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Neena Gupta has won Best Actress for her work in The Last Colour, at Indian International Film Festival of Boston. The Last Colour spotlights the plight of widows in Varanasi through the friendship between a young girl and an older woman.
It was in 2017 that veteran actor Neena Gupta championed herself and asked for work in a short but impactful post on Instagram. Post this, she returned triumphantly to the big screen, winning the Critics Choice Award for Best Actor (Female) for her role in Badhaai Ho at the Star Screen Awards and at the Filmfare Awards, something that as she rightly points out, doesn’t generally happen for women her age.
Adding to her list of accomplishments, she has now received Best Actor for her role as a widow in The Last Colour, a movie directed by Michelin star chef Vikas Khanna, and based on his book of the same name.
The movie, which has received much praise at film festivals, is set in the city of Varanasi, and deals with the friendship between a young girl, Choti, who is a tight-rope walker, and an older widow named Noor. Noor encourages Choti to get an education and stand up for herself, and Choti in turn promises Noor that they will play Holi together –something that tradition forbids a widow. However, when Choti becomes the only witness to the murder of her friend, Anarkali, she is imprisoned on the eve of Holi, jeopardizing everything.
Speaking about the movie, Vikas Khanna has said that he was inspired to make it having seen widowed women in Varanasi who were forced to live in total isolation. “The Last Color is the story of moving on, leaving traditions behind which have been followed for centuries. It’s very close to my heart,” he told PTI in April this year. Adding that he is very fortunate to have worked with Neena Gupta, he also said, “When women get empowered, they can make the shift not just in societies but in our lives.”
The pitiful life of widows in India is an open secret. Widowed women, regarded as inauspicious, or as a burden to their families are abandoned in temple towns and cities like Vrindavan and Varanasi. From destitution to being forced into prostitution, these women live in horrifying conditions, their plight propped up by misogynistic traditions and scriptures. Deepa Mehta’s 2005 film, Water, which also focused on the lives of widows in Varanasi, angered fanatics, precisely because, as my friend Rimli Bhattacharya points out, told the truth about these outdated and inhuman traditions.
The role of one such widow certainly seems to be an apt one for a talented actor like Neena Gupta, who recently said that, “I have always received roles of strong women from the beginning. The media had built my perception of being a strong woman because of my personal life. I wanted to play the damsel in distress, but I wasn’t given an opportunity to explore that kind of a character.”
She will soon be seen in the movie Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, with Badhaai Ho co-star Ayushmann Khurrana which seems to explore gay marriage; and in the upcoming Netflix original series Masaba Masaba, with her daughter Masaba, in which the mother-daughter duo play themselves. She is also looking at relaunching her much loved and award winning TV series, Saans.
Image source: YouTube
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Vijayalakshmi Harish is a book blogger and writer. To paraphrase her librarian, she is a
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