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Sayani Gupta

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To Act or Not to Act

When I meet her in home in New Delhi, she’s playing with her cousin’s dog Laila, blowing kisses across the screen that separates them and posing just as playfully for our camera. That’s as effortless as she comes on the big screen too. Sayani Gupta, whose name is pronounced as ‘Shyoni’, she corrects during our first phone conversation, is an actor who believes that her craft lies in ‘getting to the moment of truth’. And that translates into her brilliantly believable performance in Margarita, With a Straw, where she plays Kalki’s blind lesbian lover. She has many powerful film releases this year too — Fan, Parched, Jagga Jasoos and Baar Baar Dekho

Sayani’s introduction to the world of acting began very early. Her father was a music composer and member of India’s first theatre group, Bohurupee. The arts were a way of life as she grew up training in Bharatanatyam and being acquainted with theatre on and off. ‘My mother, however, was opposed to the idea of acting…she had this middle-class notion that acting corrupts girls,’ she recalls. But the stage grew to be ‘the most beautiful place’ for her. ‘I absolutely loved being on stage—it was a whole world unto itself.’ After she landed a seat at Lady Shri Ram College, she was happy to move out of Kolkata and set up base in Delhi. ‘Those three years changed my world-view and gave me a lot of exposure. We were interacting with writers, musicians, artists… I finally felt I belonged somewhere.’

Still, she had to take up a boring marketing job to pay her bills. ‘I don’t even know why they’d hire a history honours person for it’, she remembers, but adds how she ended up getting six promotions in a span of a year thanks to be a self-confessed workaholic. ‘But I had no time left for theatre. I had earned a lot of money, but when you realise that you are not leading a life of inspiration, it’s the worst thing that can happen to you. During that time, I watched a lot of films and I ached to go back to acting. A friend was going to fill a form for FTII and asked if I wanted to come along. I wasn’t sure but I gave it a shot anyway. You see, my CEO wanted to send me off for an MBA and I thought no way; I was desperate to get out.’

From then on, her journey would change, although her mother was still against it. Thankfully, she says, she had earned enough savings to take a risk on her own. ‘I’ve lived my life like that. I’m from the old school of thought that you should do things on your own terms.’ 

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