I remember meeting Neha Dhupia some years ago when she came to Toronto. The thing that stuck out for me the most was the complete ability for Neha Dhupia to be herself and her rare comfort in being out of the rat race, and knowing she did not want to be a part of it.
Years later, she was finally recognized for her work in Tumhari Sulu, as she bagged the Best Supporting Actor award. She has the gift of gab as she gets celebrities to spill the beans on her own production, No Filter Neha, and then with BFFs with Vogue. She is also involved in the hit show, MTV Roadies, and comes across as a passionate, adventurous, and real person – qualities that we rarely see exhibited by the industry’s actors. Here’s my conversation with Neha, who was amidst shooting for a challenging Roadies season, as we went in and out of connection because of the remote location she was in. Despite the glitches, the conversation was fluid, fun, and as always, insightful.
I want to go back before Roadies, No Filter Neha…when you came into the industry, everyone said you would last four or five years, that the shelf life of a female actor was very short-lived. And then you get an award for Tumhari Sulu a couple of months ago. Looking back, do you feel you have proved everyone wrong?
You know, it was very exciting to get an award especially when you have been working in the industry for so long. But I don’t think the intention is ever to prove anyone wrong. I feel like people give up on you sooner than you give up on yourself. And sometimes it is the other way around, sometimes you give up on yourself before people around you give up on you. I’m the former.
I’m a bit of an underdog. People didn’t expect much out of me. But there is a way of thinking as an underdog, you know. Nobody expects anything out of you and then, when something happens, people are alarmed by it – but you aren’t. You always knew it was going to happen sometime soon.
I don’t know if the intention is to work hard so that you can prove people wrong, as it is that you can prove it to yourself. That’s what makes it fun, when people don’t expect something out of you, but it happens. It makes me smile. But people now stop and take notice of me. I was never content to just be a fly on the wall.
Is part of the reason why you have been able to go on for so long is because you constantly find a way to reinvent yourself or at least, look at other mediums through which you can connect with the audience?
Hmm, yes (thinking). I also think it has a huge amount to do with the fact that I definitely believe in the hustle. I believe in the fact that you have to go out there, it won’t happen for you by you just sitting around. I think it also has to do with how independent I am as a woman – everything from going out there, getting a job, handling my finances, doing stuff in my own house –I do it on my own. I’m like that show, Home Improvement, like I’m literally like that at home.
As actors, we are actually engaged in daily marketing. As much as we shy away from it, it’s our job to be out there and sell ourselves. We want a high price – we want the highest bid, which is equal to the most challenging job you can get.
The most important thing is the fact that I do have a huge sense of gratitude. I don’t just wake up and take for granted that I can get up and go to work. But I also need to have workplace satisfaction. At the same time, I’m not competitive. I’m very aware of my strengths and my weaknesses. But apart from that, I just want to be working every day and do my best – whether it is a reality show, a television show, or a film.
Speaking of hustling and doing things on your own, the name of your production house, “Big Girl Productions”, comes from a place of love, when your dad used to call you his “big girl”. You launched it with No Filter Neha, but I never really thought you had the gift of gab. But the more I watch your talk shows, the more I think you have a way of talking to people and making them feel comfortable. Where does that come from?
I honestly think people are pretty awesome nowadays. Everybody wants to be themselves. I don’t know if it is so much me, but I do think I bring in a certain comfort level for the people who are on the show – maybe it is because they have been friends of mine or people I know from before. That way, it doesn’t take them very long to open up. I think we have a team on both No Filter Neha and BFFs with Vogue that we exchange ideas. So we manage but people are also very nice. It’s fun, it’s lots and lots of fun – whether we are talking about work, or general affairs, it is just lots of fun. The conversations are funny, real, and generally interesting. We research that, and put that content on the air and make a show out of it – that’s why people enjoy it.
While you’ve been talking to people through these talk shows and through Roadies as well, have you discovered something new about yourself as well?
See, I feel like I’ve always been very fun, when it has to come out, it comes out. I think the main part of my personality, which I realized after I did these shows, is that I can make people comfortable. People will tell me that they enjoyed being on the show; people could easily get intimidated by me or somebody who is a gang leader (referring to Roadies). A lot of people say that - we thought you would be intimidating, but you turned out to be completely different. The fact that I can make people comfortable is something I discovered.
Do you find that the connection comes from the fact that you have always been straightforward about not being a part of the rat race?
I mean, of course that is part of it. But I also want to listen. Some people like to hear themselves talk, they like the sound of themselves. For me, that can be borderline annoying, and I’m not like that – I don’t like that. See, I know what my shortcomings are, I know what my strengths are, I know that my personality should not be defined by my success.
What I do is my job. What I am as a human being - I’m a sister, I’m a daughter – it is completely different than who I need to be on camera. But I have the good fortune of being on a talk show where I can be myself, but I am also fortunate that on Roadies, I can also be myself. I love adventure, I love conversations. I have managed to call this my day job.
There are so many people who want to know how to do what you do and achieve longevity. What advice would you give to them?
My only advice is to people who want to be in the industry is that it is not easy. You have to be real, be yourself. You have to work hard but you have to be yourself. Don’t try to change who you are just because people expect something different out of you.
The second piece of advice is that you must balance your personal and professional life. You have to be careful with social media. You can voice your opinions but don’t go overboard. People are always watching. There is always a balance that you need to strike. Like you really need to have a work-life balance for sure.