Bollywood actress Neha Dhupia, who was recently present in Kolkata for the East Zonal Crowning Ceremony of Femina Miss India, in an exclusive interview with IBNS-TWF correspondent Souvik Ghosh, shares her journey from the beauty pageants to film industry
How does it feel to be the mentor in Femina Miss India being the former winner of the pageant?
It feels fantastic. I am just happy to be the mentor. This is the third year in a row that I am a mentor. It is another feather in my cap. For the first two years, I had Manushi Chhillar and Meenakshi Chaudhary who have gone up and won international pageants and both of them have been from up north. This is the first time they (Femina Miss India) put me on east and west duties.
Do the pageants pave the way for the winner to venture into films?
It is a part of it. It serves the platform for one to do what she wants. With the kind of media glares, they can get inch closer to their dreams. Now I only hope the dream that they share with us behind the closed doors is very similar to the dream they actually have. I really want out of girls that they should be themselves which is the most important thing.
You have witnessed a sea-change in Bollywood over the years. Any reason for that change?
I feel the storytelling is defined by society. The storytelling is the kind of subjects people socially talk about. At the same time, the storytelling is also defined by the kind of audience that is ready for it. So I feel it is also the audience which defines the storytelling. The audience has changed resulting in the change in the film industry. Now the filmmakers can’t feed the audience, who are way too smart, with anything. The audience won’t buy the stuff if the filmmakers mislead them or do not fulfill their promises through films.
Are the scripts now written with bigger space for women characters?
Yes absolutely. Though people say powerhouse performers have come out, I believe power house scripts have also come out now. I love the sound of Alia Bhatt or Deepika Padukone or Anushka Sharma being the leads in films.
They are driving the box office because they were given good scripts and also performed at that level. Also these actresses demand the kind of payments that they do. I am really happy that I have seen both sides of the film industry in the number of years that I have spent here and the direction that we are headed towards is phenomenal.
What is your take on disparity in remuneration of women actors in Bollywood?
It is changing. I don’t know how much anybody gets paid but rumours say the situation is getting better. The equal payment for men and women actors is a far future for sure but there are women who drive the box office and there are subjects that are made like that.
It is great to see that films are doing so well with women actors in the lead like in the case of Raazi, Queen, Manikarnika or even Pari. It is great to see the actresses turning producers. So equal wages is something in which we need to work a little more at every levels. I am in the industry for 17 years and I am not sure about the pay cheque of a male actor who spent the same number of years in Bollywood. Somewhere we need to raise our voices and put our foot down and it will happen.
How do you choose your film? Do you look for your character or the script?
For me, I feel like it is the script because looking at something as far as one’s character is concerned is very small and myopic. I am not in that phase in my career to choose on the basis of character. Even if my character is small and interesting, I will go for the film if I find people will go and watch it because of the script.
You are also hosting the chat shows. How was the experience of venturing into that world?
It has been great. I was the producer myself. I produced the content, worked towards it and worked really hard for three months while doing that. During the last season, I remember I was nine months pregnant. When I was doing my last recording, I remember it was with Kartik Aaryan.
How the life has changed after the birth of Mehr (Neha’s daughter)?
Oh my God! It is the best life. It has been the best years of my life. I love the morning hug which I get from her. Ahh! Oh my God! It is worth it. I don’t know how to describe the feeling. The feeling of seeing her play all around and coming to sleep on my chest is priceless. She is just five months old and now learnt how to give kisses. She gives the sweetest kisses in the world. We are right now in that phase where she is giving free kisses and hugs (smiles).
Any recent projects you are doing?
I have just finished doing Roadies. I did travel with my daughter who was just three months old then. On Apr 27, the brand new season of my chat show BFFs with Vogue will start.
How challenging it is to balance both the personal and professional lives?
Tough. I don’t know how I am managing the whole thing. But I am so crazy about my work and also my daughter. I don’t believe in picking one or the other. I respect every mother who decides to stay at home and look after their kids. But here I am. I believe in the hustle. I am ready to carry my bag on one hand and my daughter on the other. One hundred per cent.