Neelam Kothari Soni’s Glamorous Lifestyle
Neelam Kothari Soni, an actor and businesswoman, made her Bollywood debut in 1984 with Jawaani. She previously stated in interviews that she had never considered being an actor and that her parents were against her doing a film. Regardless, Jawaani catapulted Neelam to stardom, and she went on to star in a string of blockbuster films, including Ilzaam, in which she co-starred with Govinda, a novice actor.Their pairing was a hit, and she went on to star in 14 more films with Govinda, recreating the Ilzaam enchantment. After ruling the 1980s and 1990s, Neelam’s decision to retire from acting at the turn of the millennium was unexpected. She recently made a comeback with the extremely popular reality online series Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives, and she’s taken aback by the outpouring of love she’s received. She discusses her decision to leave the cinema, the pre-MeToo age of the 1980s, and how her acting career influenced her business in a candid interview with Filmfare.
You told us in 2012 that if you had a decent role, you’d be willing to return to the screen. Do you believe today is the right time?
Yes, without a doubt. A lot of the stuff available is geared toward women. Most of the time, the actress is the story’s main character. And I believe it’s a terrific time for actors because there’s so much varied material being done, so much new content, and I guess it’s forcing performers to push outside of their comfort zones. It’s an exciting time for actors, and to answer your question, yes, I would make a comeback. Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives has been tremendous all over the world, and I don’t think I could have wished for a larger or better comeback. When it comes to acting, however, I would definitely do it if something fascinating came my way.
Female actresses used to be thought to have a “shelf-life,” according to sexist stereotypes. Do you believe that has been disproven?
Yes, that has happened. In fact, one of the primary reasons I decided to quit the film industry was that I realized the types of offers or projects that were coming my way were not…well, let’s just say they weren’t what I was used to. So I told myself that my shelf life was up, and that before I faded away, I may as well stop and give up while I was still at the top. I don’t want to simply vanish. So it was a purposeful decision, but I believe there are fantastic roles for people of all ages right now. Not only for women, but also for males. I believe there is now something for everyone. Previously, it was assumed that because you were 50, you would be cast in mother or father roles. Everything, I believe, is now changing for the better.
Even if they’re going to the airport, celebrities get styled these days. What was life like back then?
Back in the day, things were extremely different. All you had to do was look good. There was no concept for a specific look for a film, for example. If you were portraying a village lady, such as a “gaon ki ladki,” there was a specific appearance you had to have, but otherwise you just had to show up looking incredibly beautiful and pretty. And I recall this amusing incident. My maasi used to do my styling, and most of my movies’ necklines were up to this point (gestures to the top of her neck). All of my outfits were long and conservative. I’m now a stylist’s worst nightmare. They’ll tell me to open up the neckline a little further, and I’ll say, “No, no, no!” I’m still a conservative person who knows what looks well on me and what will look decent.
Do you think social media has taken away the mystique and attraction of Bollywood celebrities?
Everything, you see, has a negative side. It’s a fantastic opportunity for celebrities to communicate directly with their followers and receive feedback, both positive and negative. But, yes, I believe that being a celebrity used to imply… you didn’t have much insight into their life or what they were up to. But I believe it’s now all out there. At the end of the day, how much you put out there is entirely up to you.
Were you hampered by the fact that you didn’t come from a film background?
Look, I got lucky. I had no trouble getting my foot in the door. You’ve watched my previous interviews, and you know this isn’t something I’ve ever wanted to do. I had no intention of joining the film industry, but it simply fell into my lap. My parents were adamantly opposed. Was it, therefore, a bad location? No. I believe there were a lot of misunderstandings since there were a lot of unspoken things and people never spoke out, but I just want to say that I’ve never had a poor experience since I joined. People respect you, I believe, and it all depends on how you conduct yourself, regardless of your occupation. Is it a large, dangerous place teeming with wolves? No, it isn’t.
Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives provided unprecedented access to the lives of superstars…
Everyone has insecurities. I mean, even I talked about my fear of facing the camera after so many years because it had been so long. Is it possible that others will accept me? I’ve gotten older. That was my initial response to Karan (Johar). After twenty years, I said, I’m facing the camera. ‘Listen, you have nothing to be concerned about; you look fantastic,’ he remarked. I’ve even talked about how nervous I was in front of the camera. ‘I don’t know, people are going to think, oh my God, what happened to her, she looks so different,’ I told Samir (Soni). Fortunately, everything went smoothly. The whole point of the show is to have a good time while also giving the rest of the world a glimpse into our lives. Season 2 will, I believe, be a little more intrusive since it will scrape the surface a little more. People are interested in learning more about the dynamics and emotions.
Where did these fears come from, though?
When you’re in front of the camera, you can see your imperfections. What happens is that you become hyper-concentrated or hyper-focused on that one point. You may not notice it, but I am aware of it. It was all in my head, and I was honestly rather anxious since it was such a large platform. I was quite scared because Netflix has millions of subscribers.
What do you have to say about Season 2 of Bollywood Wives’ Fabulous Wives?
I can’t say too much since I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s going to be a hoot. We haven’t begun filming it yet, so there will be no script as you go along. They set up a scenario in which we’re meeting for lunch or going to the beauty salon or something, and we have no idea what will happen. I hope everyone enjoys it as much as Season 1 did.
People are debating about equal pay and equal rights in the wake of the #MeToo movement. What was it like when you first started out?
As I already stated, I have never had any negative encounters. Nobody has ever misbehaved in front of me. I’ve never been ejected from a movie. So, honestly, I don’t have an answer for you because I’ve never experienced anything like this, and I wouldn’t know if it was happening to someone else. I’m sure people were expressing their views back then as well, but there were just a few newspapers and publications to choose from. I’m sure some spoke up, but there wasn’t a lot of media, but now people are a little more loud, and perhaps the fear is less.
You can watch the video below: