Chit Chat

I’m sure all movie actors would want to do plays: Neetu Chandra

Known for her glamorous and bold Bollywood avatar, Neetu Chandra is all set to stun audiences with her histrionics as she makes her theatre debut in Umrao, one of the most awaited plays at this year’s Prithvi Festival, presented by TOI. Excerpts from her interview…

Why did you decide to move away from Bollywood and dabble in theatre?
Acting makes me very happy and theatre was just another medium that I wanted to try. I’ve always believed theatre keeps the person inside you alive. It is from here where all the respected actors like Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, and Naseeruddin Shah have come. I’ve also seen youngsters like Sushant Singh Rajput and Ranbir Kapoor hanging out at Prithvi. So everyone loves theatre today. I’m sure all movie actors would want to do plays. As for me, the moment I was offered the role of Umrao Jaan, I grabbed it. I was ecstatic that out of all the actresses in Bollywood, I was chosen. A lot of people have told me, ‘You’re crazy for doing this’. I often wonder, when Rekhaji was offered Umrao Jaan, she must have also heard the same things. But I am not giving up on movies.

There will be comparisons with Rekha and Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan, who’ve essayed Umrao’s character in movies…
So it goes like this: Rekha, Aishwarya and now me. Oh my God! I really wish people don’t compare me to them. Because those were films and this is a play. But I am not at all worried about the comparisons. I am only anxious about me able to do justice to the role.

For a Bollywood actress, turning to theatre could mean jeopardising her film career. Are you ready to take this risk?
First of all, I live my life on risks. Secondly, you could say that I’m following Hollywood, as all the actors there dabble in theatre. I am an artiste and don’t care about these things. I feel theatre gives an actor respect and if I can carry off commercial films and even pull off theatre, what else can I ask for? In the most humble way possible, all I can say is, I’m a leader, not a follower. Maybe other actresses will start following in my footsteps after watching my play!

Since you have a glamorous image, will audiences accept you as a serious theatre actress?
Audiences have changed today. You need to give them great content and work really hard. And I love working hard; I can’t accept anything that comes easily to me. Also, people who are doing theatre will always be respected, by the audiences as well as industrywallas, so that’s not an issue.

Did you ever think you’ll get to perform live on stage?
I’ve been dying to do theatre. For the last six-seven years I’ve been coming to Prithvi and I always wondered if I would ever get a chance to perform on stage. There’s no bigger event than the Prithvi festival. When I heard the script of Umrao, I cried at the end. It is so amazing. By doing this play, I am just trying to make myself happy for a change. Actors try to make everyone else happy; I even tried to do that, par log mujhse khush nahi hote! So I’m glad Purva Naresh (who has adapted the play) and Hidayat Sami (director) thought of me. Niranjan Iyengar, who has written the lyrics, has given me very difficult words, because I can pronounce them easily. He said he has worked with actresses like Rani Mukerji and Priyanka Chopra but the clarity that I have in my diction, no other actress has.

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