Neetu Kapoor made her debut in the film Suraj (1966) when she was just 6 years old, following which she worked steadily as an actress until 1983. Her filmography in the aughts, however, was sporadic, with her last major release being Besharam in 2013. Now, she returns with the comedy Jug Jugg Jeeyo, helmed by Good Newwz director Raj Mehta and co-starring Anil Kapoor, Varun Dhawan and Kiara Advani. She talks about exercising her own creative choices for the first time in her life and why acting is like riding a bicycle:
As I was researching, it was amazing to me that you started working when you were five or six. You were a child star. You stopped working at 21 because you got married. And you said that the few films you did in between were really films you did for your husband or your son, Ranbir. You said, ‘I wanted to make them happy and it wasn’t my choice.’ So is this the first time that you’re really an actor exercising your own creative choices?
Absolutely. You have no idea. When I was a kid, I just did those movies because that’s the way my life was, that’s what my mother expected from me. I used to work for hours. It was crazy. I did 70-80 movies in seven years. I don’t even know what I earned, I have not seen a check. I don’t even know how much money I made. I didn’t know anything, I was just doing it like a job. Now I’m really enjoying it and I’ve never done before what I’ve done in Jug Jug Jeeyo. I’ve never done a serious role before, I was only dancing. I was only doing roles that required that typical overacting. Everything was very loud, everything was very animated. Those songs were lovely.
In those days, acting was just the director saying: Energy lao. There was a lot of overacting, especially in the 70s. I think the 60s were nicer, there was Madhubala, Meena Kumari. The acting was softer. But in the 70s, everything became very over the top. Now, I think we’re back to naturalistic acting, I’m not used to it. When I did this one scene in Jab Tak Hai Jaan, I had this long dialogue, and I was doing all these expressions. Aditya Chopra said, ‘Don’t do anything, just say your lines. No expressions.’ It was very difficult for me. I felt like I was being very boring. I wasn’t doing anything, just saying the lines. So that switch is difficult for me now. Even my role in Jug Jugg Jeeyo is very serious role, very different role. It’s a very good role for a woman to play. And (director) Raj Mehta really guided me through it. I’m happy I listened to him. I thought that since the character is Punjabi, she should be over the top and she should make all these faces, but he said no. He said, ‘I want you to be very composed.’ I haven’t seen the film, but I have a feeling it will be good because I’ve never done something like that before.
So how long did it take you to get into the groove? You said that you went to Chandigarh alone to shoot for Jug Jug Jeeyo and you were low on confidence. Is acting like cycling? Do you never forget?
Acting is like cycling, you never forget. But you have to have confidence and that was the worst time for me to go to work on Jug Jugg Jeeyo. I did some scenes, then we shut down because of COVID and I did the remaining scenes when we reopened. I kept telling Raj I was in a bad state, but he said, ‘No ma’am, you look fine.’ I was pretending to be fine, but inside, I was dying. Before every shot, I thought I would fumble, I would not give my hundred percent, something would go wrong. I was very unsure. This year gave me confidence. The more I go out, the more I meet people, the more I party, and the more I do shows, the better I feel. I feel good, I feel healed. And I’m glad I got to do my main scenes when the set reopened. Raj kept saying, ‘No ma’am, you were fine, you did the scenes okay.’ And I was like, ‘You have no clue, I was so nervous before every shot.’ Luckily, I had Anil Kapoor with me. He’s like family, he’s a sweetheart of a guy. I just love him, I adore him. Then there was Varun Dhawan, who’s like my own son, he’s grown up in front of me. Even Raj was such a sweetheart. He’s the one who pushed me and I thank him for it because I don’t know what I would have done otherwise. Never did I ever think that I would come back and start working. I always thought that my domain was my husband and my children. I was only into health and fitness to look presentable. I like dressing up, I like shopping and that was my only reason to stay fit. Not because I thought that I would go back to work.
When I was interviewing you and Rishi for Do Dooni Chaar, you had said: I spent so long working when I was younger that I’m just done. It’s not something that fascinates me or interests me in any way.
Once, an astrologer said that he saw me returning to the movies after a few years. I laughed at him. I said, ‘Are you crazy?’ Today, those words haunt me. This comeback —I’m just doing it to keep myself happy. I don’t need fame. I don’t need money. I have enough to lead a comfortable life. I want to do good work. I want to feel happy. These are the last 10 years of my life that I have to make the best of.
So you’re discovering this naturalistic side to yourself. Do you want to challenge yourself or do you want to do happier things? When I see you on television, you look like you’re having so much fun.
I really do want to challenge myself. I want to do tough material. Not material that is beyond me; I don’t know how talented I am, because I’ve never done anything that great. I don’t know myself and what I can do right. Jug Jugg Jeeyo was not my space at all and I could manage that. So now I’m getting a bit more confident. Right now, I’m not looking for anything. I’ve just said yes to a show and to another film. I’m just taking it one step each time.