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Interview Hindi

I have the confidence to do more: Neetu Kapoor on her return to acting

The veteran actress speaks about her comeback role in JugJugg Jeeyo, her career as a young woman and her dream collaborators.

Sonal Pandya

After nearly a decade, Neetu Kapoor is returning to the big screen in the multi-starrer JugJugg Jeeyo (2022), directed by Raj Mehta. The veteran actress last appeared with her husband Rishi and son Ranbir in the film Besharam (2013).

Ahead of the film’s release on 24 June, the actress spoke in a group interview about her return to acting, her apprehensions on set and who she would like to work with next. The extremely candid veteran, who was elegantly dressed, often had the group in splits with her self-deprecating quips and anecdotes.

Kapoor revealed that it was Ranbir’s idea that she resume working after some time had passed after her husband’s death. It helped that filmmaker Karan Johar was over for dinner at the time and had a story idea in mind for her.

She shared, “He came the next day with the director and made me listen to the script of JugJugg Jeeyo. It was such a good script. I said I’m doing this. Uske baad, it was like, koi balm lagata hain zakhmon pe. My heart was feeling so nice, ke mein abhi kuch karne wali hoon.”

The thought of work and preparation helped her cope with grief. She continued, “I’ll always be very thankful to Karan for offering me [the part]. Now I have the confidence to do more. Pehle toh maine socha bhi nahin tha ke mein movies karongi. My life was my husband and my children. But now I feel this is the best thing to do: work to keep yourself occupied. I’ve already said yes to one show, which I’ll be doing in October.”

However, Kapoor, who will be 64 in July, admitted being back on set was daunting after all these years, especially performing a two-page scene. “I was so nervous that I wouldn’t remember [my dialogues], and on top of that, how would I perform? But it went off well. I went to Chandigarh and Raj would tell me every day, those lengthy scenes, we are going to do them soon. For 10 days, I had tension and on the tenth, I had COVID-19,” she laughed.

With Anil Kapoor in JugJugg Jeeyo

The COVID outbreak meant Kapoor got a year to prepare and by then her confidence had built up again and she looked forward to performing. The veteran actress started her career as a child artiste, Baby Sonia, in films like Do Kaliyan (1968) and Waris (1969). As a young woman, she gained notice for her pairing with Rishi Kapoor in Rafoo Chakkar (1975) and Khel Khel Mein (1975), which went on to become hits.

After her marriage to Rishi, she quit acting and concentrated on her family and children. She returned with bit parts in Love Aaj Kal (2009) and Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012) — opposite Rishi once again — and the couple headlined the quirky family comedy Do Dooni Chaar (2010), directed by Habib Faisal, which went on to win the National award for Best Feature Film in Hindi.

She recalled, “Jab Tak Hain Jaan was one scene. Love Aaj Kal was one shot. Besharam, I don’t even count. Do Dooni Char, I’m proud of because that got the National award, and I did it to do my husband a favour. I was never keen. But today, I want to work. Those days I didn’t want to work. It was just like I am doing them a favour.”

She added that she was initially excited to be working with her husband and son, but once she got on set, it was all about her role, the scene and dialogues. “Once the camera is switched on, then you forget that people are watching,” she said, “Because I’ve been working as a child artiste, I don’t have those inhibitions on camera; that is only my plus point today.”

Asked if she was the first choice for Jaya Bachchan’s role in Kal Ho Na Ho (2003), Kapoor shared she was hesitant to return in front of the camera.

“It’s not that I didn’t want to act,” she explained, “Also, I was not in that frame of mind. My husband never asked me not to work, but he was a very possessive man. He wanted me to be home; if I even went out, he would go crazy. He used to get very insecure, so, for me to leave my husband and go for a shoot, I could not imagine. He would not say no, but I know that man would have been miserable for two months.”

Speaking about her career as a young actress, Kapoor brushed off all compliments and said she couldn’t recall how she did it. She said, “I was so young. I think what worked was that I was unaware. What people liked, I feel, is my naturalness. I looked like a normal person. So that was my USP.”

With Rishi Kapoor

In the 1970s and 1980s, she worked with the top directors of the time, including Manmohan Desai and Yash Chopra. She was part of another multi-starrer and cult classic Amar Akbar Anthony (1977).

Speaking about the legendary director’s famous logic in his films, she remembered a scene in which her character Salma, a doctor, examines Jenny (Parveen Babi) and after checking her pulse proclaims she was pregnant. “Manmohan Desai can do anything,” she stated to laughter in the room, “That’s the way [he] was. That was his art, he used to convince people and keep you so entertained. If you see Amar Akbar Anthony even today, you know it is stupid but still, you enjoy it.”

Kapoor even revealed she shot for one scene in Coolie (1983), but then decided to get married so she wrote a letter and returned the money. Back then, she felt she didn’t do much in her career. Kapoor went on to say, “Those days I never understood; I just did whatever came, to the best of my ability, at that age. But today, I feel I can give a lot. I can really work on a role. I want to see what I get now, where my life will go because I really don’t know where I’m going.”

Kapoor believed that every generation would identify with JugJugg Jeeyo. “Every husband is like a Bheem and every wife is like Geeta,” she said, “It’s amazing how Raj has written this script. All of you ladies will like my role a lot.”

The film doesn’t explore the cliched daily soap stereotypes of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationships. In fact, Kapoor explains, in the film, they are so close that her character loves her daughter-in-law more than her son. It was like the relationship she enjoyed with her own mother-in-law, Krishna Raj Kapoor.

Her son and new daughter-in-law, Alia Bhatt, didn’t give her any advice but encouraged her to return to acting every step of the way, instilling confidence in her. Kapoor disclosed that her late husband wanted Ranbir and Alia to marry when he was in the ICU.

She said, “His hand is over me and he always will be there. All this love that I’m getting from everyone is all him. He wants me to be happy. That’s why I got this beautiful bahurani, meri Alia. I couldn’t have asked for anyone better.”

Kapoor is keen now to do roles in this second innings. It’s not necessary that she must be present throughout, but she wants to make an impact with her acting. She shared that her character in the upcoming web-series is a typical one but experiences lots of ups and downs.

Looking ahead, Kapoor has two artistes on her wish list to collaborate with — Ranbir and Alia.