Neha Dhupia is tired of trolls – and angry.
Dhupia faced their heat through March because of comments made on an episode of the MTV reality show Roadies Revolution. In the subsequent months, India’s keyboard warriors moved on to other targets, but they appear to have returned with the roll-out of the fifth season of Dhupia’s podcast #NoFilterNeha.
The podcast has the actor in conversation with celebrities from the film industry and beyond. The latest season, being streamed on JioSaavn Pro, features actors Saif Ali Khan, Bhumi Pednekar, Kiara Advani, Sonu Sood, Neena Gupta and Ranu Daggubati, along with cricketers Kapil Dev and Sourav Ganguly.
The podcast comes at a time when the internet is awash with anti-Bollywood sentiment following the investigation into Sushant Singh Rajput’s death by suicide. Social media posts of Bollywood actors are inundated with vicious abuse and calls to “ban Bollywood”. Dhupia is alarmed by the hate wave.
“How can you hate an industry that entertained you, your parents, your grandparents, your great-grandparents for decades?” Dhupia told Scroll.in. “You can’t be toxic to us just because we are in films. We are also doing our jobs. Are we suddenly not good enough? Are we unable to entertain you? No, the problem is everyone is sitting at home. They see movie stars looking good, being fit and famous, earning money while entertaining people, so they decide to pull us down. But it’s just a small group of people thinking like that.”
Dhupia’s encounter with trolling began five months ago. In a video clip from Roadies Revolution that later went viral, Dhupia was seen ticking off a contestant after he claimed to have slapped his ex-girlfriend for cheating on him. Dhupia said that a woman was free to choose her partners and could not be hit.
She was greeted by a torrent of abuse, especially since in another episode, she had applauded a woman for slapping men. When the insults reached her family, Dhupia released a statement on Instagram explaining her stance towards women’s safety.
She finds the negative attention hurled at celebrities on social media perplexing. On her birthday on August 27, when her fans began to trend a hashtag, her committed haters poured out their bile in retaliation. “Is it my fault I am trending?” Dhupia wondered. “Did I choose my birthday? I am shocked that I am so important when far more important things are happening in the country.”
According to Dhupia, the hate directed at Bollywood professionals is at odds with the ever-increasing subscriber base for streaming platforms.
“OTT platforms are doing better than ever right now,” Dhupia said. “Everyone is at home watching content. Are these people not going to go to theatres ever? They will the moment theatres are open. Today if a celebrity wears a kaftan or a fluorescent shirt, it becomes a headline, surely because he or she has done something good in life. These trolls need to look inwards and really introspect what their life is about.”
Listing the names featured on the latest season, Dhupia said: “Do they have a problem with all these people? Have they not done enough to bring joy to everyone’s lives? With complete humility, I say that I bring about good conversations full of great human stories and laughter, and these are the ingredients the world needs right now. So we don’t need to focus on the hate. They will talk, talk, talk, and then they get tired. We won’t stop working.”
Dhupia’s skills as an expert conversationalist are also evident in the television chat show BFFs with Vogue, which is on the Colors Infinity channel and being streamed on Voot. Like #NoFilterNeha, BFFs with Vogue also has Dhupia in the host’s chair, getting movie actors to be spontaneous and frank.
“The key to having a good conversation is to be a good listener,” Dhupia said. “Sometimes, whom you are speaking to may have already answered your next few questions, but if you are inattentive, you will ask the question you have got your answer to again. I experience it myself when I am interviewed.”
Dhupia doesn’t discuss the themes of an interview with her guests in advance. While the conversation “can dip” on television because the audience has several visually appealing items to take in, that can never be the case with a podcast.
“I also need to create an environment that is private and intimate on a podcast, where it feels like the audience is listening in,” Dhupia added. “But on a television set, there are cameras and people, and it can’t be that intimate.”
Dhupia’s commitments to her talk show, podcast, and the MTV Roadies brand with which she has been associated since 2016 run concurrently with her Bollywood career. After winning the Miss Universe India 2002 pageant, Dhupia began a career in the movies.
She made a splash with the erotic romance Julie (2004) before finding her groove in dramas and comedies by independent-minded directors, such as Sanjay Khanduri’s Ek Chalis Ki Last Local (2007) and Rajat Kapoor’s Mithya (2008).
While her early films usually had her playing attractive but deceptive characters, her recent releases, such as Moh Maya Money (2016), Tumhari Sulu (2017), and Lust Stories (2018), saw her playing confident and assertive career women.
The secret of Dhupia’s longevity in the film industry? “If you are in entertainment, you have to stop taking yourself seriously,” Dhupia said. “You have to wake up every day, with the thought that I have to work. Be it going to a movie set or a hosting job, I need to get up and work, as it gives me instant gratification and a huge sense of confidence and comfort. ”
She had once wanted to pursue a career in the Indian Foreign Service, but eventually realised that her real passion was for cinema.
“In the beginning of my career, someone told me, all this is fine for two-three years, then you will stop,” Dhupia said. “Then when Phas Gaye Re Obama was released in 2010, my father asked me when I was getting a real job. I told him but this is my real job. I am a part of the film industry, and I accept all its ups and downs. Recently, I lost a project because the dates clashed with the Roadies shoot. So what? I will get something else. This is where I have spent half my life and this is where I belong.”