Neena Gupta is all set to return in a new avatar – an ignorant village pradhan in the upcoming web show, Panchayat. The actor will be joined by her onscreen son from Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan, Jitendra Kumar, who now turns her office secretary. Unlike the usual push and pull of promotions, Neena is faraway in Mukteshwar where she reached just two days before the 21-day countrywide lockdown.
While Neena continues to share candid videos on Instagram from her life in isolation, she accepts the efforts fall short of cheering her up in these tough times. In a telephonic interview with Hindustan Times from Mukteshwar, Neena opened up about being locked up in a picturesque location, her new web show and also revealed a few secrets of her previous co-stars. Excerpts:
You played Jitendra Kumar’s mom in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, what’s different this time in Panchayat on Amazon Prime Video? Tell us about your role?
No, I am not playing Jitu’s mother in Panchayat. He has come from out of town, and is the office secretary. I am the elected pradhan of the village. But I am not interested in being the pradhan and my husband, played by Raghuvir Yadav, does everything on my behalf, I am not even bothered. I am like how generally women in the village are – worried about their daughter’s wedding and things like that.
The whole series has a touch of comedy. We say a lot of things which are very important in today’s time, especially how we see villages and how things are working there, but everything is in a light-hearted positive way. It’s very different from the other shows on streaming platforms – it’s based in a village. I liked it very much and I think people will love it.
Manu Rishi Chadha humorously told us that being the most senior actor on sets of Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, you were very strict around them. Is that true?
I was very strict with Manu Rishi, he was very naughty. He is like a child. Even during the shot he used to have fun and I used to scold him a lot. All of it was actually a joke. We had a joke among ourselves – he used to say ‘mam, you can scold me a bit before the shot, so my face will look slimmer, my chubby cheeks would go in’. I never felt I was the oldest on the sets, we all became friends and are still friends.
You recently talked about staying positive in the current scenario. How do you stay positive?
As I said, it’s very difficult to stay positive these days. I have not been to this house in Mukteshwar for a long time so I have a lot of domestic work to do, throw away things which are not required and making the guys clean up. I am also cooking new dishes these days.
You have been sewing curtain belts, colouring your grey hair with mascara and wearing your jewellery at home? Is there anything else you are doing these days which you wouldn’t have thought of doing in regular days?
The newest thing I have been doing is – generally, I don’t know names of many flowers. I am not very fond of gardening which I am starting to learn. I have learnt nashpati trees have white flowers and the names of many other different flowers. A lot of birds have been coming here as we throw seeds for them. We send pictures of birds to my brother-in-law (who is a birdwatcher), asking him about the names of those birds.
I am learning a lot about nature. I loved it but I didn’t know much about it. Rajma is grown here so I have been learning which crops grow in which season and how. Weed grows up in grass so I am learning a variety of new things like how to remove the weed from grass.
You have been spreading a lot of good vibes amid lockdown via Instagram. What is that one thing which definitely cheers you up even in these times?
Frankly speaking, nothing cheers me up these days. I push myself to be happy by doing things like reading a lot or watching some series. I keep myself busy so that I don’t have time to think. But as soon as you have no work and you are idle, you think of bad things happening. Nothing cheers me but one tries to be cheerful, what else can one do.
Your decision to go to Mukteshwar during lockdown seems to have been a good decision.
So I was in Mumbai and had some dubbing lined up. Suddenly, I came to know everything is cancelled and no shoot will happen till March 31. I had this house in Mukteshwar and whole of last year I was cribbing as I was very busy and couldn’t come here for a holiday. So I quickly told my husband ‘let’s go as I m free till 31st’ and I will have to come back on 30th’. He was also free, so we reached here on 20th. As we came here, everything was put under lockdown. Fortunately, we brought our staff from Delhi here and I took a chance to fly to Delhi first. We were very fortunate that we are at such a beautiful place, have a small house here, our staff is here. It’s a small place so grocery is also not a problem. We go on walks and our compound is quite nice. It’s just a matter of chance that we came here just two days before the lockdown and now no one can come or go out of this place.
The film and television industry seems to be among the worst hit industries amid coronavirus outbreak.
Actually, I feel the film industry is not the worst hit, there are so many other businesses. The worst hit are the daily wage workers and I don’t know what will happen of them and that’s why they are running to their villages. If they are here, they can’t earn and think that they will at least be with their families. All other businesses like airlines etc are also being hit very badly. Everybody is in a very bad shape. The economy will be very bad for quite some time now.