‘I really feel that I am here for the long haul’

‘I really feel that I am here for the long haul’

By Bulbul Sharma | | 2 September, 2017
Sayani Gupta, Margarita With a Straw, The Hungry, Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, Bollywood, cinema, movies, film, Inside Edge, Agra, Delhi, Parched, FTII
Sayani Gupta garnered critical acclaim after her brilliant performance in Margarita With a Straw (2014) and has never looked back since then. Prepping up for the screening of The Hungry at the Toronto International Film Festival, the 25-year-old speaks to Guardian 20 about the joy of making it big in the industry on her own.
Q. The Hungry has been a highly-anticipated movie. It is soon going to be screened at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). What are your expectations?

A. The expectation is that people will love the film. When we were shooting for the film only last year and early this year, we all felt like we were actually creating something quite brilliant and special. It was a fantastic company first of all and it just felt like it was going to be something extraordinary and I am not just saying it because I am a part of the film but this really felt like something else… So whatever little I have seen of the film while dubbing it, it looks fab. Actually I am looking forward to watching the film more than anything. Toronto is a great platform, it is a nice festival. It is also the third year when my film will be there after Margarita (with a straw) and Parched. I haven’t been there before and I am so excited to go this year and see the film with a large audience and with the team also. So I am expecting all the good things. We are all very happy with what we have done.

Q. How was it like working with Naseeruddin Shah? Any particular instance of shooting with him that you would like to share with us?

A. One, it was overwhelming to be able to work with him because he was my teacher at FTII. The first workshop he took (at FTII) I suddenly felt like his school of acting and philosophy for acting ran through to me. And it made a lot of sense at that time. And he has also been a great teacher, mentor, guide and friend. Even when I was doing Margarita he had helped me. So he is a very kind and a very giving sort of a human being. That’s why he makes a great teacher because he is very selfless.

To be able to work in The Hungry with him made everything come into place. It was quite an incredible feeling. He was also playing my father who I am very close to. Also he is such a joy to be around. He is like a cool dude. He is extremely witty and has an amazing sense of humour. Just to be able to see him this closely working, it was another feeling.  He is quite incredible, humble and what a giving co-star is he.

Everyone (on the set) was out there to work and it literally was like an acting fair of sort. So it was quite impressive and I loved being on the sets.

Q. Would you like to share something interesting about your character in the film or a trivia when you were shooting for the film?

A. My character’s name is Loveleen Ahuja. Her father is a huge business tycoon, so this girl is a very protected, rich kid. She is a happy soul. She is like a flash of lightning in the dark world. She is also the brightest in the family. But a lot of things go down. The film is based on a Shakespearean play so it is very dramatic and violent. She then goes through a lot and it changes her completely. There is a transformation.

About the trivia, we were shooting in a beautiful fort in Kuchesar, it is between Agra and Delhi. We were living there and shooting there. So one day I got an off day on the set and I decided to go and assist. I was the clapper girl. It is really funny because I went to a film school so I know these things. So I started giving claps so well that everyone felt that I am even better than ADs (Assistant Directors) at clapping. Naseerji even said that you know that you have a second profession in case acting doesn’t work out. It was the most glorious day of my life on the film set.

I did some shots also. The second unit camera we were shooting and I was waiting for my shot so the second camera guy just let me do two shots and I was so happy because I love being behind the camera. So it became very informal. When you have a smaller crew it becomes very intimate… Every department was brilliant on the film.

The art director did a brilliant job on the film but they were understaff so one day I literally did jhaadu and helped them set up. On a big film you can’t imagine an actor doing jhaadu so that’s why I loved being in this film because everyone is very democratic and egalitarian. So it was a lot of fun.

Q. Do you feel you are in a happy phase career-wise?

A.No. I am not in a great hurry to do things because I really feel that I am here for the long game. I understand something that Naseer had said during a class ‘only after 30 years of practice do you become an actor’ and I am 25. So I am in no hurry and I am just having a really good time. As long as I am able to do good projects and collaborate with good people I am happy but yes it does get frustrating because you want to work hard but there are not enough people to make you work hard. As an actor I am really thirsty and I am hungry to collaborate with people. Though I have been fortunate to work with only good people but still you are not being able to do that kind of work you want to-something really transformational, something where you completely transform yourself, where you spend months working on and create it together and write it together, something that happens a lot in Western cinema.

Q. On that note you had also said in a recent interview that “there are not enough roles written for women.” So do you agree that the industry is male dominated, with the best roles going to male actors?

A. The world we live in is male dominated. How many women are there in public offices, in parliament or in human commission? So it (male dominance) is everywhere, in every industry.

Most of the stories being told are written by men so obviously they are going to write about men, and about their point of view. I have worked with so many female directors and I have loved working with women for the simple reason that it is a different perspective. The way they (female directors) understand women is different. It is much more real and they know she (woman character) can be grey, not just black and white. Women roles there (in movies made by women) are very well etched out. So there is a dearth of women in writing, which is the reason why I say ‘no’ to so many films because I don’t want to be a second citizen.

Having said that I have also been very lucky. Say for example Inside Edge ( a web series on Amazon Prime), it is a man’s dominated world but all the female characters are very well written in the show, especially mine because nobody thinks about a team analyst and a person in so much power to be a female. India has never had a female analyst.

Q. Talking about Inside Edge, how was your experience of portraying the role of a cricket team analyst? Also in real life how well-versed are you with the sport?

A. Not at all. I don’t watch cricket. It is like you don’t have to be that person to play it on-screen. You don’t have to be a murderer to play it in reel-life. I really liked the role in Inside Edge because one, it was so different from what I am and I choose my roles like that. And Rohini (her character in Inside Edge) was so much in control and she is quite a badass woman and everyone is damn scared of her. And her character and Angad’s (Bedi) character are the two good characters. So Rohini was a very empowering character. And the fact that I knew nothing about cricket, it needed me to do a lot of study and thankfully my writers, director and co-actors helped me through it.

And I was shooting for three-four projects at the same time so I was really struggling and juggling from one set to another. So I wish I was a bit more focussed but it came out really well and people are loving it.

Q. You come from a non-film background. So was it difficult for you to establish yourself in the industry?

A. Nepotism exists everywhere. We like to stick to a familiar profession and not just in acting but in every industry. The only difference is if you want to be a doctor or engineer you at least need a degree, this is not the case with acting.

As far as I am concerned, I did not get everything very easy in life and I think that’s a better way to live life. In fact I remember having this discussion with a friend of mine and we were discussing that how fortunate we are that we are not born to super-rich parents because privilege is so boring. The gratification of achieving something all by yourself is unparallel… That feeling especially as a woman is very empowering. I wouldn’t want to exchange that with anything. Having said that I am still privileged because I come from an educated background and I belong to a upper-class Hindu English educated family. This makes things much easier than a lot of people in this country.

And about being in the industry I knew it wouldn’t be easier but I went for it because I wanted it really bad. I feel very fortunate that I come from nowhere but I have constantly been able to do work that matters and I have been able to add some sort of value. Mai jaha bhi hu, kitna bhe chota ya bada hai, vo maine khud se kamaya hai (wherever I am how small or big it is, I have earned it myself) and I am not saying it with pride but very modestly. But I also believe that if you have it in you, you’ll be able to make it and it has worked for Nawaz, Irrfan and others.

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