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Bollywood was like porn in my house: Sayani Gupta

Sayani Gupta wasn’t allowed to watch Hindi films. She heard Hindi film songs only on Chitrahaar.

Written by Kevin Lobo | New Delhi |
Updated: May 3, 2015 8:00:11 am
Sayani Gupta, margarita with a straw, Sayani gupta interview,  sayani gupta in margarita with a straw, sayani gupta struggle, sayani gupta as khanum, sayani gupta bollywood movies, sayani gupta visually impaired girl, Sayani Gupta hindi films, actress sayani gupta, sayani gupta margarita with a straw premiere, sayani gupta film premiere, Jagga Jasoos, bollywood news, entertainment news “Bollywood was akin to porn in my house, I wasn’t allowed to watch it,” says Sayani Gupta.

Three-and-a-half years ago, when Sayani Gupta shifted to Mumbai from Kolkata, the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) graduate decided to immerse herself in theatre, and go for as many film and advertising auditions as she could. She had a false start with the box-office dud Second Shaadi Dot Com. While attending eight auditions a day for two years, Gupta bagged the role of Khanum, the visually impaired self-sufficient girl in Shonali Bose’s Margarita With a Straw. The role has earned her much acclaim, and now she is set to play third fiddle to Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif in Jagga Jasoos. Excerpts from an interview:

How difficult was it to play the visually impaired girl?

Everyone is talking about how Naseeruddin Shah helped you. I auditioned for this role for a month. I blindfolded myself, cut out all visual references, but it just wasn’t coming together. Naseer guided me; he would constantly tell me that I am not working hard enough, and maybe I wasn’t. I attended classes at National Association for the Blind, learned Braille and how to walk with a cane. I also had to meditate. I have scattered energy, but when you are visually impaired, you are constantly internalising and analysing everything happening around you. When we shot in Delhi, I kept my eyes shut through almost the whole shoot. Half the crew in Delhi thought that I was blind. On the last day, a spot dada, held my hand and told me to keep in touch. I did not want to break his heart, so I did not tell him that I can see.

Did you have to prepare a lot to play a lesbian character on screen?
There is a powerplay between a man and a woman in bed that you get very conscious of on camera. It is more comfortable between two women. Laila has cerebral palsy, so Khanum had to be gentle with her. During the scene, Shonali decided not to cut for 19 minutes, and in the middle, I had no idea what to do. So I decided to stay on Kalki’s upper body. I could see that she was uncomfortable and I felt terrible.

How have your parents reacted to the movie?
My father, a musician who worked with All India Radio, is no more. My mother had a government job at BSNL and was always opposed to my career in acting. She had seen the life my father had lived and did not like it. When I told her that I was going to FTII, she threatened to commit suicide. I knew she would come around eventually. She loved the film. I watched the premiere with her in Kolkata.

Did you grow up on Bollywood?
Bollywood was akin to porn in my house, I wasn’t allowed to watch it. I heard Hindi film songs only on Chitrahaar, when my next door neighbour would increase the volume of her TV. Once, I had gone to another neighbour’s house to watch Kaho Na Pyaar Hai. When I returned, my mother thrashed me badly.

So what kind of films did you watch?
My uncle has a VHS collection of over 20,000 films. My first (Jean-Luc) Godard was when I was 10. I watched (movies by Satyajit) Ray and (Ritwik) Ghatak with my mother. Once, my uncle made my cousin and me sit with Shakespeare’s unabridged books, and watch Hungarian and Russian films based on them. We couldn’t understand anything. I also watched rom-coms.

What kind of roles are you looking for?
I did not work for a year after Margarita With a Straw. One day, I went for an audition. As soon as the director saw me, he said, “Oh my god, you have beautiful eyes. You are perfect for my ghost.” So, I have been getting a lot of offers for horror movies, but that can wait. (I wish) somebody would cast me in a song-and-dance film; enough of this serious independent stuff!

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