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Neelam Kothari at the CRY Gala 2023 (image courtesy: CRY)

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Bollywood wife Neelam Kothari headlines fundraiser

It’s a balmy Friday evening in San Diego when the large screen in the backyard comes alive with the sounds of the Aap Ke Aa Jane Se from the 1987 movie Khudgarz. The crowd looks up from long lined white tables as Neelam Kothari appears on the screen. 

This is CRY (Child Rights and You) America’s annual fundraiser dinner and tonight, they have a special guest.  To the right of the screen is Neelam herself – the It girl of the 80s, the English Mem to Govinda’s Desi Babu, and the current star of Netflix’s Bollywood Wives.

The gala is being held in the backyard next to Studio S, an art retreat that offers personalized workshops. Sonali Soni, the owner of the studio, is busy graciously entertaining about 80 attendees. There’s a slight see-and-be-seen, size-up, and be-sized-up flavor to it all. Everyone is dressed to the nines, and the MC makes a joke about Sonali’s events being the Met Gala of San Diego. Despite that, there’s also real sincerity for the cause and tangible excitement around Neelam’s presence. One of the attendees says that Aapke Aa Jane Se is her favorite song and whenever there’s a game of Antakshari, she makes sure to sing it. 

A week before the event, Neelam spoke to India Currents about her involvement with CRY, Bollywood Wives, and her new projects. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The picture shows two women dresses for a gala
Neelam Kothari and Sonali Soni of Studio S ( Photo credit: CRY America)

On CRY (Child Rights and You)

IC: You are here for a fundraiser for CRY.  This is the first time that you’re doing something like this and I wanted to hear a little bit about why you decided to do that? Why did you choose CRY?

NK: Well, first of all, you know, I’ve always heard of CRY, my mum is a big supporter. And she’s been donating to CRY for the past  20 or 25 years.  And out of the blue, I got a message from Lipika, one of the volunteers who’s actually put this whole thing together. She gave me a bit of background on what they’re doing and how they’re raising funds.

Back in the day when I was doing films, I used to do these kinds of tours. But of late, I haven’t.  I’ve not been in the limelight, to be honest with you, for the past 20-odd years or so. So I just feel that when I was asked to do this, it was a great way to start again, a great cause. And it’s something different. I’ve never done a fundraiser where the onus is on me to try and coax the people who come for the events to raise funds for CRY. And I’m hoping that people are feeling extremely generous when I’m there. 

The only women on set

IC: It is a great cause. I am a big fan of CRY too. So, as you said you were doing films earlier. In the 80s and 90s, you were in all these movies with Govinda. And then you went on a hiatus for some time, and now you’re back, acting in a totally different medium —a reality TV show. What has that experience been like for you? 

NK: When I was doing films earlier, I was playing a character for the first time. But now I’m facing the camera and being myself and sort of putting what I am in real life out there. So just the whole concept was rather overwhelming. And I was not sure if it was going to work. And in fact, when we were shooting, the four of us – Seema, Bhavna, Maheep and myself —we used to sit there and think: who’s going to be watching this stuff? Who really wants to see what’s going on in our lives? I come home from work, I go to work, the conversation I’m having with my husband? And what do you know, it was such a big hit and Season Two was an even bigger hit. And now Season Three is going to happen. 

IC: Do you feel like the industry has changed much between when you were acting before and what it is like today?

NK: Ah, yes, I feel it’s become a lot more professional, a lot more organized. And I just feel it’s great to see a lot more women on set. Because earlier when I was on set in the 80s, there were days when me and my hairdresser were the only women on set. It was predominantly male, from the cameraman to ADS to the makeup artist. There were no female makeup artists back then. And the great thing now is that you’ve got female makeup artists, directors, creatives, a lot of the ADS also are women. So it’s just nice to see a lot more women.

CRY Annual Gala with Neelam at Studio S (Credit: CRY)
CRY Annual Gala with Neelam at Studio S (Credit: CRY)

Bollywood Wives

IC: That’s so fascinating. And what you are doing now is a reality show. Are there any parts of the Fabulous lives of Bollywood wives that you wish had been edited differently? Or parts that you didn’t enjoy filming?

NK: Ah, no, you see, we have a certain comfort level because Karan Johar is involved, who again, is a very, very old, dear friend of ours. And at no point is he going to throw any of us under the bus. And that was an understanding that we had right from the beginning. They said, Look, Neelam, if there’s something that you’ve said or done, and you’re really really uncomfortable about it, we’ll cut it out. And being made the proper me that I am, I haven’t said anything or done anything that I wish I hadn’t. 

IC: On the converse side, what is the part that you’ve enjoyed filming the most?

NK: The holidays are great fun. The four of us have been friends for the past 25 years. And going on a girl’s trip is always fun. And of course (laughs), shooting with Ranveer Singh was a lot of fun.

IC: So who is your best friend on Bollywood wives?

NK: My priorities keep on changing and my dynamics with each of them keeps on changing. When I started off, right in the beginning, I was the closest with Seema. Then I would say now I’m very close to Bhavna. Maheep, if I’m feeling down, I’ll call her up, she can entertain me, and we can chat for hours  on end. So I have a different comfort level with each one.

Cosmetic procedures

IC: The show also talks a little bit about aging and cosmetic surgery–

NK: (interrupts) Not surgery. No one’s done that. Not yet (laughs).

IC: (Smiles) Cosmetic procedures, I should say.  How do you feel about these procedures?

NK: I feel like one of the reasons why a lot of people have enjoyed Bollywood Wives is because there’s not been a show like this out there. India has never done something like this, where you’re showing genuine friendship, talking about the ups and downs of life, the aging process. And I think I’m the first Indian probably who’s gone out there and actually told the world that yeah, you know what? I’ve done a filler and showed it on screen. And these procedures, I think there’s nothing wrong with them. As long as you know where to draw the line. We all want to look good. And if you can knock off, say five years, why not? 

IC: Absolutely. On a different note, can you give us the scoop on the upcoming Season Three?

NK: I don’t know because we haven’t started rolling yet. It’s not scripted. We don’t know what exactly is gonna happen in season three, we just, you know, go with the flow.

IC: Has your daughter ever watched Bollywood Wives? 

NK: No, she’s not allowed thanks to Maheep (laughs). I’ve tried to sort of put it on once or twice, but the language is so bad thanks to Seema and Maheep (laughs again), so I had to turn it off. She’s ten. Maheep is like, stop being such a prude, just let her watch it.  I, am like, (emphatically), no.

Neelam Kothari at the CRY 2023 Gala (Credit: CRY)
Neelam Kothari at the CRY 2023 Gala (Credit: CRY)

Made in Heaven

IC: Any new projects coming up?

NK: I’m doing a guest appearance in one episode of Made in Heaven Season Two. Apart from that, there’s no acting thing happening for me right now. Because it’s very time-consuming and you’ve got to put aside like 40-50 days, if you’re doing a show or a movie or something, I’m happy doing smaller roles, if they just require 10-15 days.

IC: Anything you can share about your role in Made in Heaven?

NK: I’m afraid I can’t. Yeah, I’m sorry. Amazon Prime will not be very pleased with me (laughs).

IC: One last question. If you were to give one piece of advice to any actress starting out today, what would you tell them? 

NK: It looks a lot easier than it actually is. It looks great and glamorous and amazing, but it’s very, very hard work. If you think that you just have to look good and know how to dance and do a bit of acting–no, my dear. Even if you’re having a bad day, there’s stress at home, you have to face that camera and act as if everything’s okay. But having said that, you know, if you’re if you’re hardworking, and you’re passionate about what you do, why not give it a shot?

Contributing Editor Sandhya Char

S Char

Sandhya Char has been contributing to India Currents since 2002. Her work has appeared in several publications including in India West, India Post, Rediff/India abroad, ComputerEdge magazine and Shadowed...