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Sayani Gupta: "Beauty is in the small things"

By Asis Sethi Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017 10:35: AM

Indian films have come a long way, and some of the most memorable roles have come from females in front or behind the camera that are not necessarily considered  “mainstream”, be it Nil Battey Sannata, Pink, or Konkana Sen Sharma’s feature directorial debut A Death in the Gunj. I explore the notion of the increase in female directors and how they seem to shine, including Bornila Chatterjee, who comes to TIFF with The Hungry.

Who better to  have this conversation with than Sayani Gupta, who herself is known for doing niche roles, and working with female directors. She talked about some of her most memorable films being with female directors, be it Margarita with a Straaw, or Parched last year, or The Hungry this year that Bornila has written.

She says while it is a coincidence, there is something about female directors: “I don’t know what it is but I choose stories that have strong women characters and while they don’t always necessarily come from women directors, many times they do. I think that women tell their own stories in a much more layered fashion. There are big differences between the way women are portrayed by male filmmakers versus how women are portrayed by female filmmakers. While it may not be intentional, women may just be more aware of each other.”

She goes on further and she says that we often see women in films as not really having their own journey, their own soul, a mind of their own. There’s also a huge pressure of showing women as either the good woman or a vamp, she says and chuckles. But Sayani maintains that, “all of us have a good side and bad. And we must be true to that.”

I wonder out loud if it is also because our own perspectives of ourselves may be more detailed as we know what goes through our minds. She agrees and talks about that exact notion: “women are much more detail-oriented, typically. Women tend to see everything in a lot more details. They will notice a slight hand movement or the way somebody looks at somebody for three seconds longer. And I think the beauty lies in the small things, which are captured by women.” Perhaps, it is these small things that are making the female directors today stand out.

She maintains that while, as a performer, it doesn’t matter who directs a film, but it does make me feel good when a good script is enacted by a female filmmaker because of the kind of details that are shown. She says that females generally need to take a step up and encourage each other, because the lack of females behind the camera is something that is prevalent in every industry, not just the Hindi film industry. We still have such a long way to go, she says.

She touches on this concept where women are categorized is very pure or very bad, but in The Hungry, we see characters that are doing wrong, but we still feel a notion of sympathy for them. I ask her about what she channels when she is asked to play a character with grey shades. Sayani talks about The Hungry’s characters being quite on the dark side. She talks about the process being somewhat the same but every character is an extension of yourself. She says that she tries to push herself to see how you would reach in the same circumstances that your character has been put through. You need to put yourself in that situation, she says. Sayani says, “once you do that, and put yourself in that character’s situation, everything follows. And then there are choices that are made – what is okay to do, what is not okay to do.”

The Hungry also touches Sayani Gupta on a personal level, because it brings together Naseeruddin Shah, who was a guest lecturer where Sayani studied. The Film and Television Institute of India. The interactions between the actors was pleasant and the cast actually got along quite well, despite the dark story. Sayani talks about the irony as when in film school, you read so much about your craft, but you are also told “acting is very personal but there is so much to the craft. Then, Naseer sir came in one day and all of a sudden, I remember thinking about why people were making it so difficult. To me, it was very simple. To me, acting became this  beautiful thing.”

And a beautiful thing it is.

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