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Bold and dutiful

MALA KUMAR

Neena Gupta dared to be an unwed mother when it was an outrageous thing to do. But the actor-producer now thinks women are better off being married and having kids

Photo: K. Gopinathan

ROLE REVERSAL Neena Gupta: `Nothing is going to change till men start bearing children'

When Neena Gupta lets her hair down, and I mean literally lets her lovely long hair down, she's a different person from the one the world imagines her to be. After three hectic shows of Soorya Ki Antim Kiran Se Soorya Ki Paheli Kiran Tak at the Chowdaiah Memorial Hall, she's relaxed. In place of the harried, edgy producer-actor of the play, we face a smart middle-aged woman lounging at The Park, waiting to go sari shopping before boarding a flight.

Neena Gupta is used to being in the news for the wrong reasons. After playing Abha in the Richard Attenborough film Gandhi, Neena acted in Trikaal, Sooraj Ka Satwan Ghoda, Cotton Mary and Utsav, and yet she is better known as the daredevil who gave birth to cricketer Vivian Richards child.

The child, Masaba, is 17, and Neena is busy producing serials that reach out to the teens. Her serial Saans brought her accolades, and widened the horizon for thousands of middle-aged Indian women.

Her screen persona as the vivacious item number in Khalnayak ("Choli Ke Peechche Kya Hai... ") often merged with her off-screen mage of a trendy, non-conformist, liberated woman, but what does the National School of Drama alumnus armed with an M.Phil. in Sanskrit really have to say about the issue?

Excerpts from an interview:

Why did you choose the Surendra Verma-written Soorya Ki... ?

Because it is bold, beautiful, balanced and still relevant. When Rajendra Gupta told me about this play, I loved it. After a lot of rehearsals, the producer abandoned the project, and I stepped in as producer. And, by the way, all this women's lib stuff is bullshit. In my heart, I always feel that God has been very unfair to women. Nothing is going to change till men start bearing children. And since that is not going to happen, things are never going to be easy for women.

But single mothers are accepted in society today...

But are they respected? I feel women should get married and have children, and then if there are problems in the marriage, the partners must work at saving the marriage. It's just not practical to be a single parent. A child needs both parents. I took a huge risk, and my father, now 83, has always been there for my daughter, and takes care of all the things in my house. But it is still difficult being a single parent.

Acting is a passion...

I've always loved acting, even though my Gandhian mother was totally against my getting into films. She did not like it even when I acted as Abha in Gandhi. We do some roles because they are challenging, we do some others because we have a job to do. People make fun of some of my roles in television serials, but you must understand that serials makers are in business, they are making educational programmes for the masses. For that we have Doordarshan, and I respect DD for that. Apart from producing Saans, Palchin, Siski and Kyun Hota Hai Pyar, I've acted in serials like Dhund, Junoon, Khandan, Des Mein Nikla Hoga Chand and even anchored Kamzor Kadi Kaun. Serials do show some truth. In Saath Phere, Saloni is dark-skinned. But aren't most people in the world colour-conscious? It may be stupid, but we have to accept that that is how the world is!

So serials help you earn money, and theatre helps you earn praise?

At this stage in my career I want to do what I like doing. Rajendra Gupta and I started Sahaj Productions, and we want to take up quality plays. I enjoy reading, and am really happy my mother insisted that I study. Now I'm always content and secure because I have a house full of books of all kinds. I've just found a novel, I can't tell you which, that I want to make into a feature film. I'm looking forward to directing it.

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