In 2015, Sayani Gupta made her film debut with the poignant Margarita with a Straw. She played Khanum, a blind Pakistani activist – a role for which she had to audition for a month. Since then Gupta has appeared in bit parts in four major films, including Fan and Baar Baar Dekho. Most recently, she played a woman seeking justice for her murdered husband in Jolly LLB 2. Her powerful few scenes in the legal drama even earned her the admiration of co-star Akshay Kumar. Interestingly, she almost turned down the part because of its brief screen time. 

The young actress admits that very often people don’t recognise her on streets or know her by name. She still has to audition to for parts. And the few substantial parts for women are purely reserved for Alia Bhatt, Deepika Padukone and Anushka Sharma. Here, Gupta tells us about surviving in the fringes of Bollywood and slowly working her way up. “The time between action and cut is worth every struggle you go through. The immense joy and happiness the craft gives you dulls everything else. You are okay to not eat, no money, and no respect just in order to go out there and be able to be in front of the camera,” she says.  

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‘We Aren’t In A Position To Choose’ 

People like us aren’t in a position to choose. People aren’t waiting outside my door to work with me. I know I do get better parts than a lot of people. But most of the lead roles that come to me I can never accept. They just involve singing around a hero and looking good. I would therefore choose a Jolly LLB 2 or a Parched over that.

I used to get a lot of horror films! They think I’m Bipasha Basu’s successor which is very scary. It’s mortifying

I used to get a lot of horror films! They think I’m Bipasha Basu’s successor which is very scary. It’s mortifying. I’ve nothing against her but I don’t want to do those sleazy kind of horror films. This one time I went to a meeting and the director says, ‘Oh my god, you have such beautiful eyes. Before I could say thank you, he says you’re perfect for my ghost. I mean, f*** off! 

‘None Of Us Are Saleable’

The good scripts that are being written go to three people- Alia (Bhatt), Deepika (Padukone) and Anushka (Sharma). Deepika doesn’t have dates for the next two years. Alia is getting all good roles and she deserves it too. But apart from them no body even looks around because none of us are saleable. Now Radhika (Apte) and Swara (Bhaskar) have done okay and are getting woman protagonist parts. 

Honestly for us it is damn difficult. Even if there are good parts, they are smaller and I’m really struggling with that. I don’t know how to break through because it is a very tough battle

Honestly for us it is damn difficult. Even if there are good parts, they are smaller and I’m really struggling with that. I don’t know how to break through because it is a very tough battle. Unless you get super lucky and someone sees you, like a Taapsee (Pannu) got really lucky. Shoojit Sarkar saw something in her and decided to make back to back films. Someone has to make you their muse. Swara had Anand L Rai.

‘Nobody Bothered Introducing Me To SRK’

The first time I met Shah Rukh Khan was when we were shooting for Fan. I got ready and went on set and was hoping someone will introduce me to him, but nobody bothered. He was still doing a scene when I went in to rehearse my bit. My scenes were all with him and it was integral to his story. But when I was there Maneesh (Sharma) just asked me, ‘You remember you lines?  Chalo, chalo karo’. And all this while SRK doesn’t even know my name! Later, of course, he turned to me and said, ‘Baby, I don’t even know your name’ and hugged me. That first hug will always be super special.

No one recognizes me on the streets. Often I’m sitting next to someone watching my own film and he has absolutely no idea its me

You get earlier call times than the stars. SRK doesn’t shoot in India before 1 PM. But they would call us at 8:30AM and we would have to sit there in hair and make-up. I don’t understand why they do this because you end up tiring your actors. The Assistant Directors just want to ensure that everyone is there and when the star comes he will. If you aren’t a star people won’t respect your time. We culturally have that problem. 

‘I’ll Never Be Famous’ 

I don’t think I’m famous at all. No one recognizes me on the streets. Often I’m sitting next to someone watching my own film and he has absolutely no idea its me. I come out of my own screening and people ask me ‘Who were you in the film?’ This happens to me after every single film – Margarita with a Straw, Parched, Fan, everything. I tend to look different in every film. This means I’ll never be famous! But I like this space as an actor, where your there but your not there. I’m kind of omnipresent. 

 

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