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Meet the feisty Khanum

Sayani Gupta

Sayani Gupta   | Photo Credit: arranged

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Sayani Gupta, the quiet scene stealer of ‘Margarita with a Straw’ on what it takes to portray a blind character with zest for life.

Shonali Bose’s Margarita with a Straw is an affirmation to the fine, natural performer that Kalki Koechlin is. Alongside, the film puts the spotlight on a relatively new actress, Sayani Gupta, who plays Khanum, a blind, feisty activist from Pakistan. “You know, the audition process for this role took a month. It wasn’t a case where you go, say a few lines and hear the results,” says Sayani, soaking in the “excellent feedback” she’s been receiving for her performance.

Sayani was in the interiors of Rajasthan, shooting for Dilli se Door, a travelogue by Saeed Mirza, Aziz Mirza and Kundan Shah, when she got a call asking if she’d be interested in Shonali Bose’s film. “I had committed to the travel show for five months. We had to travel to 16 states. I still had four months to go and I told them that I wouldn’t be able to do the film. When I returned to Mumbai four months later, I got a call saying they haven’t still found anyone to play Khanum,” recalls Sayani.

Sayani met Shonali and was blown away by the concept. The audition required homework. She had to play a blind character at ease with her condition and doesn’t wallow in self pity. She turned to Naseeruddin Shah for help. The 1980 film Sparsh had Shah playing a blind person who doesn’t get weighed down by the condition. “He gave me a few exercises. I would blindfold myself for an entire day and do all the household chores. It’s relatively easier to do that within the safe terrain of your home. I had to do more,” she says. She went out to the streets and spoke to blind people to understand how they navigate the city. “I had to think and behave like Khanum.” Once the audition was done, Sayani forgot about it until one fine day, Shonali called and asked her, ‘Can I speak to my Khanum?’

In the film, Khanum is based in New York and portrayed as a young woman who carefully matches her accessories, sometimes colour coordinating them. She isn’t someone who’d be spotted in drab clothes. “I happened to meet a visually impaired woman, Madhubala, in Gurgaon and noticed that she was so well turned out. She told me that she matches her clothes because though she is blind, others can see her. Khanum is an independent woman living in New York where everything is accessible. She wears eye makeup and lipstick. Now, it would have be stretching it a bit far to show her wearing mascara.”

Given the film’s theme of a young woman with cerebral palsy falling in love, Sayani knew the film would find appreciation in festival circuits. She is pleasantly surprised with the reaction from the Mumbai film fraternity and the movie watching public.

Next, Sayani has director Vasan Bala’s Bunny, an extension of his short film of the same name, Leena Yadav’s Parched and Anurag Basu’s Jagga Jasoos starring Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif.

A product of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, Sayani has earlier worked in Gaurav Panjwani’s Second Marriage Dot Com. “At that point, I wanted to see if I could put into practice what I learnt at the institute. Once I did the film, I knew I could do any film. Then I was careful with my choice. It’s funny when I think how the industry works. Now I get many offers to play disabled characters,” she laughs.

While the path ahead looks bright for her in cinema, she laments not getting enough time for her first love, theatre. Before we wind up, it’s impossible not to draw attention to her resemblance to Lisa Haydon. “Oh yes, a lot of people are telling me that and it’s a huge compliment. Lisa is so hot. In fact, someone didn’t believe when I said I acted in Margarita. They thought it was Lisa,” laughs Sayani.

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Printable version | Nov 19, 2018 2:25:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/interview-with-sayani-gupta/article7134274.ece

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