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Neena Gupta: Based On What I Said Or Wore, I Was A ‘Behenji’ Or ‘Shameless’

Posted: July 12, 2021

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Neena Gupta’s rise like a phoenix—bagging lead roles in films like Badhaai Ho, and The Last Color, and sweeping the Best Actress award in her sixties, is nothing short of inspiration.

There’s something real and awe-inspiring about Neena Gupta.

She’s that lone wolf you’ve seen throughout your childhood and well into your adulthood. When she falls down, you know she will eventually find her way—pick up the broken pieces on the floor, stick it out, and make herself whole again.

Ever since I started reading Sach Kahun TohNeena Gupta’s memoir, I cannot stop myself from sounding like a stuck tape recorder on how exceptional Neena Gupta and her journey is.

I’ll walk you through some supercharged shots in between the pages of this book.

1. On being labelled and stereotyped

Neena Gupta starts off by brushing aside the labels given to her by the media—‘The original rebel,’ ‘Self-confident,’ and ‘Unapologetic.’ She writes,

I know it’s contradictory to be called ‘behenji’ and ‘shameless’ in the same breath but these two words have been the most descriptive of my life. I was a Sanskrit-loving girl who wore tops with spaghetti straps, and that confused people. So depending on the day, based on what I said or wore, I was a ‘behenji’ or ‘shameless.’

Image source: film Gandhi

Sach Kahun Toh is her reclaiming of autonomy and power on her own life, that warrants inspiration and thought.

2. On reins put on Indian girls, and the fallacy of the Great Indian Marriage

Neena discusses how her impulsive decision to marry Amlan, her boyfriend, wouldn’t have happened, had it not been for her orthodox family.

You understand her plight and the desperation to cut cords, and fly free into the world.

Marriage is often a gruesome fallacy many girls and women have fallen prey to. Still do. A flawed perception that marriage is a ticket to freedom for an Indian woman.

Image source: film Saath Saath

Though progressive for her times, Neena Gupta’s mother, Shakuntala Gupta, was still a victim of our patriarchal society.

‘Kya faida hua? I would ask. ‘Ladki bigad gayi na, even though you put me in an all-girls’ college?’

Thankfully Neena Gupta was always a step ahead, itching to find her freedom and place in society.

3. On the reality of ‘happy divorces’

Vismaya’s death is a reminder of the prevailing stigma around divorced women in our country. So, I found it pertinent when Neena Gupta shared an amusing incident during her divorce proceedings.

‘DIVORCE??’ she practically screamed. ‘Why? You both seem so nice and comfortable with each other. He even went out to buy you a Coke. My husband wouldn’t care even if I were dying of thirst…How can you think of divorce?’

We both laughed at this.

‘But we don’t want the same things anymore, so we might as well go our separate ways before it’s too late,’ I said.

Image source: film Utsav

How I wish more Indian women would be like Neena Gupta—come out of the ‘Log Kya Kahenge’ syndrome, find the courage to walk away from headless relationships, and carve a path independently!

4. On finding home in your calling

Neena Gupta’s ardent love for cinema inspires you to find your life purpose.

But I had become too ambitious and didn’t see myself ever being a regular housewife. I wanted more from life.

It’s a beautiful thing to listen to someone who’s inspired and talks at length about their passion.

Image source: film Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron

As for me, seeing myself on the big screen for the first time in my life gave me a high.

After Gandhi (where Neena Gupta plays Abhaben), she was sure where she belonged when she booked a one-way ticket to Bombay.

When I had walked out and breathed the salty air of the Arabian Sea for the very first time, my eyes welled up. It was like nothing I had ever felt before. It was like I had just come home. For the very first time.

5. On empathy and gratitude

One of my favourite portions in this book is the unusual but endearing friendship between Neena Gupta and her widowed Sindhi landlady in Mumbai.

‘People will say, look at this widow, going out with her young PG to drink juice and have fun.’

I was shocked when she told me this. From then, I started to feel even more affectionate and protective towards her.

Image source: film Rihaayee

Neena Gupta writes extensively about her family with a mature balance and sense of detachment, coming from a place of love, empathy, acceptance, and gratitude.

She’s changed the names of people when talking about their not-so-good side, out of respect for their families and not to cloud the perception of readers, because of a side they’ve perhaps only shown to her.

She lavishes praises on Amit Sharma, director of Badhaai Ho, who finally gave her the big Bollywood break as a lead actor. I found her quality of praising in public and criticising in private commendable.

6. On embracing vulnerability and owning up to one’s misgivings

Neena Gupta has been as candid as possible in her autobiography, owning up to her insecurities.

Over the years, I have had moments of self-doubt and regret, much like any other parent. I am projected as this strong, independent woman by this media. Fans often call me a ‘rebel’ who is an inspiration to women everywhere.

In truth, though, I am the weakest person and a fool for not seeing what was coming my way.

Siski

Image source: TV series Siski

She takes full responsibility for her life, especially her failures. She attributes her ‘niceness’ to her low self-esteem and declares that she doesn’t want to be known for her ‘niceness’ anymore.

She confesses to being an unsupportive parent when she was dismissive of Masaba’s acting dreams initially. But it stems from her lived experiences of being stereotyped for two-bit character roles in movies.

I’m glad that things have started to change in the industry now and there is enough room for women with all types of faces, bodies, and yes, all ages.

7. On power dynamics

She rues her social conditioning growing up, and how she feared that her mother would blame her for inciting the male gender.

But nobody wanted to discuss these matters because they were awkward topics? They thought that too much knowledge would lead us astray? That we would think we were equal to men?

Image source: film Khalnaayak

She discusses the unequal power dynamics in the relationship between a male teacher and a much-younger female student.

I could see how a young girl could get smitten by a teacher, but honestly, the fact that D was taking it to another level made me wonder if he was using his power and influence to coax her into something undesirable.

She confirms the existence of the casting couch in the industry, adding it’s a ‘choice’ which women can accept or reject, and there’s no judgement from her.

A South Indian producer propositioned Neena Gupta, but she refused to trade her body for roles.

8. On heartbreaks and finding love

Neena Gupta discusses her romantic relationships, including Vivek Mehra, her husband.

There is no bitterness when she talks about her past relationships. Still, you feel her pain when she talks about a certain ex, and your heart will twinge when reading about her ordeals as a single mother.

I had just Rs. 2000 in my bank account, and I had been informed by the doctor that I would need a caesarean. The operation would cost Rs. 10,000. I was so scared and upset.

Image source: TV series Saans

Women must speak about their past relationships like a natural course of life. There’s an unnecessary, almost creepy preoccupation in this country about what happens between a woman’s legs — her virginity and relationships.

A woman can find love at any stage of their life. And that’s none of anyone’s goddamn business.

9. On being the underdog

An incredibly talented artist like Neena Gupta was sidelined and overlooked for lead roles on the big screen until after forty long years.

Post her marriage with Vivek Mehra, she was considered ‘retired’ by the TV and movie industry, finally making her snap.

Image source: film Badhaai Ho

It’s when she put up her viral ‘Instagram’ post- ‘I live in Mumbai…am a good actor looking for good parts to play.’

I had tears flowing down my warm cheeks when I read Masaba’s emotional response to her mother’s Instagram post seeking work.

Neena Gupta’s rise from the ashes like a bright phoenix—bagging lead roles in commercial films like Badhaai Ho, and The Last Color, and sweeping the Best Actress award in her sixties, is nothing short of inspiration.

10. On dealing with judgement

People continue to judge Neena Gupta.

Image source: film The Last Color

I firmly believe that Neena Gupta was born far ahead of time. Not just in her professional sphere, when the progressive roles she essayed were tainted as ‘playing the vamp’. But also on the social sphere, it’s not easy, even in 2021, for an Indian woman to go against her family, friends, well-wishers, and the world to have a baby out of wedlock. Neena Gupta’s case is unique, and very different from the other noted single mothers like Sushmita Sen and Raveena Tandon.

The best part is she doesn’t care.

I honestly don’t think about what people will say when I decide to do something. Especially when I know in my heart that my intentions are good and I have nothing to be guilty for.

Which reminds me you have to read the Deepak Qazir episode in the book, another favourite part.

Why Neena Gupta’s memoir Sach Kahun Toh Is A Must-Read Book

Irrespective of your life’s calling, ‘Sach Kahun Toh’ will inspire you long after you flip in the back cover of the book and stash it away in your library.

Apart from being an internationally acclaimed award-winning actor, producer, and director, Neena Gupta is a credible writer, which is evident in this book.

Sach Kahun Toh is easily one of the finest and most engrossing memoirs I have read to date.

Want a copy of this book?

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Header image from YouTube and book cover via Amazon

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