She’s done this before. Neena Gupta’s known to give everyone the blunt edge of her tongue. “I’m not blunt,” she says matter-of-factly, “just straight and honest. There are not many people who are that, and who can take that.” Not for nothing was she the anchor of Indian TV’s first rude show called, Kamzor Kadi Kaun. “It was a flop,” she said, er, honestly. “For the same reason I told you just now.” But it actually showed the way things would detour in the near future, in the manner celeb judges would conduct themselves in reality music shows. Just then, another journo asked if she had ever thought of directing a serial, and Neena gave this very lingering, far-away look, took a deep Saans (and Saanjhi and other things), then turned to a diplomatically silent costar (Rajesh Sharma) sitting next to her, and asked for the laathi lying behind him. “Is ko maaro to, tum log homework kar ke kyon nahin aate'”
One remembered her bluntness when one first came across her at one of the International Film Festivals of India, gupshupping with the iconic Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Zanussi in the makeshift outdoor canteen of a Bangalore theatre, way back in the early 1990s. At least, she has remained consistent. One recalled Ashok Ahuja’s film-within-film, Adharshila, in which she had put in a memorable cameo of a wannabe starlet (sing-songing, “Main na kehti thi ke...” through the film and doing a wonderful parody of a romantic song. But she didn’t make much of a career for herself though she was from the glittering FTII of those days. “Ya, whenever there was a good serious role, it would go to Shabana or Smita or Deepti...never to Neena. Kya karti'”
She’s out of the cinema loop completely now, but has found her niche on the small screen. This was the first time Neena was doing Bengali television, and had come for a two-telefilm package deal for Tara Muzik, Shwet Pathorer Mary by Sourav Sarangi and this one, Lajwanti, by Abhijit Dasgupta. “Rathikant Basu is a good friend of mine, he asked me to do it. I liked the scripts and roles very much, so I agreed. No, I hadn’t heard of the two directors before that.” Having finished with Sarangi and midway through with Dasgupta, could she comment on their differing styles of direction. She thought. Turned to Dasgupta looking at her intently, then to Rajesh, and then a short burst of laughter, telling Rajesh in a stage whisper, “All directors are the same, na'” Interestingly for her, Lajwanti is a Rajinder Singh Bedi classic and Shwet Pathorer Mary was a story by the young director himself.
Dasgupta could, however, offer a comment on her. “She just throws herself into the role ' and so effortlessly. And not for a second does she behave as if she is from Mumbai and has come down here to us.”
And Neena Gupta herself, could she adjust smoothly with a different ambience' “Our work is the same anywhere. Everything has been nice and friendly here. Only, we have got to adjust to the slower pace of work. In Mumbai, you need a hairpin, you get it now. Here, if you need a hairpin, they are very sweet, but it takes a while coming, maybe it will come after an hour, two hours, who knows, tomorrow....” Honestly!
Tara Muzik; July 23; 7:30 pm