Sayani Gupta returns as Damini in Season 2 of Four More Shots Please!
Calcutta girl Sayani Gupta is “kicked” to be back playing the no-nonsense journalist Damini Rizvi Roy in Season 2 of the series Four More Shots Please! that premieres on Amazon Prime Video on April 17. The series follows the lives of four women (Kirti Kulhari, Bani J and Maanvi Gagroo co-star) as they navigate through romance, career and sex, with Season I earning a lot of popularity and praise. t2 chatted with Sayani on being Damini, playing strong women and bonding with her girlfriends.
How has life during lockdown been like?
I am feeling great… to be honest! (Laughs) I love spending time with myself. I have finally got the time to do what I always wanted to do. So I am very happy being at home and doing my own thing. I am painting and singing and doing some kind of a dance routine every day, of course besides cooking and cleaning (laughs). And as I said, I am enjoying this time because I like being with myself. If one doesn’t like spending time with oneself, then this time could end up being a little rough (laughs).
It’s a great time for everyone to rejuvenate and introspect. We live lives where we don’t really stop to think and this is perhaps the universe’s way of telling us, ‘Take it easy… a little bit’ (smiles).
Given how popular Season I of Four More Shots Please! became, was it a no-brainer that you would be a part of Season 2?
Well, we are contract bound. Anyway, if we didn’t want to be a part of it, there was no way we could have got out of it! (Laughs) But it helps that the show has done really well. It has a crazy kind of fan following, which is quite sweet, actually. Before the first season dropped, the makers had done some focus-group screenings and they told us, ‘Oh, people are loving the show’. But its popularity came as a surprise to all of us. I remember being mobbed in Bombay right after the show, and it was crazy! (Laughs)
I am used to people liking my work and my performances… but this was absolutely crazy. This made me realise what fandom is, because the show really has some massive fan following. It’s almost cult-ish. I have had people wanting to touch me and seeing me and crying at airports and stuff! (Laughs) We’ve got messages on social media where girls have told their mothers they won’t marry before getting a job and not get bullied by their husbands… basically it’s been in terms of women taking agency. That’s what the show wanted to do and it’s great that it has been able to connect with a lot of people at that level. That’s what I feel has made the show truly successful… its ability to inspire people.
So you are saying it’s a combination of relatability and the fact that it’s inspirational that worked for Season I?
In hindsight, I would say it’s a show that’s both inspirational as well as aspirational. We have to wear certain clothes and crazy heels, make-up and hair because they want these girls to look aspirational in a way. That’s not something I really like because it’s excruciatingly painful for me to look that way. I prefer playing a Gaura (the Dalit character Sayani played in the 2019 film Article 15) any day (laughs). It’s exhausting to look good all the time. Having said that, the show is very inspiring for many girls and that’s what needs to be cherished.
How much of Sayani is in Damini? Do you consciously or subconsciously look for a bit of yourself in the women that you play?
If someone comes to me with a project and says, ‘Oh, you get to play yourself’, then I won’t do it. I am not interested in playing myself, I am anyway doing that in my life (laughs). But then again, it has to be a character that I relate to or can engage with or with whom my politics is similar. There are certain qualities of Damini that are similar to how I am. For one, I am a control freak like her (laughs). Damini’s OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is clinical and while I may not be like her in that sense, I do like things to be kept in a certain order. I am a perfectionist and like her, I am extremely politically motivated and opinionated. So yes, there are similarities. But what Damini does in her life is nothing like what’s happening in my life… the choices she makes are not what I would make. Even her take on feminism is way too aggressive than mine.
Overall, I have to like and relate with my character to be able to play her. I have to be empathetic or I won’t be able to defend her. Gaura’s politics was very similar to my politics… this whole thing of Dalit exploitation and the atrocities they face… it’s something I feel very strongly about. For everyone who decided to associate with Article 15, it was definitely something that had been bothering them for a long time. I won’t be able to play a role that is not in keeping with my belief system or my world view. For example, I will not do a misogynistic film. A lot of people would say, ‘Oh, you are an actor, it’s okay’. A lot of women do those roles and to each their own, who am I to say anything? But I feel if you are an artiste, you have to pick characters that represent your view. You can’t exist in isolation from the characters that you play.
On a lighter note, this show centres on girl bonding. What do your girlfriends mean to you?
Growing up, I went to a coed school and most of my closest friends were boys. I was extremely athletic and played every sport possible. I would never sit and chat like most girls do (laughs). My buddies were all the boys and my best friend is a guy. Before I went to study my undergrads in LSR (Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi), I was a little apprehensive… I was like, ‘I have never hung out with so many women, I wonder what it will be like?’ (Laughs)
But after I went there, I realised that women are the best things on the planet… apart from gay men, of course! (Laughs) I loved being there… it was so inspiring and enabling and I just fell in love with this whole idea of female bonding. Those were formative years and it’s a different kind of bond that I have with my girlfriends from then.
Even now, I have a good set of girlfriends. We do try and make it a point to meet up… we do quite a bit of stuff at Kalki’s (Koechlin, who Sayani co-starred with in Margarita with a Straw) place. We do a lot of girlfriend dinners… I recently had two dinners at my place, just women… about nine of us. We have a ‘Women in Films’ group which is quite lovely, a lot of incredible women in that group. The gang of Four More Shots Please! also hang out.
After you cross a certain age, you begin to cherish the bond you have with women… they just get you, man! (Laughs) There are no explanations to be given, they don’t judge you… at least, I have been very lucky to get such sweet and supportive girlfriends. When things become normal again, I want to have a girls’ night at my place… basically, invite every woman that I know and love (smiles).
You’ve churned out some diverse work across mediums in the last two years…
I think starting from November 2017, I have been very busy, with 2018 being my most fruitful and gratifying year. I did some crazy amount of work… ’18 and ’19 have been amazing years, not only in terms of the volume of work, but also quality and diversity. My British series (The Good Karma Hospital) has just premiered in the UK… so that’s been a full-fledged international project. I have done many independent films. Last year, I had four very diverse releases, in addition to Four More Shots Please! and Inside Edge (Season 2). There was also Posham Pa (a Zee5 series).
The best thing is that there is work for everyone and enough work going around to be able to choose from. Even three years ago, most conversations with my actor friends would be like, ‘Oh, what are you doing next?!’ People were genuinely worried about where the next pay cheque would come from, but now that’s no longer the case. People are looking at women as characters and not just as props. I hope it stays like this, but I doubt it will (smiles).
You recently shot a Bengali film in Calcutta…
Yes, it’s called Homecoming. It’s my first Bengali project… I had done Tasher Desh, but that’s hardly anything. Homecoming has an ensemble cast and I did it because I like the director (Soumyajit Majumdar). I love talking to him, it’s his first film as director. I like working with first-time directors because they bring in so much passion… it’s cute and admirable. I also said ‘Yes’ because my good friend Hussain Dalal is in it. It also gave me a chance to be in Calcutta for 10-15 days. We have shot one schedule… I think the next will be during Puja.