My black coffee arrives in a shot glass. It hits me, both, the coffee and Neetuji's eternal beauty. I am all ready for my first interview with her and so is she, though she is feeling a bit awkward and when asked her the reason, Neetuji replies with her yesteryear's smitten smile, "I am giving an interview to a journalist after thirty years; you can now imagine what I'm going through. I need some breathing space." Her skin is flawless, her eyes huge and all-consuming. She is not afraid to look at you and she's not afraid to let you look right in at her. It's an open face. No slyness, no manipulation. She is renowned for being a woman who doesn't fear most things and certainly doesn't fear speaking her mind.
Who would have thought, that in Mumbai's hottest suburban area, one of the most successful screen actress in Bollywood would be a woman nearing 53. This special correspondent meets India's lost actress, Neetu Kapoor, who makes a surprising comeback to the big screen so that we can remember the time when there used to be a seamless performer, who, with her ease and charm could melt your heart just by her wink. Neetu Kapoor, we bow down to you today.
Who is the reason behind Neetu Kapoor's comeback on to the big screen?
No one pushed me to do Do Dooni Chaar. It was my own decision. Honestly, I didn't want to do a film ever in my life after I quit. I had blocked my mind off movies and my life was - my children and my husband. But this was very special because my husband was very excited about it. I call my husband Bob. So Bob was excited about this character of his called Santosh Duggal and would discuss the role out in front of me every day. On top of that, the director, Habib Faisal was adamant to cast me opposite Bob. My husband said that she doesn't work and has refused so many films. But on Bob's word, I called Habib home on Diwali Day for a fifteen minute narration which eventually went on for four long hours. I immediately said 'yes'. I kept asking him questions and he answered all of them.
So how after three decades did Neetu Kapoor face the camera?
Habib knew I wasn't going to do the film but he just came for one narration which he so wanted me to hear. He knew that I wasn't into career and all. I am fifty two now and do not want to return back to movies but Do Dooni Chaar was really special because it's not a film like every film. It's a film that reflects reality. It's about how people go through in life living in Lajpatnagar. The way Habib has created the atmosphere, the clothes, the language, backdrop, etc. was too attractive. I started imaging myself as Kusum Duggal while he was narrating. It's not that after three decades I've got a role of a lifetime. No. It's not a role which will win awards but if it wins appreciation, I'll be happy.
How do you define 'acting' today?
Acting isn't rocket science. It wasn't for me. It was about how free you let yourself be in front of the camera. That's it. Once you don't feel the camera is in front of you, you'll perform the best. For me, the camera was no issue. The issue was that will I remember the lines after so many years, etc. That was my only fear. On the second day, I was completely at peace and I could manage all 'on the sets' gratification. I am not a serious actress like Shabana Azmi is. I work a lot on my instincts and just the way I feel will be the right way.
We recall your dance moves with Rishi Kapoor in the films you were cast opposite him. How was it to shake a leg with him again?
Oh, I love dancing. I still dance. Whenever I am at a party, I will be the first one to go on the floor and dance. But my husband hates it with a passion. So I told him that this is the only time we are getting to dance together after years, especially in a scene where there is a marriage ceremony happening. There was no dance director for that scene. I did the same thing what I did years back in Kabhi Kabhie. So I told my director and my husband to recreate those moments we often describe as 'gem of a moment'.
How often do you sit with your husband discussing films?
We sit everyday to discuss films. We are constantly doing that. We discuss movies, performances or should I do this or that or for that matter, even my son Ranbir Kapoor. Ranbir has grown with this criticism ever since he started sitting with us on evenings to talk about movies. We all appreciate different roles and films coming out of our cinema. We never talk about stock market. We never criticize anyone's performance. We only talk films.
The two kids who are in the film, did they come across as Riddhima and Ranbir?
Both the children in the film are very talented. Archit is a very bright boy and you'll see it when you see the film. He asked me a lot of questions too. Aditi is a stage actress and she is superb too. I really felt like they are my own children and I fell in love with them. I used to take chocolates for them. If I used to talk to Archit, Aditi would get upset. It became too personal in a funny way.
And how possessive is Ranbir?
(Laughs) Ranbir is too possessive about me. He has seen the film and he loved it. He is so excited. It is also exciting for me and my husband to be together on the big screen after so many years. And that's the reason you see Ranbir happy, Riddhima happy, my mother-in-law and my entire family happy to see both of us together on screen yet again. I am happy in my life right now and so is my husband. Everyone in our family is possessive about one thing and one thing only - films.
What have you gained from a professional called Rishi Kapoor?
My husband is the kind of guy who never gives up. He is always on the move. He will be cleaning something; he'll be doing something or the other. I sometimes have to tell him to go out of the house so that I can relax (laughs). He is so energetic. He went to promote Do Dooni Chaar on Chotte Ustaad and people were shocked to see a man at fifty eight going down on his knees performing. And the fact is that my husband has bad knees. He feels that age is just a number, and so do I. That's why we both are young. After seeing him off the sets after so long and then on the sets performing, I felt for the first time that my husband is really talented. I knew he was but I was too young to realise it back then when we used to work together. He doesn't rehearse his lines. He just goes with the flow. Rishi Kapoor - the man - motivates you and given a chance, he will bully you too.
And we hear the message of the film is hidden in its title.
You are absolutely right. The film is called Do Dooni Char and that's what the message of the film is. The life's mantra should be that two and two makes four and not five. That's what the central character in the film, Mr. Duggal does in the film. He goes the right way and how he goes the right way is what the movie about.
Is this film going to be a one off re-entry for you or are you eyeing other films too?
Frankly speaking, I'm not interested right now. I am open to movies, but very selective. But then again, I don't want to commit to them. In the near future, you never know, I may do something with Ranbir. I can't leave my family and go on outdoor shoots and at the moment, my family won't even allow me as they are too possessive about me. But may be something like Do Dooni Chaar comes my way and I may say 'Yes' to it.
And last few words on Ranbir Kapoor before we end this interview please?
It's my Father-In Law's blessing which also counts that today Ranbir is known as our country's finest actors. But what really makes me happy is when people come up to me and say that he is a good person. Some of them have even said that he is good to his spot boy as he is to his co-stars. Ranbir doesn't make an effort, he is like that. He is very grounded by nature. That's Ranbir's victory. He will go a long way if he remains like this.
The first thing you notice about Neetu Kapoor when you see her in flesh is how comfortable she feels in her own self. Touchwood. She often talks about how proud she is of just being a mother and a devoted wife, but it's more than that. There is something about how connected she is to herself that makes her charismatic. She is instantly accessible, perching on a little sofa in her Pali Hill residence, wondering why I didn't want brown sugar in my coffee. Neetuji, as I'd love to call her, just ordered for some freshly brewed Nespresso which she had got from London. She is wearing black leggings with a black tee on a day when she was at ease, which you could make out from her dress code on a lazy Saturday afternoon.