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Smriti Kiran: My first memory of Sayani Gupta is through an article called ‘The Rangmanch Girls’ that came out in Open Magazine in 2015. She had already clocked half a decade in the industry by then. Sayani’s childhood was soaked in the arts. Her father was a musician. Growing up, Sayani marinated in music, world cinema, classical dance and was privy to endless conversations about art and politics. The pull towards performing arts became stronger when she joined Lady Sri Ram College and was exposed to some of the best names in theatre: Habib Tanvir and M.K. Raina. She flirted with a job post-college, but there was always a niggle at the back of her head. She got through the very difficult and prestigious acting course at FTII, and the rest is history. It has been nine years since she has been a working actor in the industry.

Sayani, the way you talk about acting, and your craft, and how you approach it is fascinating.

Sayani Gupta: I would like to start by saying that the idea is to share my notes or share my understanding that I’ve had over the years. It might work for you, it might not. But these are the little things that I have figured out for myself. It’s also an ever-evolving process. So, I’m not saying I know it all, and it’s not an absolute fact. Please don’t hold me against it. I do hope that if you are grappling with the craft of acting, just like I am, this might help you in whichever little way.

Smriti Kiran: I truly believe that with all the challenges that we might grapple with in our lives, from where we are sitting, there can be nothing but gratitude. I say this clearly at the start of your session because there is an epiphany you had within the first few years of working in Mumbai that has stayed with me…

“I have been around performing arts all my life. It’s really in my bloodstream.”

Sayani Gupta: It happened a few years ago, actually. I went to the door to get my grocery, I took the grocery bag, and as I was walking back to the kitchen from my living room, mid-motion, I almost had this moment, which was really this realisation that wait, hang on, I am living in Bombay as a professional actor. I am actually living the dream that I have had since I was four or five years old. The distance I had traversed to come till here gave me a lot of gratitude. It made me feel that no matter where you are in life—there are so many times you feel why isn’t this and this happening—just remember where you’ve come from, your journey and everything that you’ve experienced as a part of it. It is really something that we should be grateful for. At least, I am. I have to be thankful for my life, to the kind of influences I’ve had, the kind of teachers, the kind of mentors, enablers who enriched not only the craft that I’m working with at the moment but also my life.

Right at the beginning, as you said, I had a very unique household, where my parents were diametrically opposite people. My mother was a straight-jacketed professional woman; academics were the main focus. But she was the one who put me in dance school when I was not even two. On the other hand, my father’s sole motto in life was to surround me with all kinds of fine arts and performing arts. I’ve grown up around music. Every day he would come and, as routine, we would either learn a new song or read plays or short stories or poetry or perform together.

Sayani Gupta with her parents

So, I have been around performing arts all my life. It’s really in my bloodstream. I can’t think of anything else. It is part of my DNA. Then films happened. One of my uncles had this crazy collection of VHS tapes. He introduced me to a lot of world cinema right at the beginning. I remember watching films with subtitles at the age of eight-nine, and I used to hate it. Which child wants to watch Shakespeare in German? It was a very painful process, but it was happening. In hindsight, I’m so grateful.

My nani was a philosopher. She would just keep talking about all kinds of scriptures, and people would come to listen to her, people from various other professions, doctors, writers and all. She would make me read the Gita very often.

So, I had a very unique mix and an amalgamation of culture and art at home. I can’t live without that kind of mental stimulation. It’s just the kind of inspiration for me to live.

Smriti Kiran: Is that one of the things that propelled you to keep trying harder because, somewhere, in the back of your head, you knew that if it doesn’t work out, then there is always the possibility to do something else? But you are getting an opportunity to fulfil a dream that you have dreamt, so you’re giving it a fair shot.

“In spite of not having money in my bank, in spite of trying to figure out how the rent is going to come the next month, you go ahead and do it.”

Sayani Gupta: Absolutely. I think I’m lucky because that realisation came pretty early on. When I was 21-22, I started working, and that corporate job actually helped me know what I didn’t want to do. I knew that if it was about earning money and fending for myself, that’s all I was trying to do at that time, I could easily survive on theatre and dance – things I love. Of course, money is important and survival is very important, but it might not be so difficult given the education I’ve had. I would be able to figure certain things out. I felt like I didn’t want to be 60 and regret that I should have done something else. That was eating me from the inside. That’s why I went to FTII (Film and Television Institute of India).

I went because I wanted to know if I’m cut out for it or not, very simply. People I would work with would call me a ‘natural actor’. I didn’t know what that meant. What is a natural actor? I didn’t know what that embodies. I needed to know what they meant. I needed to know whether I am good enough at it or not. I was excited to know and learn more about cinema. FTII was probably the best decision of my life, and is the reason that we are here and having a conversation.

Actors often tend to use the word ‘struggle’ in the context of finding jobs. I always feel that your main job as a professional actor is to look for the job. That’s a lifelong challenge because up until a point, till you have probably made a name, there are years that you spend just looking for that next job. Where will the next month’s rent come from? Where does the money come from? How will I survive? How will I pay my bills? And, mind you, actors have to look a certain way. You have to invest in the clothes you wear. It is stressful.

I feel that if you go out every day bolke ki arre main Bombay mein struggle karta hu, main struggle karne jaa raha hu, that might just start the day with a defeatist attitude. You are, after all, chasing your dream; nobody put a gun to your head and said, ‘Acting karna hi hai, actor banna hi hai nahi toh ghar mat aana vapas’. Aisa koi nahin bolta hai because everyone has pretty much fought with their family, or they’ve all had an avenue to earn money, or a career, a normal job, which paid and gave them a salary at the end of the month.

Sayani Gupta: And it’s hard. It’s a very hard thing, but nobody said it’s not going to be hard. Nobody said it’s going to be rosy. That’s what I’m saying. That realisation happened because in spite of all that, in spite of not having money in my bank, in spite of trying to figure out how the rent is going to come the next month, you go ahead and do it.

I remember I was going to the premiere of Margarita with a Straw (by Shonali Bose), and I didn’t have 500 rupees to book a cab. I had to go and take that money from my friend who helped me. You also find friends who will help you. I really feel that that is something to be grateful for.

Smriti Kiran: How did FTII shape you as an actor?

Sayani Gupta: I went to FTII because I genuinely wanted to know how films were made. I had no idea how films were made. I didn’t know what editing was, for example. I remember the first time I went to FTII and saw the film – we used to shoot on film. There was negative and positive and emulsion, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is science’. There’s so much work that goes in. As a viewer, even if you love films, you didn’t know that. That’s the kind of knowledge that I was seeking. More than knowledge, the know-how of how films are made. Of course, FTII teaches you multiple things like camera and lensing, art direction, sound design, production design, costumes, all of that.

The biggest realisation, for me, that happened at FTII was that an actor does not live in isolation. An actor is part of the bigger machinery. An actor is part of the mise-en-scene, which, by definition, is ‘the stage design and arrangement of actors and scenes for a theatre or film production, both, in visual arts through storyboarding, visual themes, cinematography, and in narrative storytelling through direction’.

Everything you see in a frame is part of the mise-en-scene, and an actor is a live part of that dynamic frame. The collaborative spirit of films and filmmaking is something that I realised I loved. It is probably the biggest realisation I have had because that teaches you to value rigour of every discipline. You can’t come on set, and expect everyone to go like, ‘Oh, actor aagaya.’ Tum actor ho, kaam karo, ghar jao, like everyone is doing. You’re not special. Of course, there are people who become indispensable, like a director or the HODs, but this collaborative spirit of filmmaking is something that charges me.

Sayani Gupta at FTII

For example, I used to assist a lot back in FTII. I was assisting Prateek Vats, who is the director of Eeb Allay Ooo! I was holding a glass sheet during a take, I was part of the art department, and actually my batch mate, who is a casting director now, was the actor, and the camera was behind me. The focus was going on him through the glass. The focus was very critical. So, I’m holding the glass like that, and I’m not able to breathe because the moment I heave with breath, my hand moves and the focus changes.

I’m sitting there for almost a couple of hours, not able to breathe in a cramped environment, which is when I realised that it’s a lot of hard work that people are doing to make you look good. You know that everyone’s working so hard so that you look right and good. Once you’re on the other side of things, you realise how much work actually goes in. I have to give credit to FTII for that.

Sayani Gupta at FTII

Having said that, because you’re an actor, you would come in the space with your moment of truth, which we will come to. What do you bring in? Your tool is your mind and your body, right? Somebody said back then that everything in the frame are still machines. The actor is the only person who is not a machine. This is your tool: your mind, your memory, your association, your observations, your personality, your experiences and your body – they’re all what makes you. Sab purza kaam karna chahiye because this is your machine. So, that understanding, that you come in as part of the collaboration and cannot live in isolation, was crucial.

Also, smaller things. I came from a proscenium space. I’ve always been a performer. I was used to the stage. In a proscenium set up, the audience is seeing you through one lens. It’s a long shot, wide frame, they’re not going into the close-up of your eye. But on camera, the acting becomes slightly different because now it’s a machine or a medium, which is the camera, that’s reading you. That’s when lensing comes in, and that is a very critical understanding that I have had. It helped me.


“The biggest realisation that happened at FTII was that an actor does not live in isolation. The collaborative spirit of filmmaking charges me.”

For example, if I am in a wider frame, you are able to see me, but I can come into a mid-shot or a mid-close up or a close-up or just my eyes. That is lensing. In this case, the frame is not changing. Sometimes, the focus is going to be critical, so you can ask the focus puller if it’s a 100 or a 75 lens. If it’s a hundred, the focus is so critical that even if you go aage or peeche, you’re going out of the focal plane. These small things are the things that make you more aware.

These are not things to make you more conscious. If you know that the focus is going to shift, or it’s a handheld shot or the shot is in movement, you would get up slowly. If it’s a wide shot, then I can get up and it will still be in focus. Those little understandings help you become a little more aware. I have to say this: I love working with DOPs.

One of those realisations I’ve had at FTII was that the cinematographer is the first person who’s seeing your performance. Even before the director, most times, because he’s seeing it through the viewfinder. Especially when you shoot in handheld or cramped spaces, sometimes getting that rhythm right is so crucial. It’s really like a dance of tango.

In The Hungry, there is this one-bathroom room scene where I’m completely battered, and I’m crawling. We are in the bathroom, it was just Nick (Cooke), who’s this DOP, and me. The way he does handheld is almost like he’s playing the violin. He just moves with the camera. It’s beautiful to watch him. We were just two people, and the moment I would move a little, his camera would move. Even though I could not see him, I could sense that he would move. It’s almost like you become one organism, and that’s a beautiful feeling. That rhythm is something that you can work off of each other. Collaboration makes that moment even more special.

Loveleen in The Hungry (2017) by Bornila Chatterjee

Smriti Kiran: FTII also teaches you a lot of theory. What did you learn about the process, and what did it come to mean for you?

Sayani Gupta: Naseer (Naseeruddin Shah) used to say that acting can’t be taught, it can be learned. I think that’s true for everything. If you have the willingness to learn, no matter where you are, you will learn. That’s why I’m grateful that I had a space to learn it in. But you can also learn on the job. There are people who don’t go to any school and are terrific actors. They know it all, and they are amazing with their process and craft.

Coming to the process, I have to say that acting, for me, is a constant exploration. It’s a constant journey. It’s a lifelong curve where there is just so much to figure out and so much to explore that it’s unending. Naseer used to say that after thirty years you become an actor. I don’t know if thirty years seems like a really long time, but they’ve been doing Waiting for Godot for 40 years, so who knows.

If you speak to the greatest actors in the world, whoever you think are great actors, if you see their interviews, I don’t think any of them would be like, ‘Arre mujhe aa gaya hai. I figured it out’. The more you do, and it’s in the doing, the more you realise that there is an ocean of things to explore, understand and discover. That also gives fire to the hunger because it’s like a gold mine, the more you dig in, the more you find it. It’s a pursuit for me. Whatever little bit of understanding I’ve had is something that I have figured through the work I’ve done, through the collaborations I’ve had, through what I have gone and done, and figured certain things that work and certain things that don’t. Even that is important to figure out: what works for you.

Process is a big word. To understand the process, we need to go back to that age-old question of what is acting. Process ek tareeka hai. It’s your methodology. Acting is, in my mind, getting to that moment of truth.

Smriti Kiran: What is the moment of truth?

“Acting, for me, is a constant exploration. It’s a constant journey.”

Sayani Gupta: For example, we are having this conversation. I am saying this sentence for the first time. It’s coming out of my mouth for the first time. But even if I have to do it for the 10th or 15th time in a take, it should sound as if it’s for the first time that it’s coming out of my mouth. It has to retain that freshness. This is talking about realism and realistic acting, but that elasticity, spontaneity, that is the moment of truth. If somebody from the side says, ‘Kya bakwaas kar raha hai!’, and I turn, and be like, ‘Okay, one second’. So, I would respond to that person, right? That response, even if I do it in the 15th take, should feel like I am hearing it for the first time. Whatever my response is, it should feel like it’s happening for the first time. Every small moment that you feel should feel truthful. How ever you get there, how ever closest you come to it, is your process. Nobody can tell you this is right or this is wrong. Whatever your process is, you know it and you will arrive at that through the work that you do, through practice.

I would like to quote Nasreen Munni Kabir who, in Shakun Batra’s session, said, ‘It’s an art to hide art’. So, whatever your process is, your backstory, whatever homework you do, happens backstage. When you come on the floor, when you’re on set, when you’re doing it, then don’t bring all that baggage. Because if you’ve done the work, it will all come to you. Automatically it’ll come to you. Then it becomes effortless; the effort doesn’t show, because if it does, then it might break the suspension of disbelief. It might be less convincing for the audience. I am a big believer of ‘if you feel it, it will show’. You don’t have to underline it. You don’t have to do it.

Coffee and Cigarettes (by Jim Jarmusch) has one of my most favourite actors, Cate Blanchett. She plays the twins. It’s one act of playing two diametrically opposite characters. Their being is different. The way they talk is different, totally different. When you see this you can’t pinpoint the effort, or you can’t pinpoint her process, but I know for a fact that there’s so much work that must have gone in. It’s so seamless. It’s so effortless. I feel that is the way to make it – just let it flow. You do so much work in the back that once you’re there, it flows.

While I was at FTII, where I spent three and a half years, I used to always feel ki acting itna haua kyun lag raha hai. Itni badi cheez toh nahi hai. There are so many big words, jargon, method, process, big names. I was like, yaar mujhe toh bohot simple cheez lagti hai. That’s why Naseer will always be that one person who cracked it for me because when he came to take the class, in the first five minutes, he said something very simple which stuck. That’s what I was saying, something somebody says will stick with you, it’s really getting to that truth, that truthfulness, being in the moment. Suddenly, it became clear to me that this is exactly what I was feeling. That’s when I felt that maybe I was on the right path.

In acting school, because you’re studying so many techniques, you’re studying different schools of acting, starting from (Konstantin) Stanislavski, which is internal, also called ‘method’. That is going from the psyche of the character, the internal, the backstory where she’s coming from, where it’s happening, how it’s happening, where is it set. From there you go into the physicality, the physical form of the character, which is body language, gesticulation, all of that.

Then there is (Jerzy) Grotowski, which is physical theatre, where you come from the spine, the breathing, and then you come to the internal psyche. It’s outer to inner. Then, of course, you have Stella Adler, Meisner, Clowning, you have done all of that. But there is debate on whether this is right or that is right? I feel there can’t be a debate. It’s different schools, you figure out what works for you. It’s your process.

For me, it’s always been a mix of everything. It’s never only that this is working. It’s different and unique every time you deal with a character, or you’re biting into a new script or a new text; in every scene you will have to do something that you have learned from somewhere else. So, it’s really a mix, and it’s absolutely unique each time you do it.

I don’t think process is something that we need to mystify. It’s cutting down, feeling it. It’s all of this. As I said, instinct is a big part of who you are. So, the process will also help you sharpen the instinct in many ways.

Smriti Kiran: What is instinct considering the fact that you are one actor who’s always said that you rely heavily on it? What constitutes that? How did you arrive at your own method and recognise that as a mixture of instinct and work and experience and memory?

Sayani Gupta: I feel that instinct is a feeling, it’s your gut. I don’t think a performer is anything without his or her instinct. Because starting from when you choose a script or a film, you are coming somewhere from your instinct, something inside of you is taking you there, attracting you to that project or that story.

When you go into working on the text or the character, from how you pitch the character, the sur of the character, uss character ka tonality kya hoga, baat kaise karega, uska rhythm kya hoga baat karne ka, all of this in the bigger picture, and the smaller nuances within scenes is all instinct. Instinct is something that can be sharpened and that is only honed when you have done that work. When you know where the character is coming from, when you know what’s happening to her, when you know what is happening in the scene, in the graph of the story, what the director wants to evoke through this moment or the scene or the larger story, it will help to push your instinct out in the right direction. It’s not a fluke. It’s something that can be worked upon.

In Jolly LLB 2 (by Subhash Kapoor), I play Hina Siddiqui, who is fighting for her husband’s justice. He’s been encountered. She’s eight months pregnant. She’s toiling, going to court, getting people to fight for her and her cause, and her husband’s justice, but she’s really hopeless, she’s fatigued and tired. There’s something called emotional memory in acting where you go back to your own real-life to figure out your own memory. I’ve never really understood it very well in class. For Hina, was I ever pregnant? No, I wasn’t. Was I married, or widowed, with a deceased husband? No. Did I see a woman who was tired and fatigued and fending for herself and trying to bring up a child, pushing and struggling and fighting every day? I did.

Hina in Jolly LLB 2 (2017) by Subhash Kapoor

So, when my mother saw the film—I did not see this coming at all as she is somebody who never says anything nice after watching my film or work—she turned around to me after the credits, she looked at me, and she’s like, ‘You’re me. It’s like you’re playing me in there. You’re walking like me’. I didn’t even realise that I borrowed from her. I’d borrowed how I had seen her, my memories from my childhood. I borrowed from her being, how she walked, how she would come back with drooping shoulders, tired and fatigued from work, cook for me; she was raising me single-handedly. I’ve seen that. And to go there, it’s your memory and your association that has instinctively pushed you in that direction. That was a big realisation for me.

“Every time you deal with a character, or you’re biting into a new script, you will have to do something that you have learned from somewhere else.”

In that scene with Akshay Kumar where I confront him, I had told production to give me some things in my bag, like a banana or a small tiffin box, or some water because given that she’s pregnant and running around, she would want me to feed her throughout the day. In this scene, I started throwing these things at Akshay’s character, and it wasn’t a planned thing. When I say, ‘Insaaf chahiye, nyaay chahiye, de sakte ho toh de do. Ye bhi le lo uske liye, ye bhi le lo.’ Take everything I bloody have, even this banana. That was an instinctive thing that happened. It helped in puncturing those lines, taking those pauses, in getting the accent. At the end of the scene, thankfully, the editor and the director kept it, amidst all the junior artists as part of the crowd standing and staring, at that moment I felt like saying, ‘Khade khade kya dekh rahe hain? Jayiye na!’ Again, it’s an improvised thing. But it worked because I was in the moment. That’s why it was truthful. Then she turns around and walks away, Negi sir (Kamaljeet Negi), who was the DOP, and Subhash sir (Subhash Kapoor) continued to roll the camera. When you see her from the back, you see how helpless she is. She’s going away, leaving everything.

Champa, for example, in Parched. There was one moment during the first rehearsal where I had let out a howl, like a guttural wail. Sumeet Vyas, who was my co-actor, came to me, who’s very funny otherwise, looking disturbed, thrown off a little bit, and said, ‘Kaisi awaaz nikali, yaar, tune?’ I hadn’t planned it. But that wail instinctively came because I knew what was happening to this person. She was being taken away; she was crying. It was almost like the last cry out to live.

Champa in Parched (2015) by Leena Yadav

I can only talk about instincts from the work I have done and when I have faced it. If you come from a studied place, you come from a preparedness, which, more than bogging you down, actually helps you realise certain reflexes that will automatically come because your headspace is there. It’s in your back. You’re not confused about where you are standing. What am I feeling? Where am I coming from? Where am I going? Where is the story progressing? That’s also important. Where is this scene being juxtaposed? That basic awareness that an actor has is not insular. Those instincts will also come when you keep your eyes and mind open. Just observe people. A lot of stories, what’s happening around you socio-politically, will give you certain things to do jo andar se aata hai.

Smriti Kiran: This also brings me to the characters that you’ve played: Khanum in Margarita with a Straw, Hina in Jolly LLB 2, Champa in Parched, and Gaura in Article 15. You’ve played a host of characters from different milieus. What kind of work do you do to make these characters authentic to the world that they belong to?

Sayani Gupta: I feel that getting into any character or understanding the character has to come from knowing your script inside out. There is no better way to say this, quoting Naseer again, ‘Know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture’. Every good script, every good text will have everything you need to know about your character and what’s happening in the story. The more you read it, the more you will discover between lines and between words.

After Paatal Lok, when somebody asked Jaideep Ahlawat ‘Kya kaam kiya’, he just said, ‘Maine bas script padhi. Itna padha ki usko memorise kar liya. I knew everything that happens, and by the time I actually went on set, I kept it aside’. That rigour of reading and reading, and learning the lines and the script, learning your co-actor’s lines, not just your highlighted lines helps you know the script inside out so that you can play. When you go on set, when you have that preparedness, you can just play because when you know the script you also know the characters’ journey, the psyche of the character, everything that is happening in the mind of the character, and you can play with it.

The second thing I would like to come to, which is an integral part of my work, is the spine. First being the script, second being the spine work, which actually comes from the Grotowski method. John Bashford, a teacher, once came for a one-day workshop, but he said something that stuck with us. It was a very useful exercise.

He said that any character in the world, any character you take, will come under seven spines. Spine is your backbone, the posture. The spine in itself affects the breathing. So, for example, when you’re slouching, your breathing is efforted. When your spine is relaxed, your breathing is relaxed. When you’re stiff, it’s going to affect your breath accordingly, which, in turn, affects the way you speak; the way you walk; the way you sit. Everything. And the seven characters, going from one to ten, from the lowest to the highest in order of status are beggar, low-class employee, middle-class employee, high-class employee, police officer, politician, and the king.

Now, this is a classical example, a classical way of looking at it. But you can apply this to modern characters as well. Even if you don’t have kings right now, they have been replaced by politicians, who are going from their tummy and walking where it directs them. It’s fascinating to study it.

If we have a girl who is a professional, who is a corporate person, going to work, her spine would be erect. Her shoulders will be square. She would beam of confidence. She would be assured. Her head would be held high. When she walks into her office, she will have that stance, which comes from the spine. When, say, she comes home really tired, she’s tired and she can slouch. She doesn’t have to be stiff there. That scene change will affect how she is with the spine. If she’s going on a date, her back is erect, and she might have a little bit of her neck turned to be flirtatious. So, everything affects it.

Gaura is fighting for her sister’s justice. She’s looking for her sister. She’s trying to figure if she can put an end to the atrocity meted out against her community, the Dalit community. Because she’s from there, she would sit on haunches. People from rural areas do sit like that. She would walk really fast because she has an immediacy and urgency to find her sister. She is extremely fast-paced. She’s fighting, but her morale is not down. She’s brave, so she always has her chin up. She’s always willing to fight.

Gaura in Article 15 (2019) by Anubhav Sinha

She’s relaxed only when she’s sitting with Nishad (played by Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) in that scene. Then she let’s go. She’s trying to be motherly in that moment. She’s trying to be there as a lover, as a friend. Then it’s a more relaxed spine. Also, when she comes running out when Nishad is being taken away, for example, she is running like her life depended on it. But the moment the car goes, you know that she has lost hope. She knows he’s not coming back. There’s nothing she can do, and she just falls down. She has left it. Those are workings that come from the spine.

Upasana, in Axone, walks really fast. She’s trying to get a lot done. She’s a people pleaser. She lacks confidence, and she’s very intimidated by Chanbi (played by Lin Laishram). So, her fingers are constantly doing things by themselves. She doesn’t realise it, but she’s doing that to muster more courage. Since she lacks confidence, her chin is down, and she’s looking up and trying to engage. But her spine is erect.

Upasana in Axone (2019) by Nicholas Kharkongor

Body language comes from the spine; spine decides the body language. If Hina is walking or standing in a certain way, it’s because she is eight months pregnant. Now, not all pregnant women have their hand on their tummy all the time. But if she is going around in public places, she’s strutting around, she will have to protect and support it. It’s also a symbol of protection. She’s trying to protect the baby, if nothing else.

Damini (from Four More Shots Please), for that matter, has her spine erect like a bamboo. But when she comes back home, it shrinks. She has clinical OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). She’s very complex. So, her demeanour changes accordingly. Rohini (from Inside Edge), for example, is going by her head. She’s an analyst. She’s constantly talking numbers. She is cerebral. So, she walks in the same way.

Damini from Four More Shots Please

Rohini from Inside Edge

Now, coming to Khanum, which has probably been the most challenging character for me in the work that I have done so far. Khanum’s biggest thing was her disability. She was specially-abled. That changes everything. That is not a reality that I have had growing up, or in my life otherwise. One had to embody that.

For a sighted person, everything that we remember are visual references. The biggest part of our memories is visual. When you see this frame, you will know this blue, this brown, or the green happening in the frame behind me. You will remember this frame. When I look at you, I will remember you in this black dress. Those references were very difficult for me to cut out. That’s why while I was auditioning, Naseer had given me this exercise of living with a blindfold. I would do all my daily chores with the blindfold just to be able to see myself in the space without having to see them. Holding the furniture, knowing how things are happening, taking a shower, starting to cook, all of those things. I auditioned for a month, and finally, thankfully, I got the part.

Once we were in Delhi, Shonali (Bose) and Nilesh (Maniyar) told me to figure it out by myself the things that we could do in terms of prop and everything; it’s your engagement, they said. I went to a blind school. I learnt a little bit of the know-how of Braille. These schools teach people who are either blind from birth or have lost their sight at some point in their lives. They teach you every skill, how to walk when you walk with a cane, to cook. You put the cane on the other side of the leg that you move forward.

The most important thing that I realised while playing Khanum was that everything is either through the sense of touch or the sense of hearing. The people I met were these girls at the hostel in Bombay. These were really spunky women. They were so assured of themselves. There was a woman called Madhubala who was in a high paying job in the corporate sector, at IBM. Once I got into their world, I realised that it was my assumption that people who can’t see live a certain way. There is no difference. There is not a single moment where it feels like they are losing out on something. They are not. When one sense doesn’t work, you are compensated for it by empowering your other senses. The way you can figure space, touch, energies and hearing, you figure that nothing is different.

Khanum in Margarita with a Straw (2014)

I remember going to Madhubala’s house. She is married to a guy who also cannot see, but she has a child who can see. She flung the child, who was five years old, and caught him. I skipped a beat. I was like, what is she doing? It was absolutely normal. She showed me how she had kept her clothes folded; how she kept her things in the kitchen, which the art department actually used.

Observation, I feel, with the spine work and body language, also teaches you. None of this work is in isolation. It’s all together. It’s this and that.

“The basic awareness that an actor has is not insular. Those instincts will also come when you keep your eyes and mind open.”

The third thing which helps me a lot are the props and costumes. The costume is something that affects you immediately. In Jagga Jasoos, where I play a 14-year-old Manipuri girl, Dada (Anurag Basu) called me on set, and the costume department gave me clothes. They didn’t even have my measurements. They had cast somebody earlier, who was a real 14-year-old girl. I thankfully fit into the clothes that the costume department gave me. The moment I got into that shirt and the half-sweater and half-pants, they literally cut a pant in half, I insisted that I cut my hair, we did it on set, had the two pigtails, I didn’t have to do anything. It immediately gave that restlessness and energy that comes with a 14-year-old. So, the costume affected the spine, which in turn, affected the gesticulation, the body language, the physicality of the character.

Sayani Gupta in Jagga Jasoss (2017) by Anurag Basu

Again, Hina in Jolly LLB 2. Veera (Kapur Ee), who is this fabulous costume designer, her team and I actually had discussions. I love collaborating, and a lot of people also want to collaborate and know where you’re coming from. So, we had conversations, and we figured that we probably need pastel shades, lighter shades, floral prints. That made me feel softer, more motherly and mellow in those parts. I think costumes make a huge difference.

Even footwear. In that scene, I say, ‘Meri aedinya ghiss gayi hai’. It’s a line that I came up with in a rehearsal that I was doing by myself. I could see the image of heels being worn; a maroon coloured chappal tattered and eroded at the end, which has probably eaten into her own heels too. Footwear, I feel, is something that changes your stance, your stride. Those kinds of things are very important.

I am obsessed with art direction. It came probably because I used to assist Laxmi Keluskar, who is a fantastic production designer. She has done Dangal, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Chhichhore, etc. I used to assist her back in FTII. I learnt so much innovation from her.

Even in the classroom, during an exercise, I would bring in the whole props section: almirahs, cupboards, beds, paintings. I would put everything. Even things from my home. And people, my classmates, would make so much fun of me. I used to art direct every corner. For me, as I said, because an actor is part of the mise-en-scene, I am a part of the environment, and the environment is also affecting me. It’s all in sync. That has helped me in bringing out little nuances.

Smriti Kiran: For example, the plastic bag in Article 15. There is no substitute for hard work. You can, of course, choose what your engagement needs to be, but it always shows when you have worked.

Sayani Gupta: Absolutely! The last point that I’d like to make in the milieu question is that all these things also come from the life you lead, the observations you make, and the engagement and awareness that you have as a person. As an actor, you’re merely embodying different characters, people from different walks of life, different milieus, and different socio-economic backgrounds.

“Before being an actor, I’m a human being. I’m a citizen of the country.”

Now, it might not come overnight. It might. It also helps when you are in sync. If I had to play Gaura, I wasn’t waking up to that reality of a community. I know it through my awareness of the politics of the Dalit community. It goes for Hina and Upasana, too. These are people that you know of through your news articles, just by keeping your ears and eyes open. That way we constantly need to know the world we live in because in order to embody characters you have to take it from people in real life. There are no two ways about it.

So, when it comes to the milieu, one of the biggest things is hard work. There is no substitute for that. But it does help if you’re observing and being privy to what is happening around you in the world, in the socio-political environment around you.

Smriti Kiran: You’ve always been politically vocal on social media, which is very risky given our current environment. Have you ever been daunted by how that could possibly affect your career? Has it ever played at the back of your mind?

Sayani Gupta: Before being an actor, I’m a human being. I’m a citizen of the country. I’m a citizen of the world. I have had a certain kind of education, upbringing, and conditioning. I have a certain political and world view, and that is a very big, integral part of who I am. Irrespective of my profession, that will always be something I will value. It’s something that is important to me. I must tell you that if I wasn’t a relatively known person, my Twitter would have been way more explosive. But I can’t, unfortunately. I’m also glad that I’m not too famous. In a way, I am treading lightly. It’s something that I can’t not do.

My mother, who is not on any social media, sometimes tells me, and now it has become more and more often that she does, that please don’t write anything, please don’t say anything, you will not get work, they will blacklist you. For me, I think, why will they blacklist me? I’m like, mother, it doesn’t work like that. Nobody blacklists you. But whatever her understanding of that is, and even if people think that we won’t work with her, I don’t think it happens like that at all. I don’t feel that sense of fear. Of course, there is a general sense of fear that we all feel, but otherwise, I don’t think that ‘what will people think or what will people say’ has ever come in the way at all.

I would like to write much more than I do. I can’t even tell you the number of tweets that I’ve written and not posted. Yaar, sau baat ki ek baat, main hoon toh Bengali. Bolna toh padega. Kuch nahi kar sakte uske baare mein.

Smriti Kiran: Right now, the discourse in the industry is really toxic. There is an urgent need to look at how the industry works, and to think about what can be achieved, how we can change things, but that can’t be achieved through vitriol. As an artist who has been around for nine years, what are the things that you would like to see changed that might have made your journey easier?

“If you want a truly collaborative space, you also have to make it a fertile, positive environment.”


Sayani Gupta: Of course, I am part of the system, but I would like to see a change in the system itself. I completely agree with you, Smriti, there is no point in being vitriolic. It has never brought in any progress. The idea is to look inwards and see what we are doing, where we are coming from.

First things first, the writers have to be given their due. You cannot expect good cinema without giving credit where it’s due because writing is the backbone. It’s the spine. We are talking so much about finding the spine of your script, the spine of your film, you can’t have a good film, an original idea, an inventive, innovative idea without giving writers respect and dignity, and paying them. It’s part of the business module. You have to invest in the innovation of it. If it’s a building, then you’re building the foundation, and if the foundation isn’t strong, which is the writing, the building will collapse or it will come crashing down. Everything we do is going to be pointless without the writers getting their due.

This whole thing has been started recently, which is credit de do. Give credit. If you respect talent, you wouldn’t become a smaller person if you gave credit. It’s talent after all. I wish there was a little more dignity and a little more value that was given to people and their talent, their worth and their time because that makes a big difference in the general space that you create. If you want a truly collaborative space, you also have to make it a fertile, positive environment. That will only come from basic respect.

This hierarchy on set is something that has always bothered me, honestly. This whole thing of A-team, B-team, and catering is different. I always think why is the light boy eating different food than me, the actor? Why do we do this? Why do we look at people with a different lens? We are all working together to make this. I always feel that actors like us and a lot of people can work in projects that pay less. We all do. But if there is no respect, if you don’t give respect and if you don’t feed people well, then there is no point. As Indians, we like to eat well and be treated well, then toh jaan bhi haazir hai. Anything you make us do, we’re going to do it with a smile.

Lastly, I feel that art can flourish where there are patrons of talent. We are so proud of Chaitanya Tamhane, and what’s happening to his film, but without a Vivek Gomber, a Chaitanya wouldn’t exist. This is taken from what he said in an interview. When you want, you can’t complain that films made are bad, or films aren’t doing well. It’s something that you have to work towards. Also, you have to encourage each other, you don’t have to critique each other, have that positive criticism, but also, push each other up, pull each other.

That’s why I have so much love for you, Smriti, and MAMI because you guys have been doing that for years. I have seen that in very close quarters. That is the environment I wish is there going forward.

Smriti Kiran: What has been the hardest thing for you to overcome or come to terms with in the industry?

Sayani Gupta: If I answer this honestly, it will seem like I’m coming from a high-handed place; I don’t mean to. There’s probably no milder way of putting it but what actually bothers me the most is the celebration of mediocrity. There has to be a stronger pursuit for excellence. It comes from valuing talent and intent. Why is somebody telling this story? Why are you making this film?

Filmmaking is a business. You have to earn money. It’s a means of sustenance and livelihood for thousands of people who work in films. Nobody said that you can’t make a good film but a commercially successful film also at the same time. It’s not this or that. That has to come from the intent, I feel. And knowing that you want to do it.

Today, there can be no justification for bad craft given the talent and money and technology you have at hand. The craft can’t be bad. That’s basic. You get done with it first, then you’ll focus on other things such as storytelling, and whatever that magic is. That magic is real. It happens when the collaborative spirit comes together. It’s not mystical. It’s very tactile. You feel it. Everyone feels it. You feel like hugging each other. That’s the hunger for which you go on set every day. Subah uth ke aap kaam pe jaate hain vahi magic feel karne ke liye, that maybe today it might happen. It happens rarely, but when it does it makes all your struggle, toiling, whatever you call it, worth it. That push for excellence is something that I really would want to see. It’s possible. In recent years, you’ve had Gully Boy, Kapoor & Sons, Andhadhun, so many terrific films, good films, that have been successful and loved by the audience.

I feel that an art film doesn’t have to be arty, or what people think of art films, although I like art films. It doesn’t have to be boring.

Smriti Kiran: Sayani, you have maintained the balance between independent films, and also studio led films. You once told me how you were called into somebody’s office for a role and told that jitni acting aapko aati hai, utni toh chahiye bhi nahi.

Sayani Gupta: This incident happened in my second or third year of being in Bombay. I don’t think that he was coming from there. He was probably trying to, in the garb of this line, tumhe jitne acting aati hai utni toh chahiye bhi nahi, tumhe bas bikini pehenna hai aur accha dikhna hai, compliment me.

I didn’t, of course, end up doing the film. I never went back to that office again. But, for me, what becomes funny sometimes and sad sometimes is the way that people look at you or where you’re coming from. We are so caught up in that formulaic thing, what works. Imagine, in a country with 1.35 billion people, with two stories that every person has, why are we still stuck at Romeo Juliet? Why are we not coming to more original stories? Why aren’t we not digging from our vernacular literature? We have such amazing literature. Why aren’t we adapting more? Why aren’t we telling more India original stories, which are funny, engaging and evocative? It’s because you’re sitting in that formulaic thing, and certain things work. You know that if a girl will look a certain way, wear a bikini, do an item number, it will work. That’s changing.

“Today, there can be no justification for bad craft given the talent and money and technology you have at hand.”

For me, that intent is very important, tum ye kahani kyun bolne ke koshish kar rahe ho? Kya mahatv rakhta hai ye kahani aapke liye? What about this story made you feel like getting so many people, putting so much money, and do this? Where do I fit? So, the intent of the story, of the script, of the filmmaker is very important. If you don’t value me and my contribution, no matter how small it may be, then probably I am not cut out for it. I don’t mean it with any pomposity. I just feel that I wouldn’t want to engage if you don’t want to engage with me because for me that engagement is through collaboration, and that won’t happen if our politics are not matching. Very important.

Smriti Kiran: Not many people know that you’re also a producer. You’ve taken your first step as a producer. Actors like Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, and Anushka Sharma have ventured into production. Renuka Shahane, Sheetal Menon, Seema Pahwa and Tannishtha Chatterjee have made their first foray into direction. Why did you decide to put on the hat of a producer, and is directing on the cards?

Sayani Gupta: Yes, it is on the cards. I’ve been writing my script for so long now; I’m a very terrible writer.

The names that you took, who have started producing, are enormous names. They have a lot of power and merit through the body of work that they have. For me, the realisation came a few years ago that there is no point complaining about the work that is not happening or the kind of work that you want to be a part of. If you have the means of doing it, you have to go out there and do it yourself. It’s not just to cast myself, I truly, and that’s actually the most important reason why I wanted to be a star in the first place, want to be in a position to help me enable projects. I’m far from being a star, but if I am, I would be able to do it – empower people, empower voices, put my money where my mouth is and create projects where I can bring people together.

What gives me the most joy is getting people to come together and collaborate. It gives me immense joy. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me feel. Obviously, I’m far, far from it, I’m trying to start out, but if I can get to a place where I can bring together people who I think would collaborate, be in similar mind space, have similar politics and energies together, that’d be a dream come true.

Somebody asked me that if you feel so deeply about things, why don’t you become an activist? I feel that my work is actually a reflection of my politics. I show my activism through my work and the stories that I choose to tell.

I’m hoping I’d be here for millions of years, or the next thirty years so that I can be a part of the stories that I want to tell, collaborate with wonderful people and tell our kind of stories, smaller stories which are inspiring and evocative, funny stories, all kinds of stories. That would be beautiful. I hope that happens.

Q&A with Dial M For Films Participants and Viewers Watching Live on Facebook

Rishita Kothari: What were some of your best and worst moments as an actor?

Sayani Gupta I did a film called Where the Winds Blow, which I have also co-produced. We were shooting in very difficult circumstances. We actually trekked for 27 days. There was one point where I thought I was actually having a heart attack, and I’m not making it up, there was one moment where it was almost like the avalanche was coming, and we were literally in there. There was snow until almost our waists. We had to leave that place because there was a snow blizzard coming, and we had 15 minutes or something in that space. Everyone would have frozen if we had spent more time there. We did one take, and somewhere it wasn’t really happening. After the first take I said, ‘Aur ek karein kya?’, and everyone looked at me like, ‘Paagal hai ye. Aur ek take! Matlab mar jayenge isse pehle’. I believe that as an actor you have to do everything. If it’s in your mind, you can’t say no. I asked if we could do another take, and the director agreed. We needed something more in that shot.

I was starting from behind the camera, and we needed wind in that shot. The director said, ‘Guys, please pray for wind, okay?’ We were seven people over there, and in those few seconds, while I was standing there, waiting, and the camera started rolling, I felt like we all jointly just prayed to whoever had power over us for wind. I could almost feel something coming. The director said, ‘Action’. I went, and by the time I came to the midpoint of the long white frame, there was a snow blizzard that came. It was almost like it was flying me away, and I was pushing against it, and we got the shot.

After we got the shot and ended rolling, and it was a long shot, I came and sat down, and the wind just faded away. In the end, it was just the prayer flags rustling. That’s, again, the magic I was talking about. At certain times, certain things happen when you give out the right intent, things just fall into place. I feel like you should just give it out, whatever you want, just put it in the universe, and it will happen. It was the best, probably the most magical experience I had because of this environment.

Where the Wins Blow by Karma Takapa

Worst was when I fell really ill during Inside Edge season two while shooting for the first three scenes that you see me in. I was actually coming back from Article 15’s shoot, so I landed in Bombay, went to set, which was a long way away in Vashi, and I fell sick. I started getting diarrhoea and bad cramps. I anyway had viral. I finished an 18-hour shift that day. All the three scenes had only me, or with one or two actors; it was called the Rohini day. I came back home at around, 12:45 in the night, and the next four days I was on drips. That was really the worst day because I just couldn’t stand up. I was really struggling with the physicality. So, that has to be the worst day probably.

Parul Kataria: When new actors move to Bombay, they face a lot of difficulties. I read in an interview that Rajkummar Rao used to enact scenes with his roommates. He kept on doing something or the other every day; he kept on meeting people. How did you keep your spirits high during the initial days in Bombay?

Sayani Gupta It’s funny you cited Rajkummar’s example because he’s somebody I saw during that time of his life; he’s a senior from FTII, and we had common friends. I would come to Bombay to meet my friends, and I would see him, every day, come to meet us after he went for a meeting or an audition, and I saw in him that spirit to get ready every day and go out there to look for work because that really is the most important work when you come to the city. When I came, I had one motto. I came with an understanding that I might have to assist, it’s something that I truly enjoy. Even today, I love assisting in every aspect of it.

I knew that, obviously, nobody’s going to see me in a coffee shop and be like, ‘Oh, I was waiting for you, and I will give you a job.’ It doesn’t happen like that. I had a realistic approach, so to speak. I thought that if I’m here to be an actor, everyone who’s making content needs to know that I exist. The only way for that to happen is through auditions. I don’t know anybody. Of course, because we came from film school, it was a batch who came together. You have your seniors, we would have WhatsApp groups where people would tell each other, my batch mates, some of whom are probably listening on Facebook, that there is an audition in spaces like MHADA or Aram Nagar or Shreeji or wherever the auditions would happen.

I would do eight or nine auditions every day. I would go out in the morning, pack my bags, be in one attire, take changes, and sometimes come back home to change. So, that was the intent. Of course, you’re not going to get all the things that you audition for. Most of them will not convert. Most of them won’t happen because it’s not meant to happen. Rejection is something that I feel is a constant in our lives. You have chosen to be an actor. So, you should understand and come to terms with the fact that rejection is part and parcel of it. You have nothing to do in it. You are not right for that part has nothing to do with your talent or your merit or your looks or any of that.

When you go out there into a room, and especially because you are a girl, you have to go there with a sense of dignity, holding your head high, and not coming with ego, but instead from a place of self-worth, know that you are here because you deserve to be here, and they need you as much as you need them.

When you go out there, you do an audition, you do it with confidence, and you do it well. Every audition that I’ve done, I might not have gotten that part or that ad or film, but other people have seen the auditions because auditions get circulated amongst people a lot, all the time. I’ve gotten other jobs out of that. So many ads I got like that. In Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani, I was very close to being finalised apparently for Kalki’s part. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and I’m very thankful because Kalki was fantastic in the film. It was right at the beginning. But because the audition landed well, and it landed well with the right people. I kept getting called for multiple other auditions. None of those films actually happened. Having said that, you have that momentum going, and that’s very important.

Theatre saved me. It really did. The first few years I did so much theatre, so much stage because an actor only grows with practice. Without that practice, you will rust. The more you work, the more you sharpen. It’s like a knife, you have to keep sharpening it. And it’s only in the doing, as I said. So, theatre really saved me. It not only kept me hungry, but it also kept me sane, which is actually very important to hang on to. Also, I had lovely people, friends who kept me sane; I received a lot of cushioning there.

Aman Bhutada: How did you prepare for FTII?

Sayani Gupta I think the prep happened throughout my life. When I actually sat for the exam, I didn’t know it was difficult to get into, so I didn’t think about it. I just went and sat one Sunday, and gave the exam.

I know people study; they prepare for the written exam. I actually hadn’t thought about it. I used to work. Those kinds of things, again, I’m telling you, were the prep that I had done in life only. There was one paper which was on aptitude. There were three papers in all. The last paper was about acting, or whichever specialisation you chose. I used to do theatre all my life. Mujhe jo samajh mein aaya, maine likh diya. I think it helped because I had a little bit of know-how.

What I prepped, though, was for the second thing that happens, which is the interview and the audition. For that, I had prepped. That was a skit that I did for the audition. It was a normal interview, and I was hoping I wouldn’t get through; it was complicated because I was working. The last thing that happened was a four-day workshop. That was extremely exhilarating. In those four days, we were meant to write our own plays, perform them. Make collages, paint. It was outstanding, the experience of those four days. And, of course, I worked very, very hard in those four days.

Coming back to your question, if you want to prep, you have to study general knowledge and aptitude. If you’re applying for direction, generally reading about the subject always helps. Film watching always helps. Those are the preparations that one needs to do. If you’re lucky, you’ll get through. I hope you do.

Even if you have done theatre, and if you come from a background, it helps. I had classmates who hadn’t done any theatre, but they came and got through. If you’ve had some sort of engagement with text and dealing with the text through the work that you’ve done, that definitely helps. It’s an overall exam. But I also suspect that the exam has changed since the time we were there. I’m sure a new curriculum has been added. I think a lot of things have changed.

Rishav Bhattacharya: What is it like to be in FTII? What steps can a director take for the actor to help them give an authentic performance; how much does it contribute to what one sees on screen?

Sayani Gupta FTII was outstanding for me. But I always feel that it’s not necessary. If you’re doing it, you’re a practitioner already. You can always assist. Given the unfortunate political scenario, things have changed since we were there. If you have a way to learn the job, go ahead and do it. Of course, it’s a stunning place. It’s beautiful. It’s one of the greatest art schools, probably, in the world, I would like to believe, because it enables you and also gives you freedom.

Sayani Gupta at FTII

As a director, and especially when you’re directing actors, actor handling is a huge part of the job. What do you tell your actors? How do you communicate what’s in your mind? As a director, your biggest work is to communicate your vision with everyone who’s a part of your team, not just the actors but also your DOP. For example, about how you’re seeing the shot, how do you design sound, everything, where does the music come in, what kind of music? Every department. That’s why as actors, I believe that you are not only trying to execute the script and the story, but also the director’s vision. So, whatever the director wants of you, you’ll have to give it. There is no scope for saying, ‘Mujhse nahi hoga’, or ‘Main nahi karunga’.

Obviously, you come from a place of your understanding. As a director, I think you should do some workshops. It always helps. I’ve seen directors direct much better once they have had an experience of acting. I know for a fact that some of my director friends have gone and done workshops with Adishakti. When you engage, and when you go on the other side of the craft, if I need to press something and explain something, what are the things that I need to say?

Now, as a director, you will not say the same thing to two actors because you are merely talking to the human being. What will work with me, and the lingo and language you use with me will not work with another actor. You also need to figure out what works for who. It really helps if you can go and do workshops. And because you’re starting out, you will get so many things. Like I said, as an actor, it helped me because I knew the back end of making the film. Get a sense of what goes into the craft. Read interviews, books, that will definitely help you.

A friend once told me a very funny story. She was shooting, I think this was back in FTII, and a director wanted her to give a look of longing. She was not getting it. The director was also able to neither express nor convey to her what longing looked like in his mind. Aur jab nahin aata hai toh phir sab paagal ho jaate hain. The director apparently came and told her to imagine the taste of imli, tamarind, in her mouth, and just keep staring with that look of you having tamarind on her tongue. And she did it. Even now, as an exercise, when you do it, close your eyes and imagine you have tamarind on your tongue, it does something to your facial muscles. You have that saliva, there’s a glint that comes in your eyes probably, there’s something. Finally, the director got the shot. It is a fascinating story for me. So, you have to tell anything to get that shot out of the actor. You will figure out what to say with time.

Manish Bhardwaj: Instincts or memories are elements that belong to our subconscious mind. How does one draw from their subconscious to nurture their craft and technique as an actor?

Sayani Gupta I don’t think there is a key that unlocks it, where you’re like, ‘Okay, now, my subconscious mind come in’. It doesn’t happen like that. It’s a cumulative effect of your conditioning, upbringing, exposure, education, worldview, how much you’ve read, observed, seen and the films you have watched. Everything is part of your subconscious mind. It’s fascinating when you want to channel that into real actions, into tangible behavioural patterns. That is something which happens through all this that I was talking about. Once you study the character, once you study the script, things that are stored in your subconscious come to the forefront.

It’s a natural process. You don’t have control over your thoughts. When you’re meditating, you’re like, ‘accha ab toh nahin sochunga, I’ll control my thoughts’ is when all the thoughts come in. So, it comes when you do the backend work, studying the script, and doing your research. For example, Gaura, in Article 15. In my subconscious mind, I had images that I had seen of people from the community, of their struggles, of the news that I was reading, of the photos that I would see. Those were etched at the back of my mind. Those are not just things. I would feel helpless. Those are also all part of my conscious mind. Certain things get stored. After that, when I got the film, I started reading a lot of material that my friend sent me, of people who are in Chhattisgarh, who work with the Dalit community. Reading through those materials opened up certain things about what I can do, how I could sit or how I could talk. Those small nuances will come to you if you do the active work of studying and research.

To watch the full video of the Dial M For Films sessions with Sayani Gupta in conversation with Smriti Kiran click here.

For more information about the Dial M For Films series click here.

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