No matter how much we’d love to believe we are progressive and modern, our patriarchal mindsets still look at a woman of a marriageable age as a commodity that needs to be tied down. Dare you raise a child out of wedlock and all hell breaks loose. In a society that finds independent, headstrong women too difficult to digest, Neena Gupta tore boundaries and decided to have a child, while she was single.
She was in a relationship which was nobody’s business, but when she got pregnant, suddenly all eyes were on her.
It was her choice to raise her daughter, even when the world was turning its back on her. A brave decision for a woman at any given point of time in her life. Forget society, you are dealing with your own vulnerabilities and fighting your own demons.
An excerpt from an interview she gave a while back to the Times Of India,
Because I was working, I could not even get married and have a sibling for her. My friends told me don’t do this, but I was young and had the nasha, so did it. I feel it was very tough for me and I did my best. But I had to do bad movies, as I needed the money to bring her up. I lost my mother to cancer, so once Masaba was born, my father moved from Old Delhi to live with me in Mumbai. He became the man of the house till he died five years back. He also was my anchor, even though initially, he was dead against my decision to go ahead with my pregnancy. Even though he was very orthodox, once he knew that I had decided, he stood by me like a rock.
She broke away from the norm, bent the rules and dare we say, survived it with much aplomb.
It was this strength of character that has in a way shaped Neena Gupta’s career as well. Always a risk taker, Neena starred in some of the finest movies of our time, but ones that may have paid dividends now but were exceptionally risque back then.
She admits to having starred in a few films, not by choice but compulsion, because she had a child to raise. She says,
I feel it was very tough for me and I did my best. But I had to do bad movies, as I needed the money to bring her up. I lost my mother to cancer, so once Masaba was born, my father moved from Old Delhi to live with me in Mumbai. He became the man of the house till he died.
Despite hardships, Neena Gupta played a dominant role in the parallel cinema movement of the 80s. In 1982, she starred in the Hollywood film Gandhi, and went on to do roles in several cult classics, like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron and Mandi. She went on to win a National film award for her portrayal of a widow in Woh Chokri.
Not many actors of her calibre would choose to gyrate to a number like, Khalnayak’s Choli ke peeche kya hain, in a movie that wasn’t even centered around her. But Neena Gupta was always the one to break away from the mould, and the song went on to create popular culture history.
Neena Gupta was making her mark in both television and films around the same time. Her big break on television came with Khandaan (1985), Yatra (1986), Gulzar’s Mirza Ghalib (1987), a TV miniseries, followed by Shyam Benegal’s Bharat Ek Khoj (1988) and later Dard (1994 DD Metro).
But the one character, that catapulted her to instant stardom and made her a name to reckon with, was Priya Kapoor in Saans.
The soap was a modern take on adultery, broken marriages and definitely path breaking in many ways. Her bindi, her strong character, the subtle nuances of a relationship, everything was beautifully captured in the serial, which also happened to be written and directed by Neena Gupta.
In an old interview with the Tribune, Neena Gupta says,
The 35+ women are so eminently dumpable. In Saans, I am calling upon this ‘lost’ generation to take its dithering destiny in hand and get on with life — to achieve an identity which will last women for a lifetime. It is the 35+ wife-mother who is being brutalised today by erring or inconsiderate husbands and facing the responsibility of bringing up children.
And who can forget her recent outing with Jackie Shroff, in Khujli, a short film about a middle-aged Indian couple trying to re-awaken the romance.
Again, refreshing topic and a breath of fresh air. Neena Gupta has never been the one to shy away from bold subjects, not when she was 20, not when she is 58.
Neena Gupta is one celebrity who commands respect, both for her onscreen persona and the life she has led. Her unconventional choices throughout her life, as a woman, makes her that one story we need to celebrate. She has raised a strong, independent woman in fashion designer Masaba Gupta, never stopped working, even when the going was very tough, especially as a single mother, she never gave up her passion for acting, she survived odds and stayed relevant for decades as an artist, and more importantly took charge of her life and never turned bitter.
Stories such as these, come seldom, and when they do, they deserve to be read and celebrated.