with me.

Speaking of my husband… We don’t have a normal marriage. It’s a long-distance relationship since he lives in Mukteshwar and most of my shoots are in Mumbai. When people ask me what makes my marriage work, I always say there’s no set formula. If two partners are inherently good human beings, they can work things out. We have our flaws, but we make it work.

Next For Neena

I completed four projects with Jio. Anurag Basu’s Metro In Dino will be out next year. Sabun releases in September; Vishal Bharadwaj’s Agatha Christie-inspired film, Charlie Chopra & the Mystery of Solang Valley, will also release around then. Next, I’m heading to Kerala for a shoot, after which I return to Mumbai for Anurag’s movie and another with Randeep Hooda.

Neena Gupta©GettyImages

Even after all these years, I don’t feel like I accomplished everything I wanted to achieve, despite being blessed with success. I have many dreams left to fulfil but don’t have the bandwidth to realise them. With continuous shoots, my energy reserves are depleted by the end of the day. But I hope to get my act together and plan this better someday soon!

To see who else is on the list, grab the copy of HELLO! India’s August 2023 issue right here!