She has been an actress for 35 years. Born to a family of doctors (her father was the chief of J J Hospital's psychiatry department; her mother at 78 is still a practising doctor), Neena Kulkarni has been a quiet achiever.
Hindi films and serials fetched her recognition and financial stability; the Marathi-speaking audience has cherished her performances in the plays Hamidabaichi Kothi, Educating Rita, Gandhi Viruddh Gandhi and in films including Saavat Majhi Laadki, Uttarayan, Sari Var Sari and Nithal.
Her husband, actor Dilip Kulkarni, passed away five years ago. Recently, she made her foray into film production with Shevri (Wisp of Cotton). Excerpts from an interview:
How would you compare working in Hindi serials vis-a-vis Marathi serials?
I got into a Marathi daily Adhuri Ek Kahani two and a half years ago. I've done a few Hindi serials like Heena and Saarthi, Kayamath for Ekta Kapoor and now Ek Packet Umeed for Hats off on NDTV IMAGINE.
The budgets are remarkably different. Hindi serials are high on opulence and extravagance, but that also means wastage in terms of time, effort and money. Marathi serials have low budgets and are better organised. Once the sets and lights are ready, we shoot 13 to 14 scenes in a day .
(Laughs) I always say Hindi serials pay you to wait, not to act. Logic and content are still a valuable part of Marathi serials - though Adhuri was more like a Hindi serial, high on drama and camera movements. Marathi-knowing viewers reject a serial outright if they don't identify with it. They will not watch sub-standard stuff.
Why take on a negative role in Adhuri Ek Kahani?
When I was first approached for the serial, I knew they wouldn't do injustice to me, considering they know my body of work. I have always believed in following the instructions of my director to the last letter.
Once they had told me about Kalyani who masterminds everything in her family, I absolutely freaked out on the role. About two months ago, Kalyani was missing from the scene but now she's back.. rather it's her look-alike, a simple woman called Sharada. So after having a glamorous look, I am back to my simple jooda.
Apparently, initially you were uncomfortable with the Hindi TV set-up?
Yes I was because the shows are more youth-oriented. You're reduced to just one in a crowd. A stern look here, a smirk there and you're done.
Initially, it was difficult to accept the working conditions and the lack of good scripts, but I've realised one has to move with the times. TV is where all the action is today .
I tell myself, "Chalo at least the responsibility is not on me alone. I'm just one of the many characters. In Hindi I can't expect the kind of strong roles I get in Marathi serials."
What about Hindi cinema? How satisfied are you in that area?
I'm pretty happy in that area. I don't want to do altu faltu films any more. I've done enough of that. Now, I would rather wait for that one good film. Like, I recently shot for Ravi Chopra's Bhootnath as Amitabh Bachchan's wife. It's a cameo but it's a BR film.
I've had my share of good films like Paheli and Guru. I've worked with Mani Ratnam, Amol Palekar, Priyadarshan and Shankar.
Was it awkward for you to do a rather silly scene in the climax of Priyadarshan's Hungama?
(Smiles) Yeah where we are all electrocuted and someone kisses me! That was the first scene I shot for the film. I was so embarrassed that I called up Dilip and told him I'd landed myself in a soup. He told me that since I had committed to do the film, I should just enjoy the shooting.
At times, you should do a mad scene or two.. because it's not always to get something which is absolutely sensible.
What are your children doing?
My daughter Soha is assisting director Sanjay Surkar on his Marathi film. She was also involved in the production and costume aspects of Shevari. My son Divij is in his last year of college..he's studying commerce. I don't know whether he's interested in films.
I am not pushing him either because in our days, acting or any creative field was chosen as means towards self-expression. Today, it's become a hardcore business. Good looks and some PR skills are enough to take you anywhere. As for creativity.. what's that?
Do you miss a companion? Do you see yourself falling in love again?
I definitely miss a companion. I miss Dilip because they don't make men like him anymore. He was my best friend.I can feel his presence, I haven't changed anything in our house because I want him to be there.
As for falling in love, I'm progressive-minded, I'm not closed to the idea. Yes, but I'll have to admit that I've become a loner.