Movies

Sayani Gupta: ‘Axone shines a torch on how diverse culture is’

Cooking up a feast: In Axone , Sayani Gupta plays Upasana, a young Nepali woman in Delhi  

Sayani Gupta eats fish like a cat: bones, head, et al much to horror of people dining with her. The disagreement on food choices and practices is a miniscule example of the existing prejudices everyone carries despite how ‘woke’ they claim to be. “We all feel like we are the ones who’s right,” says the 34-year-old actor. “There’s this constant debate about us and them, whether it’s Hindu-Muslim; Brahmin-Dalit; or even black-white. I don’t know why people are constantly trying to divide us, we’re all ultimately going to die,” she laughs. The solution then, according to Gupta, is to consciously operate from a place of respect and empathy. Easier said than done, of course.

Authentic representation

The actor is delving into the subject of intolerance while talking to The Hindu because of her latest role in Nicholas Kharkongor’s Axone. She plays Upasana, a young Nepali woman in Delhi, part of a gang of friends who happen to be North Eastern migrants. The group of youngsters are clutching onto their roots while trying to assimilate in the Capital’s North Indian culture. At the same time, love, camaraderie and life’s other struggles plague their daily existence. “It’s a very simple film, not at all rocket science,” says Gupta. “It might underline something we might choose to ignore but all of us understand these things.” In the film, a group of friends are trying their hardest to prepare axone — pronounced akuney — pork made with fermented soybean paste. An acquired taste, the dish has been described as pungent enough to curl nose hairs. But like a character in the film says, the protagonists have a right to make their own food. In turn, the people they live around can refuse to tolerate its aroma. Using the politics of food, director Kharkongor highlights racism, that is felt by North Eastern migrants and in turn their own prejudices as well. “That’s one of the reasons I jumped on this film,” explains the actor. “For the first time, I came across a script that was so authentic in its representation of people from the North East. It shines a torch on how diverse the culture is.”

Important messages

Made on a shoe-string budget, the film was shot in Delhi during the infernally hot month of July; a time when most locals flee for better climates. In addition to cruel natural elements, most of the shoot was conducted in basements and cramped houses without air conditioning. “The shoot was misery,” guffaws Gupta adding that almost every member of the cast was hospitalised because of dehydration, food poisoning or consuming bad water. A particularly moving scene with the stars of the film walking hand in hand towards their destination clad in the finest of traditional attire had a darker backstory. “I must have spent the previous night preparing 35 bottles of ORS,” reveals the actor. “We had to hold up [Asenla Jamir who plays Minam] or she would have fallen otherwise.” Despite the trials, though, Gupta says the sheer experience of making Axone far outweighed whatever they had to endure. To be able to present this light-hearted story that had a much deeper and important message just beneath the surface. The cast and crew today heartily laugh over the misery they suffered.

The character of Upasana is an opportunity for Gupta to portray a woman with agency, an utterly important criterion when it comes to project selection. From playing a blind lesbian activist in Margarita with a Straw (2015) to Dalit woman Gaura in Article 15 (2019) and the investigative journalist Damini Rizvi-Roy in Four More Shots Please. In spite of leaps in craft and filmmaking, Gupta believes diversity and gender representation on screen in India has a long way to go. “I know for a fact that Four More Shots and content about women with control of their lives made a section of people, mostly men, disturbed,” reveals Gupta adding that there needs to be more stories about women instead of them being accessories in someone else’s life.

Axone is currently streaming on Netflix

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2020 6:51:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/sayani-gupta-axone-shines-a-torch-on-how-diverse-culture-is/article31845434.ece

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