For an actress who borrowed Rs500 (Dh25) from her roommate for her taxi fare to downtown Mumbai to attend the 2014 red carpet premiere of her film ‘Margarita With A Straw’, Sayani Gupta hasn’t done too shabbily.
Cut to 2020 and an eventful six years later, the self-made star headlines the second season of the glossy female friendship drama, ‘Four More Shots Please!’, streaming on Amazon Prime Video from April 17.
The Film and TV Institute of India (FTII) alumnus (considered as a talent churning campus that spat out blazing talents such as Naseeruddin Shah, Jaya Bachchan, Rajkummar Rao and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali) also played instrumental roles in seminal blockbusters including the stirring caste-fuelled thriller ‘Article 15’ in which she played an empowered, fierce woman who didn’t let her low caste define her identity.
Her other notable film ‘Margarita With A Straw’, a touching film directed by Shonali Bhose (‘The Sky Is Pink’ helmer) that explored the life of a young woman grappling with cerebral palsy and her sexuality, also showed her as powerful woman who didn’t cower.
“I have always stayed away from works that objectify women or is misogynistic or politically incorrect. I have stayed away from sensationalisation as an actress,” said Gupta in an exclusive interview with Gulf News tabloid ahead of the second season of ‘FMSP!’.
Gupta, 34, describes her stint in her career-defining series ‘Four More Shots Please!’ — that evoked polarising reviews and is relentlessly compared to four-women friendship TV series ‘Sex And The City’ — as oddly liberating. The series dwells into the lives of four career-driven women in South Mumbai who navigate relationships and life on their own terms. Four thick friends who find solace in their friendship as then
“To me, the ‘Four More Shots Please!’ series came across as four liberated women who were telling a story in a milieu that they are familiar wit … We wanted to tell a story about women who party and have promiscuous lives. We belong to the urban, rich elite class but we are also women who are essentially flawed. We owned up to our flaws and there was no garb,” said Gutpa.
The Kolkota-born actress plays Damini, an impeccably-dressed news editor. Gupta that the four women in ‘FMSP!’ had complete agency on their lives, a rarity in the entertainment industry that takes pride in showcasing flawless, near-perfect women characters.
“Damini is funky, funny, cool and complex… That is why this series is so important… I have always been attracted to parts or roles that are smart, bright and strong. Even when I played a rural woman in ‘Article 15’, I knew she was extremely empowered and liberated,” said Gutpa.
She describes her role as an “actor’s dream” and her part that gave her the liberty to explore the grey shades in a woman as she tackled her bumpy personal and professional life.
“She’s extremely courageous too and her world view is concrete. But she’s also a total mess and that makes her a real woman.” The series also explores physical intimacy with a wild abandon.
“As an artist, there are times when you need to take a leap of faith … For me, it’s important that the gaze is correct. The makers of FMSP!— mostly women — were trying to normalise sex and I was sure they would do it sensitively,” said Gupta.
According to this actress, the series — that saw male viewers writing to her about how the show made them feel uncomfortable — altered the usual courtship dynamics shown in Bollywood films and TV shows.
“When it came to wooing, the man was always wooing the woman and the women were being wooed happily. The men were always the active player. But here’s a fresh perspective where the series show women who are deciding who they want in their lives… That was never normalised in mainstream Indian cinema. So if we don’t do it, who will?”
While she gracefully embraced the criticism that came her way — like why are the women in her series morally loose — she also observed that women were a lot more forgiving and accepting of the series.
“There was a certain kind of discomfort among men when they saw four women who were unapologetically embracing their individuality and sexuality… But I think I have had an interesting run in my career,” said Gupta.
The Bengali native moved to Mumbai eight years ago and enrolled into the hallowed FTII in Pune to study acting when she got bored of a high-paying corporate job. Just like any good Indian mother, her mom resisted her unconventional career choice at first and threatened her with tears and drama.
“But like all mothers, she eventually came around… When I came to Mumbai eight years ago, I had a realistic approach. I was sure that nobody will give me work … And I was also very choosy about wheat kind of work I did. I was OK sitting at home and not doing a film if it meant I had to artistically compromise,” said Gupta with a laugh.
A self-labelled “fatalist”, she has received her share of “weird roles” that she happily gave up to instead focus on theatre. An advertising gig with software giant Apple cushioned her financially.
“I can never do something that I am not 100 per cent convinced about. That is the person that I am… From borrowing Rs500 from a friend to attend the premiere of ‘Margarita With A Straw’ to getting many big-production roles in a month like my part in films such as ‘Jagga Jasoos’, ‘Fan’ and ‘Baar Baar Dekho’, everything happened to me swiftly.”
Gupta is a big believer of “what is meant to be, will be” and that there is no use fighting against destiny.
“Keep doing your own thing and something good will come out of it. There are times when I wonder why the director who keeps admiring my work is not casting me, but it all takes time and what is designed to happen will happen. You just have to enjoy the process.”
She also believes that you shouldn’t take rejections in her line of work seriously.
“As long as you do a good job and you are good at what you do, you are fine and it means you are doing your job well. Rejection is the reality of the profession that you have chosen. If you are a hawker and you start complaining about the reality of sitting on the streets to sell your stuff, it isn’t fair. I knew what I was getting into. I reject films as well, so it’s important that you are OK with being rejected too.”
Sayani Gupta on her idol Shah Rukh Khan and being a fan girl in front of him:
“Shah Rukh Khan is the reason why most of us actors felt that we can do it. He is single-handedly responsible for millions of actor hopefuls like us to believe that we can do it. He is a complete outsider in Bollywood who has won people over with this merit, wit and charm. Shah Rukh Khan is a philosophy,” said Gupta, adding that her mother grudgingly accepted her as an actor once she saw Gupta’s beaming picture with Khan.
“My mother has hated the fact that I was acting… But the only time she was okay with it was when I posed with Shah Rukh Khan,” she added.
“Bollywood is not the be all and end all for me. The kind of work — immersive work — that I want to do doesn’t happen in Bollywood often. I want to do all kinds of films and in different languages. I want to work with directors like Asgar Farhadi [Iranian filmmaker] and Wes Anderson [American filmmaker] and act in Korean films too,” said Gutpa.
Did you know?
Sayani Gupta came from a progressive Bengali family where they asked their girls when they will earn their first paycheck, instead of asking when they will get married.
Don't miss it!
The second season of Four More Shots Please drops on Amazon Prime Video on Apri 17