Neha Dhupia on podcasts: ‘The stars are in your ears, the closest to your head they can ever get’

On ‘No Filter Neha’ on the Saavn streaming app, the actor interviews celebrity guests from the worlds of film and sport.

Neha Dhupia, a pleasant constant in indie films and the occasional commercial ones, seems to have found her second calling with her audio show on Saavn. Never at a loss for words – remember she told the world how “Only sex and Shah Rukh Khan sell in Bollywood” – Dhupia has been talking nineteen to a dozen on No Filter Neha on the music streaming service. Her guests are celebrities – mostly Bollywood and some sports personalities –and her style a mix of smart one-liners with a touch of self deprecatory humour.

The show is evidently working. On the first episode of her second season, she let her fans know that 2.3 million people tuned in for the previous season. If Karan Johar spoke about how he went shopping after having sex for the first time, Kangana Ranaut used the show as yet another opportunity to talk about nepotism and Hrithik Roshan. From Alia Bhatt to Ranveer Singh, Varun Dhawan to Sania Mirza, Dhupia seems to have a knack for tempering sensationalism with a bit of sophistication and getting stars to sound candid without being callous. Which is perhaps why she can get away with risque jokes and double entendre with Johar or talk about her bikini shot with Dhawan without missing a beat. But there’s one question that she will never ask her guests, she told Scroll.in.

How much of your show is scripted?
My show is very well researched even though the tonality is unfiltered. We talk about everything but my guests’ personal life. I engage them in fun questions that they would be facing for the first time and get them to react to situations to bring out a new side to their personality. The medium of the podcast also makes them comfortable. It is just a room with the two of us.

Even then, you did ask Karan Johar, your first guest, some risque questions, if not personal.
I ask the same set of questions to a lot of my guests and they often give safe answers. Karan knows how to play to the gallery. If he is on a Hindi GEC, he will bring on his Hindi medium avatar. He knew my show is unfiltered and he knew that as the first guest, he was representing the show. So he played it exactly the way the listeners would want to. That is what I love about Karan. That episode became so interesting because he was so good.

How do you go about building stories around your guests?
I have a lot of inroads into their lives. There are stars who I know, and I simply have to call them up. But Kangana Ranaut, for instance, I made a cold call. I simply texted her and she immediately texted me and agreed to be a part of the show.

Other than the research aided by a supportive team at Saavn, I do a lot of cold calls to friends and family of my guests as well. For Sania Mirza’s episode, I cold called one of her childhood friends and there was this hilarious can of worms that opened up. For Ranveer Singh’s episode I cold called one of his friends. Ranveer actually said he wanted to slap his friend for revealing certain things about him.

It is very interesting to see how people react to these things. Sometimes they are in complete denial.

Most successful celebrity shows are hosted by celebrities. Is it because stars feel more comfortable talking to insiders?
Certainly. For instance, I will never ask my guests that one question even I am asked everywhere – so who is the person in your life now? It is a fun show, not a gossip show. Besides, I always put my guests at ease by telling them that at any point afterwards, if they feel they want to edit something out, we can discuss it.

Even then, there are times when I just want to roll, go with the flow, so do my guests. It is unadulterated humour and it is amazing to actually see how it happens. I am like a kid in a candy store during the interviews, because I become a part of the invisible audience, letting my guests take me on a journey.

The Varun Dhawan episode, for instance, has this bit about how his brother had once hit him for something ridiculous. It was a lot of fun listening to him and looking at him the way his audiences would. The interview showed me an incredibly sweet side of a sweet person and that was a big take-home for me.

Perhaps there is a novelty and charm to streaming apps, which are missing when you are bombarded with images and videos on your screen.
I agree. I am a huge Howard Stern fan and the way he would bring his favourite celebrities closer to their fans through the medium of the radio. The audio format has romanticism to it. It is way more distracting to watch your favourite celebrities on TV. You are looking at the chokers, the buttons, the hair, and not paying attention to what they are saying.

The audio format makes for a much more intimate experience. The stars are in your ears, and the closest to your head they can ever get. You know, I was in New York this week listening to one of my edits and suddenly I was rolling on the bed laughing all by myself. It is that kind of a personal experience. I love this platform, this medium and if I may put it humbly, I really enjoy listening to my show.

You have always been in the spotlight. How is it being just a voice and not a face?
Being an actor, you are likely to be insecure about not showing your face. Because that is what you rely on, build your career on. But I have chosen an avenue where I get to use my mind and not my face. It is mysterious, out of the box and I am enjoying this experience. It gives me a chance to be completely hands on with my work.

Will I continue doing this? Who knows? I also have a film up for release in December so it is possible to have many babies and love them equally.

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