Sayani Gupta on Article 15, her co-star Ayushmann Khurrana and why she has been refusing Bollywood films
Sayani Gupta opens up about her role in Article 15, why she prefers international projects and webseries over Bollywood films and her wishlist of directors.
Sayani Gupta often picks up the most unconventional roles. From the contemporary urban characters to the rural woman, she has taken on some path-breaking roles in both mainstream and off-beat cinema, like Margarita With A Straw, Parched, Fan, Jolly LLB, The Hungry and many more. She will next be seen in a completely de-glam avatar in the role of a severely downtrodden yet brave Dalit woman in the crime-thriller Article 15, based on the Article 15 of the Indian Constitution which prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. The Anubhav Sinha-directed film, starring Ayushmann Khurrana, takes inspiration from true life events, including the 2014 Badaun gang rape allegations and murder of two teenage girls and the 2016 Una flogging incident.
“Anubhav wanted to work with me for a while now. But he was a bit apprehensive about offering me this role because those days I was promoting Four More Shots Please! — the web series that sees me in a glamorous avatar. He was looking at my Instagram and saying, ‘I wonder how the same girl will play the part in Article 15’. Also, there was big hoarding, a solo poster of mine right outside his office and he was like, ‘I see this every day’, but when I showed him a clipping from Parched, he was convinced. He was also quite happy with the look test,” says Sayani.
“I was overwhelmed with the script, there was such a plethora of emotions and I had felt the same for Margarita and Jolly LLB, these were such well-written scripts. Article 15 was so well-balanced, nuanced and witty. I wanted to be part of this film in any capacity because sometimes you want to tell and support that story. My character is so empowered and strong and she holds her own ground,” she adds.
But Sayani doesn’t want to reveal much about her character. “The film is inspired from true incidents. I play a village girl and I can’t talk more because it is an investigative drama. She belongs to scheduled caste, so she is obviously extremely downtrodden but the good thing about her is she is not scared to voice her opinion and she is desperate for justice. She is very brave as compared to where she comes from. She is hopeful and that is a beautiful part in the character,” says Sayani.
Since Sayani is someone who feels for the cause, she could also give her inputs during the making of the film. “I have lots of friends who are working at the ground reality with adivasis and Dalits in Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand. I have seen videos and interviews and this is not just for the film. I am somebody who is aware of what is happening around me. This is something I already stand for and empathise with. It wasn’t an alien concept to me. Hence, the script moved me. Anubhav gave me books to read and he was constantly telling me about the subject. For one scene, the writer and I were brainstorming together and they did incorporate the dialogue that I suggested. But as an actor, I feel serious involvement is required and it is not just about going and saying lines,” says the actress.
While learning the (Eastern UP) dialect was most challenging for Sayani, she says she picked up the body language pretty naturally and designed her own look for the film. “Photographs for reference work helped me understand how one would stand, hold your hand and such tiny details. I designed my look and I like going to very painful details choosing my props, the exact colour and texture of my clothes. Dialect was tough but Anubhav has sound understanding of it as he is from that part of the world. Then, working with senior experienced actors was helpful. Except for the dialect, rest of it happened organically and seamlessly,” says Sayani.
And the actress was quite amazed at the protagonist’s cool demeanour on sets for a serious film as this. “It was a serious and tough role for Ayushmann but on the set I don’t think he ever felt all these emotions because he was talking about food all the time. It was like a party with absolutely no tension. Ayushmann is a chiller and he’s pretty cool as a person. He is so unaffected by his achievements. He is just so normal. He is still that Chandigarh boy. He is very funny and is always cracking jokes,” she says about her co-star.
Sayani might have not been seen in Bollywood films for some time now but she has her hands full with web series and international cinema. “In fact, I have been refusing Bollywood offers for lack of time. Jolly LLB was my last film but I have not had the time to breathe. I was doing Inside Edge 2, Four More Shots 1. I did two films last year – Kaushiki and a British series in Sri Lanka, which was for ITV. Then, I did short films and a travel show in Cannes. In one year and two months, I got six days off. Last year, I shot for all 365 days. I have been shooting like a maniac,” she says.
Sayani is quite sorted and clear about the projects she wants to take up; 'insignificant' roles in mainstream Bollywood are a definitely 'No'. “I would rather do a British series or an independent film where I am the lead than do a second lead in a big Hindi film. Hindi films have just one aspect and it is not my be all and end all. I want to work internationally and that is my focus. Last year, I did a film called Axion with Sa Re Ga Ma, which is a one-actor film. It’s such a good time that there are all kinds of work and sometimes we are too spoilt for choice,” she says. Her wish-list includes directors such as Zoya Akhtar, Shoojit Sircar, Mani Ratnam, Vishal Bharadwaj and Mira Nair.
Sayani further says that she didn’t get tempted by the glamorous roles that started pouring in after she did Four More Shots Please! “Lot of mainstream Bollywood people call up for these glamorous parts but those are just useless. Women are only looking pretty and doing nothing. I want to act, na? That is not fun for me; it might be fun for my make-up artist (laughs heartily). Recently, I was offered a mainstream film that appeared tempting, it had a 40-day schedule in Mauritius but I refused and told them that I didn’t want to wear bikini and do nothing. A lot of people told me that I was mad to refuse a big banner but I would prefer to do a film with 10 people in the mountains. That is the kind of actor I am, what to do?” she says signing off.
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