An unplanned pregnancy in a middle-class Delhi neighbourhood causes embarrassment and laughs in Amit Sharma’s upcoming Badhaai Ho, starring Ayushmann Khurrana and Sanya Malhotra. However, it is not a pair of young leads but the middle-aged parents of the hero who are at the centre of this action.
Veteran actress Neena Gupta plays the once-again-pregnant mother of the hero, while Gajraj Rao plays her hapless husband, who is at pains to explain the turn of events. Also starring Sheeba Chaddha and Surekha Sikri, the film, written by Shantanu Srivastava, Akshat Ghildial and Jyoti Kapoor, will be released on October 19.
Gupta said Badhaai Ho was the first good script she had come across in a long time. “When the writer narrated the script to me, I just said yes because it was very nice,” she told Scroll.in. “My husband [in the film] is a ticket collector in the Railways and we belong to a very middle-class family. I have a typical mother-in-law. It is a normal family and suddenly this thing happens. The film is about how everybody reacts to it and how we deal with it.”
Gupta made her Hindi film debut with Raman Kumar’s Saath Saath (1982). This was followed by supporting roles in international films including Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982), such notable art-house productions as Shyam Benegal’s Mandi (1983) and Trikaal (1985), and commercial hits including Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (1983). She also won a National Film Award for her turn as a widowed single mother in Woh Chokri (1994).
But Gupta feels she could have had a better run at the movies. “Unfortunately I did not get a lot of good work in films,” she said. “One senior journalist and a friend of mine told me very nicely that in those years all the main roles used to go to Smita [Patil] or Shabana [Azmi]. I did not get many roles. We used to get secondary roles.”
The actress, however, agreed that she had struck gold on the small screen, appearing in many beloved shows from the golden era television, including Doordarshan’s Khaandan (1985), Shyam Benegal’s Yatra (1986) and Bharat Ek Khoj (1988) Gulzar’s Mirza Ghalib (1987) and DD Metro’s Gumraah (1995). This was followed by her hit soap Saans (1998), which she also wrote and directed, about a woman coming to terms with her husband’s infidelity. “Basically the name and fame I got [was] from television and not from films,” the actress said.
Despite her consistent performances, the actress, in 2017, shocked the internet when she shared an Instagram post asking for work. “I live in Mumbai and working am a good actor looking for good parts to play,” Gupta’s post read. In the years leading up to that, Gupta had been seen infrequently– she had played the lead in Pushan Kripalani’s The Threshold (2015) and Sonam Nair’s short film Khujli (2017) – and was not happy with the number of roles offered to her.
“I put up the post because everybody used to think that after my marriage I shifted to Delhi and that I don’t work,” Gupta said. “That is why people were not thinking of me when they were casting. It kept happening again and again and that is why I put up this post out of irritation and frustration.”
A flurry of better roles followed, including Anubhav Sinha’s Mulk (2018) and Badhai Ho. Her upcoming films include Vikas Khanna’s The Last Colour, Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s Panga and Dibakar Banerjee’s Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar.
“Films have changed quite a lot in recent years,” Gupta said. “There are new topics and different kinds of films made. Earlier there was just one type of film being made. Now people are not scared of experimenting and talking about new things.”
Still, the characters offered to actresses are largely a reflection of the roles women are expected to play in society, Gupta said. “In our Indian society, there is no role for a woman of my age,” she explained. “Her role is to look after the family. That is why even in films she gets the roles of grandmothers and people who sit idle. This is what our society and accordingly we have roles in films. It has become a little better but it could be much better.”