On Her Birthday, We Are Tracing Neena Gupta’s Progressive On-Screen Journey

As women, we are all given an invisible handbook with all the rules to live by very early in life. While many women comply, there are some who take the rule book and tear it to pieces. When I think about this analogy, the first name that comes to my mind is Neena Gupta; she’s taken every stone the patriarchal society has thrown at her and turned it into a building block for her own life.

From being a single mother to taking up progressive roles that were way ahead of its time, Neena has always been a game-changer. When female actors in the ’80s and ’90s were still playing damsels running around the trees, Neena was challenging the norm by portraying strong leads in unconventional stories. Even at the age of 58, she fearlessly put out a video on Instagram asking for work and telling the world that she was ready to audition, yet again proving how unbothered she was about the regulations and stereotypes of the world.

On her 62nd birthday, here are some of Neena’s most memorable performances that will forever remain timeless.

1. Gandhi (1982)

Neena Gupta

Neena was chosen to play Mahatma Gandhi’s niece in the 1982 international film Gandhi, directed by Richard Attenborough. The movie focused on Mahatma’s struggle for India’s freedom, in which she played the role of Abha, a performance that remains critically acclaimed.

2. Mandi (1983)

Neena Gupta

With an ensemble cast with Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah, and Ratna Pathak, Neena still left a mark. The story of Mandi revolved around prostitution and the relationship of women in a brothel. In this film, Neena acted as a classical dancer, Basanti, and was lauded for her elegance and expressions.

3. Woh Chokri (1994)

This is the first film Neena Gupta won a national award for as a supporting actress. During an era where live-in relationship was unheard of, Neena played Geeta Devi, a young widow who lives with a man despite the regressive accusations from her surrounding. The movie follows her journey with the man (played by Paresh Rawal) and their daughter as they navigated through the hardships of life.

4. Saans (1998-1999)

Neena Gupta

Saans catapulted Neena into a different league of fame. Not only did she explore the sensitive part of a woman who handles her husband’s adultery with grace in this TV series, but she was also the captain of the ship who wrote and directed this cult show. Neena shed light on the subject of marriage and how a girl’s entire existence shouldn’t amount to her relationship status.

5 Badhai Ho (2018)

Badhai Ho may have seemed like an out and out comedy, but it came packed with a strong societal message. The shame around late pregnancies for women in their 40s and 50s was carefully threaded with a humorous vibe in this film. In this movie, she took on the character of a 52-year-old protagonist who tackles an unplanned pregnancy and deals with the pressure of her extended family and the embarrassment of her grown-up son, played by Ayushmann Khurrana.

6. The Last Color (2019)

Neena Gupta

In chef Vikas Khanna’s debut feature film The Last Color, Neena Gupta engages the audiences yet again through her representation of Noor, a resident of one of Varanasi’s homes for widows. The film traces the growing friendship between Noor and Chhoti, a Dalit street performer. The movie carefully taps into the subject of caste-based discriminations and emerges with a message of humanity beyond everything.

7. Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan (2020) 

Back with her Badhai Ho duo (Gajraj Rao and Ayushmann Khuranna), Neena Gupta in Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan embodies the rural Indian mother who is newly introduced to the concept of homosexuality. She brings honesty to her performance by showing the journey of her character. A mother who initially fails to understand the idea of love comes to terms with her son’s reality and accepts him wholeheartedly.

8. Masaba Masaba (2020)

In Netflix’s Masaba Masaba, you get to see Neena as her unabashed self. Neena and Masaba Gupta play versions of themselves as a mother-daughter duo in this fun and feisty series. You get a peek into Neena’s actual maternal side and how her relationship with her daughter shuffles between friendship and parenting.

Which is your favourite Neena Gupta performance and why? Let us know in the comments below.

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