From Traffic Signal to Umrao Jaan, Neetu Chandra exudes versatility

Bollywood actress Neetu Chandra Neetu received critical acclaim for her work in films like Traffic Signal or Satyameva Jayate. Shes now exploring a new domaintheatre. The actor-producer is on cloud nine after receiving overwhelming response for her maiden Hindi play Umrao Jaan Ada and is excited about doing theatre with a subject which revolves around women empowerment. Neetu's choices have been a blend of entertainers as well as socially driven films. The Taekwondo exponent tells Deccan Chronicle about her future plans.

Your choice of roles in films was quite eclectic, unconventional. Was it a conscious decision?
Initially I was very conscious about what I was going to pick up. I am a person who loves to live life on her terms. Initially when I came into the industry as a newcomer, I had to do whatever came my way. But later, I realised that it's better that I choose what I like and can do, something that makes me feel alive and Umrao Jaan is one character that does that, especially on stage.

Hows your portrayal of Umrao Jaan Ada different from the movie versions of it and your own portrayal of it in the play Umrao Jaan?
Even though it comes from the same novel, the story emphasizes women empowerment. It's about how girls would dream about their freedom at that point in time and that offers a different angle to the love story.

How has the audience responded so far?
It was great. We just did the premiere on March 8 in Ahmedabad. People have come to hug me on stage, taken pictures with me and cried. As an actor that's satisfying.

How did Never Back Down: Revolt happen? How helpful was your taekwondo training for this portrayal?
Usually when action roles are written, it is done with somebody in mind. Even though it didn't happen in India, a character was written around me in Hollywood. When I met the producer David, I told him clearly that I didn't want to do a blink and miss appearance. He asked me to meet the screenwriter, Audrey. And when I told her about my Bihar roots and my work, she wrote Jaya for me and I worked very hard in the action movie in Hollywood and the story was written around me and I feel very lucky.

From representing India in the World Taekwondo Championship to showcasing Indian culture and nafasat through Umrao Jaan Ada: The Westend Musical to an international audience, how did this transition happen?
I choose what I want to do. I always loved dancing to folk songs and classical songs and I kept manifesting that I don't want to play a role which involved just dancing. I wanted some substance in the character. But most stories would be male-oriented where women would just be there to dance and sing. But South Indian cinema gave me movies which let me utilise my potential to the fullest. I won a SIIMA for playing a negative role in 2018. And then I thought this is the kind of role I wanted to essay to showcase my talent. And then Umrao Jaan came and I grabbed it with both hands.

What kind of projects do you want to work with in the future?
I loved Heeramandi and Fighter and love to do such roles. I am proud to say that I cannot be stereotyped as an actor. A film with Anurag Kashyap is releasing next month and another with Paresh Rawal. I am also working on a Korean project. The Korean makers were very impressed by my recent project Jackson Halt which is written and directed by my brother. The film has also got a 9.5 rating on IMDB.

You act in and produce films. And then there are international projectsNever Back Down:Revolt and Umrao Jaan Ada: The Westend Musical. How do you juggle these responsibilities?
I am not only an actor, but also a producer. I have my own production house Champaran. We try to make films in the languages of Bihar. We create jobs in Bihar through filmmaking and I have been doing this for twelve years now. I always felt that we could create more jobs in the state if we were to hire for every aspect of filmmaking. I also own an OTT platform on which these movies can be streamed with subtitles.

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