Some eight years ago, Neha Saxena, a graduate in Hospitality and Aviation, was in charge of the front office at a hotel in Dubai. It was midnight and the lobby doors were locked from inside when Neha saw a man being let in. Neha swooped on the man enquiring where he was going. The man with a charming smile told her that he was a guest staying in the hotel. Not taking that at face value, Neha asked for his room number and passport details. She continues, “Suddenly I see this Malayali bellboy come rushing in and fiercely whispering something to me. It took some time for me to decipher that he was saying the person was a VIP and that he was Mollywood superstar Mohanlal! I got scared and the next morning while Mohanlal was having his breakfast in the café, I met him and explained that I was the one who had asked for his details and that I was sorry. I also added that since I had no knowledge of Mollywood, I could not recognise him!” If she expected Mohanlal to be angry, all she got was the same charming smile and the reassuring words that she was just doing her duty and that there was no need for her to feel sorry!
Neha also did not forget to take a selfie with the superstar and could never get over how humble, grounded and welcoming he was. As destiny would have it, years later, Neha — now an actor got to act opposite Mohanlal as the character Julie in the film Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol. When she met him on the sets of the film, Neha reminded him of the Dubai episode to which the superstar, famed for his phenomenal memory, replied, “Weren’t you wearing a white kurta?” Neha got to experience the large-heartedness of the superstar as a co-actor when he helped her with the language. She says, “It was not only just me; he makes sure that he gives tips to everybody about body language and facial expressions. He makes sure that everyone gets their mileage and solely the focus should not be on him.”
The Mumbai-based actress has acted in 16 films across Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. But she has no doubt that it is Malayalam that has given her a warm welcome and great support. Though just two films old in Malayalam, including a role in Kasaba with Mammootty, the audience response is very positive. She adds, “I had some people who criticised me and demotivated me saying that these small roles would not get me anywhere but I had the belief and confidence that these roles would make a big difference in my career.” A model who has walked the ramp, it was not easy for Neha to break into tinsel town. Having no godfather and being a single parent child compounded matters. She candidly says, “My mother warned me against getting into films and I could not fathom why. While I was modelling, I used to go do my job and come back so I thought acting too would be similar.”
When Neha started going for auditions, she would get signed for roles. After that would start the seemingly innocent questions, “Can I take you out for tea or dinner? And I would ask, “For what?” They said I had to compromise and soon, compromise became a word that I heard often and loathed!” She frankly says, “Compromise is a scary word for any actress! I said that I would not compromise and that I was happy with modelling. That word was so ingrained in me that when I got my first film in Kannada, I asked my director what he wanted for casting me.” The director though shocked explained that Neha was like a daughter to him and he could understand her question and that all men were not like that. She adds, “Even for my Malayalam projects, I asked if there was anything involved upfront leaving the producer shocked at the question.” She prefers to live on her own terms and conditions and does not want to compromise her dignity and self-respect.
She quips, “The journey might be harder without any references or accepting fancy requirements, but in the end, I can be happy that I achieved success on my own terms.” The actress is left completely shaken by the recent kidnapping and assault on a young actress. “Being a celebrity, she got assaulted. As a woman, if we do not protest against a crime, we will be used as punching bags. Society has a lot of do’s and don’ts for a woman — more don’ts than do’s whether it is from a partner, a friend or family. When a woman is trying to do what she wants, she is pulled back by a lot many people.” Neha will be playing the role of a Communist leader’s widow in Sakhavinte Priyasakhi which will have her in a lengthy role. She also has in her kitty the Bollywood film Chef with Saif Ali Khan....