Coming from a theatre background, Sayani Gupta’s creative soul is always on the lookout for meaningful roles. So when the character of Khanum (in Shonali Bose’s Margarita with a Straw) was offered to this Kolkata-born actor, she couldn’t ask for more.
"I trained hard for Khanum. I could connect with her zest for life. She is a fiery social activist who doesn’t care about her blindness," says Gupta, who is a trained Bharatnatyam dancer.
Next, Sayani will be seen in Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos. The Tasher Desh actor speaks to HT about her upcoming films and more:
How did you get to work in Margarita With A Straw?
This was in 2012, I was travelling for Saeed Mirza’s travel show Yeh Hai India Meri Jaan, when I got a call from Nilesh Maniyar, (co-director and casting director of the film) to audition for Khanum’s role. I went for the audition and found the script amazing. The audition went on for a month. To research my role, I started watching films with blind characters. I even spoke to Naseeruddin Shah, who was my teacher at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). Sparsh was a film that inspired me. He gave me certain exercises such as doing my daily chores, moving out of my house and crossing the road with a blind fold. The biggest challenge was to cut off from my day-to-day visual references and get used to the darkness to play the character.
Tell us about Khanum.
Khanum is a girl of Pakistani-Bangladeshi origin, who is never sorry for anything she does or says. An independent person, Khanum was born blind. She is instrumental in Laila (Kalki Koechlin) becoming a woman from a girl.
Tell us about Shonali Bose.
Shonali is a strong woman and is very similar to Khanum. She is fantastic in the kind of life she leads. She is sensible and well read. It’s only Shonali who can make a film like Margarita With A Straw. She has dealt with issues of disability and sexuality with poise and dignity in the film.
How was Kalki as a co-star?
Kalki is fantastic person and a dear friend whom I meet often. People must cast us together again. (Smiles) She is very hard-working and can be both mad and calm at the same time.
Kalki Koechlin in a still from Margarita With A Straw. So much is being written about the kissing scene in the film. Even the censor board recommended a few cuts in the sex scenes.
I know but it’s not what the film is all about. It’s a crucial part. The kiss helps Laila discover her sexuality. We often wrongly assume that specially-abled people don’t have sexual needs. Also intimate scenes aren’t easy to shoot. It’s very mechanical and stressful. Adil Hussain and Monsoon (Shonali’s friend from the US) did intimacy workshops with us. There were issues with the cuts but the review committee understood the importance of those scenes and just shortened one heterosexual lovemaking scene by a few seconds.
Do you think Khanum’s character will open avenues for you in getting better roles?
It already has. My short film, Vasan Bala’s Bunny is getting good reviews. I’m doing Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos, where I play the narrator and in importance my character is just after Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif. I also have Leena Yadav’s Parched and Manav Kaul’s Tathagat. I’m assisting Manav for the film. Next, I will be doing another Bollywood film, but I can’t talk about it right now.
Watch the trailer of Margarita With A Straw: VIDEO After Tasher Desh have you signed any Bengali film?
Nobody calls me from Kolkata, I wish they would. Q called me for a film but I couldn’t do it because I had prior commitments.
Tell us about your future projects.
I am planning to direct a short film soon. I am also learning the guitar and will be collaborating with a Mumbai-based band.