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It’s not just Akshay Kumar, but the female characters in the satirical dark comedy drama, Jolly LLB 2, were also applauded.

It’s not just Akshay Kumar, but the female characters in the satirical dark comedy drama, Jolly LLB 2, were also applauded.

One such character was the wonderfully-nuanced cameo by SayaniGupta, who played Hina Siddiqui, a young Muslim woman driven to despair.  It’s a small but pivotal and deeply impactful role, so much so that Sayani was lauded for her performance by some of the veterans from the industry. Twitterati in large numbers also poured their love for her.

Gupta has so far been doing a balancing act between commercial and art cinema. She has received critical acclaim for her offbeat and distinctive roles in films like her debut Margarita With A Straw (played the role of Kalki’s love interest)and most recently Fan (as Shah Rukh Khan’s secretary), however, Sayani doesn’t take compliments or criticism seriously.

“I have never sat down to ponder over what others have to say because ultimately you know what you have done. Piyush Mishra (theatre and film actor, NSD alumni) called me few days back when I was shooting for Jagga Jasoos, and said while referring to Jolly LLB 2, ‘I didn’t know you acted so well.’  Lot of people are complimenting me on social media as well. Somebody told me that they went to watch the film thrice because of me. There are lot of people who said I made them feel for the part and I made them cry,” says Sayani.

sayani

She continues, “My performance really moved my mother, and she is far too detached about the industry and not at all excited about the film world or what I am doing. She is not in favour of me acting and it was quite a struggle to convince her when I went to FTII (Film and Television Institute of India). Little by little, she is coming to terms with it but she would have rather seen me as an IAS officer or in a regular job.”

“We are from middle class family and they didn’t want their only daughter to get into films. Obviously there are certain perceptions about the film industry. My close friends never say nice things, they are always critiquing my work, but finally they felt that I was brilliant in Jolly LLB 2.”

Strangely enough, Sayani has been getting offers for horror movies for last few years and she, too, fails to understand the reason for it. “Maybe they think I am a Bengali, I have big eyes…” she laughs.

While Sayani so far has rejected two offers post Jolly LLB 2 (as  she is “choosy”, “instinctive”, “and not ready for it”), she is certainly excited about her first international project, The Hungry, which is an Indo-British production starring Naseeruddin Shah and Tisca Chopra. The film, for which the actors were very selectively chosen, is directed by debutante filmmaker Bornila Chatterjee, who is an alumnus from New York’s Tisch School of the Arts. The Hungry is an adaptation of William Shakespeare tragedy Titus Androcinus, which is believed to have been written between 1588 and 1593.

“This year marks the 400th death anniversary of Shakespeare. His stories could seem a tad hyper-real for this era, but this film is a realistic take. The script won at a collaborative cine-lab,” says Sayani, further adding, “The film has a bunch of deadly actors. We shot for it in Delhi and Agra. The ambience on set was stimulating and since we all got along so well, it turned out to be a great shoot.”

Recently, Sayani earned an honourable mention for the Best Actress award for her short film, Leeches, at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles  (IFFLA). In just two years of her career, she’s also bagged one of the lead roles opposite Naseeruddin Shah with The Hungry. The actress considers it her privilege to act alongside ‘Naseer’, who was her teacher at the FTII.

“Naseer was very excited about his role after decades. He plays my father. He has been my teacher and lot of my understanding about acting and the craft is because of him. It was almost like reassurance of sorts when he would come to take our class. I adore him as a human being. He is fun to be around. He has always taught us how acting is all about reacting. He is a keen listener, which adds to the performance,” she says, adding:

“There are two of the coolest men I have worked with – Shah Rukh Khan and Naseeruddin Shah. They are sensitive, they are aware, they don’t take themselves too seriously. They are normal dudes.”

So did Sayani take any advice from the two “coolest” men?

“Some of the things Naseer told me is: ‘Learn your lines till you bump into a furniture. Know your lines backwards. Study the script well. Be relaxed and don’t take things too seriously. Make it fun and light.’ On the other hand, there’s much to learn just by the way Shah Rukh carries himself. He is the most technically sound actor, I feel. His understanding, the cleanliness with which he does everything, his craft is solid. He doesn’t show it. He is persistently hardworking and also the humility. He doesn’t take his stardom seriously,” she reveals.

Two of Sayani’s “friends” from the industry are the erstwhile directors – Rajkumar Hirani and Vishal Bhardwaj. She may not have offers from them yet but she certainly takes their advice. “I don’t talk work with them. Hirani often tells me that I should give people time after they have seen my film. I did audition for a part in Rangoon but Vishal told me that it won’t be good enough for me. I would never ask them to cast me because that could hamper our relationship. Whenever they want to cast me, they will.”

Sayani is currently shooting for Ranbir Kapoor-Katrina Kaif- starrer Jagga Jasoos which has been in the making for a long time. “When I signed the film I was playing the only narrator in the film. I had a separate track of my own. But since there is no script — Dada (Director Anurag Basu) doesn’t work with scripts, he writes as he goes along — my role has changed. I will know what my part is only after I see the film. Also, it is a very difficult film when it comes to format. It is musical, it’s a children’s film, and it is not a normal narrative. I play a 14-year-old girl and that is all I know (laughs),” she says.

Om Puri: His life, dreams, struggles and accomplishments in his own words

I used to work as a clerk at a government office in Punjab. I was paid a salary of Rs 600 per month. I decided to leave the job, and pursue a career in acting. I knew that irrespective of how I fared, I would do better than making six hundred rupees. So I quit the job. At the time, it was unheard of. Everybody wanted government jobs. I studied acting for five years, including a course at the National School of Drama (NSD) in Delhi, and only after I was certain that I had the requisite skill, I moved to Mumbai. But it took not less than thirteen years after I decided on pursuing a career in the film industry that stability finally found me.”

These are Om Puri’s words in an interview to me.

Om Puri had earlier sought bail after being accused of domestic violence. PTI

An internationally acclaimed actor, a Padma Shri recipient, one of the pioneers of the world of parallel cinema, a stellar performer whose versatility transcended borders – Om Puri, who breathed his last in his Mumbai home on Friday, bagged several credits during his celebrated career spanning over four decades. But behind the tales of glory was a man who, as per his own admission, had trained hard to acquire the skill he was distinguished for.

He had struggled hard to survive in Mumbai before the film industry let him carve his space.

My interaction with Mr Om Puri was on a morning in August, 2015. I was busy with research for my recently published book, ‘The Front Page Murders: Inside the Serial Killings that Shocked India.’ The book, which is the true story of a serial killer who would murder and hack Bollywood strugglers for wealth in Mumbai, 2012, required me to speak to film industry insiders about the Bollywood struggler life in Mumbai, their passion and its pitfalls.

My study took me to actor Om Puri, recipient of two national awards then, but a man of long-standing perseverance, his story barely told. Since I had been a senior crime correspondent with a leading national daily, availing Mr Puri’s mobile number through an entertainment journalist in the city was not a difficult task. But I knew that getting him to talk would be tricky. He was a Bollywoodwallah after all, and to journalists, no one has more dolled up egos than this breed of artists. I, however, was in for a surprise.

‘Haan ji,’ Mr Puri answered his phone.

After I introduced myself, inquiring if it was a good time to talk, Mr Puri informed that he was on his way somewhere, and would be happy to spare a few minutes. Pleasantly surprised, I rolled out my questions, and he gladly detailed.

Recollecting the time when he first moved to the city of slums and skyscrapers to chase his Bollywood dream, Puri said:

“I was 26 years old when I first came to Mumbai. I did not know anyone here except for actor Naseeruddin Shah. He was my senior at NSD. So upon reaching here, I went straight to him. He was living in a rented room then, and allowed me to stay with him for two weeks. We were sharing the room, but the landlady did not approve of it. I was staying as a guest, and wasn’t paying rent. So she took me out. Through a friend, Naseer then found a paying guest accommodation for me off Hill Road in Bandra. It was a bungalow, and I was given one room with only a cot, one almirah, a table, and a chair. That was 1976. I paid a rent of Rs 175 per month. One and a half years later, the landlady’s son got married. They wanted the room, and I had to move out.”

The veteran artist recollected that after leaving the bungalow, he approached a hostel in Bandra. However, the authorities were skeptical about letting him stay because they had a bad experience with an actor before, and didn’t allow accommodation to Bollywood aspirants anymore. Puri tried to convince them, saying that he wasn’t any other run-away in the city, whiling his time away, that he was extremely serious about his Bollywood dream, and was working hard towards it. But the hostel authorities wouldn’t budge.

I did not give up hope, and landed at the hostel every other week. I had to have a roof. Eventually, they agreed, and I stayed there for two years, sharing my room with another boy. Aakrosh released in 1981. The film was very well received by art producers, but it didn’t impress the film industry. I moved to several other places before Manmohan Shetty’s Ardh Satya was released in 1983. (Om Puri’s career took off with this film; he also won the National Film Award for Best Actor for this role.) Mr Shetty told me that he had a one-BHK flat lying vacant in Chembur, and that I should move there until I get my own place. Things were good thereafter – eight years after I moved to Mumbai, and thirteen years after I chose to pursue a career in acting.

During our conversation, Puri spoke extensively about how difficult the life of a Bollywood struggler is in Mumbai, how these men and women flock to the city with dreams of the silver screen, hopes of that one celluloid break, and how they end up getting exploited by men who have set up businesses only to cash on their innocent dreams.

Bollywood aspirants need to be careful about falling prey to criminal elements in Mumbai. They should only visit established offices, and not believe any random person who boasts of connections in the film industry. The struggler’s life is very difficult here.  When you come to the city with dreams of the film industry, the biggest problem is survival. Mumbai is an expensive city. When youngsters approach me for roles, the first thing I ask them is if they can afford staying in the city for at least a year without a stable income, if their families can afford it. If yes, they can go ahead and try their luck.

Talking about his own luck, Puri said that he had worked hard to turn fate in his favour.

“Bollywood aspirants usually come to this city, looking at people like us. And when they see someone like me, particularly, it gives them hope. They think ke yaar, Om Puri jaisa aadmi, jiske face pe daag hai, naak bada mota sa hai, Irfan Khan bhi koi aisa good-looking nahi lagta, agar yeh log kar sakte hai, toh hum toh inse better dikhte hai. (They think that if a man like Om Puri, who has spots all over his face, a fat nose, Irfan Khan is also not very good-looking, if they can make it, we are better looking than them.) But they don’t realise that we have worked hard to study acting before coming to Mumbai. I came here after training for five years.”

Although I haven’t spoken to the actor since this conversation, I know that he was proud of his eccentric looks, and his achievements in the face-obsessed film industry despite them.

“I have no regrets at all. I have done quite well for myself. I didn’t have a conventional face, but I have done well, and I am proud of it,” Puri wrote on Twitter a fortnight ago.