How Sayani Gupta stirred it up in Margarita & why she wants to work in bangla

Sayani Gupta is quick to correct how I pronounce her name. “It’s Sha-yo-ni,” she says, adding, “I know my name is not spelt how it’s pronounced, but that’s how it is. A lot of people have told me to change the spelling, but I am lazy.” With all the buzz around her performance in Margarita with a Straw, Sayani is going to be correcting a lot of people. In the much appreciated film, Sayani plays Khanum, a blind activist who falls in love with Kalki Koechlin’s Laila.

By Karishma Upadhyay
  • Published 29.04.15
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Sayani Gupta is quick to correct how I pronounce her name. “It’s Sha-yo-ni,” she says, adding, “I know my name is not spelt how it’s pronounced, but that’s how it is. A lot of people have told me to change the spelling, but I am lazy.” With all the buzz around her performance in Margarita with a Straw, Sayani is going to be correcting a lot of people. In the much appreciated film, Sayani plays Khanum, a blind activist who falls in love with Kalki Koechlin’s Laila.

What has it been like since the film released?

It’s been absolutely unreal and very overwhelming. I am not someone who takes these things seriously… I am very critical of myself on screen. But the love for the film has been so overwhelming. Like Vidya Balan called the other day and she had amazing things to say about the film and my performance. To receive compliments from someone who I look up to has been so amazing.

This is your first big Bollywood release. Has it been everything you had expected?

Honestly, it’s foolish to have expectations. You only wish and pray that it’s not so bad that people write you off (laughs). When I took this film, I knew it was going to be a tough role. I knew it could make or break my career. Unlike most other films, this one required its actors to give more than 100 per cent because the scrutiny would be intense. I am thankful that my work is being appreciated and that I got a role like this so early in my career. 

Has there been a compliment or a comment from the industry that has surprised you?

After a preview, Rajkumar Hirani asked me if the way my eyes are in the film was computer generated. So, I showed him how I did my eyes for the film and he couldn’t believe his eyes! (Laughs) Aamir (Khan) has apparently asked Shonali (Bose, the director) where she found a blind actress. Apparently both Farah Khan and Homi Adajania thought I was blind! At many international festivals, people were surprised to know that Kalki and I were able-bodied actresses. I think that’s a huge compliment. Also, someone else said that I look like Lisa Haydon. I am quite kicked because I think Lisa is very hot! (Laughs)

How did the film come your way?

In 2012, I was travelling for a travel show called Yeh Hai India Meri Jaan and I got a call from Nilesh (Maniyar, co-director and casting director). I auditioned for this role for almost a month. At that point, pretty much every actress I knew had auditioned for this role. I am just very grateful to everyone who refused this role.

 How did you prepare to play Khanum?

My preparations started during that month-long audition process. I started by watching films with blind characters. I spoke with Naseeruddin Shah who had taught us at FTII. He has done Sparsh so he had a lot of practical advice like to blindfold myself and go about my day doing chores around the house or even crossing the road. I went to NAB (National Association for the Blind) in Mumbai for mobility classes. My character is very mobile, so I had to use the cane as naturally as possible. 

Also, no two blind people have the same body language or eye movement, so Shonali and I had to figure out what Khanum would be like. I spent a lot of time at a blind women’s hostel in Mumbai talking to girls and observing them. Shonali also made me meditate because I am very high energy and as Khanum, she needed that energy to be toned down. Once we got on the set, I spent the first fortnight completely blind. I’d keep my eyes closed all the time and only opened them when in front of the camera. 

It helped that the director was a woman, as was the director of cinematography. So while we were shooting, we didn’t feel conscious. Kalki is such a giving co-star and such a stunning person. The comfort level we shared was instrumental in building the relationship between the characters. 

Did you have any apprehension about the intimate scenes?

Not at all. This is not the first time a lesbian part has been offered to me. In the past, I have refused them because I wasn’t sure about the director’s sensibilities. But in Shonali’s case, I didn’t have any doubts. I had seen Amu (Shonali’s first film) and how sensitively she had handled the tough subject. As an actor, I should be able to do everything a director demands of me. At the same time, it’s very important to trust the filmmaker. 

It also helped that the director was a woman, as was the director of cinematography (Anne Misawa). So while we were shooting, we didn’t feel conscious. Kalki is such a giving co-star and such a stunning person. The comfort level we shared was instrumental in building the relationship between the characters.

You have quite a few interesting films lined up...

That’s right. There is Leena Yadav’s Parched where I play a Gujarati village woman. I look so different that at a screening where I was present, people didn’t recognise me. There is Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos where I am the narrator. I am currently shooting for it. And there is Vasan Bala’s sci-fi thriller Bunny. 

What kind of work do you want to do next?

I just want to do stuff that excites and challenges me. It has to be a genre or character that I haven’t done before. I don’t want to be a flower pot, but I do want to do the masala, song-and-dance films. I don’t want to restrict myself to Bollywood. I am hoping to do international and regional films as well. 

You haven’t done another Bengali film after Tasher Desh...

No one has called me! I want to work in Bangla because it’s my mother tongue and I like the kind of films being made there. I hope someone calls. 

Which Tolly director should cast Sayani? Tell t2@abp.in