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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.

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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.

Force 2 is a refreshing action film from John Abraham, despite its faux-patriotism

Right away let’s establish one thing, and this will likely hold true for a few years at least: Popular Indian cinema is going to milk patriotism and pride in the nation as much as it can, given the direction in which national discourse has swung. (Check your WhatsApp forwards for a quick confirmation.)

No genre of popular cinema is going to tap into this more than action entertainers, because nationalism is a natural ally of grandiose masculinity and brute physical power, attributes that we’re trying to ascribe to a nation we, strangely enough, call our ‘Motherland’.

Expectedly, given that it gets to play with a big action star as a cop, Force 2 does it with élan.

At one point John Abraham’s ACP Yashvardhan declares that the days are gone when India couldn’t carry out covert operations on foreign soil. ‘Ab hum ghus ke maarte hain’, he exclaims. Translation: ‘Now, we barge in and kill our enemies!’ (Does anyone else feel that ‘surgical strike’ has the potential to be a smashing new drinking game? Surely we deserve a pun on ‘shot’.)

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Once you accept that we’re going to see this quite often now — at least until India (as a collective consciousness) has more important things to worry about than projecting a strong masculine image to the world — and once you accept that cinema is going to assimilate popular culture in order to maximise footfalls and profit, you might just find Force 2 to be a refreshingly decent actioner, unlike the ludicrously overcooked action films Hindi cinema in particular frequently subjects us to. (I’m looking at you, Dilwale and Shivaay.)

For starters, Force 2 is set in a world where everyone doesn’t speak Hindi (imagine). The film is based primarily in Budapest, and mercifully, Hungarians and other foreign nationals in the film get to keep their language and not converse in awkward Hindi with the Indian lead pair. The foreign language lines are subtitled in Hindi, which is encouraging. It’s a sign of not taking the audience for granted, while also ensuring that the audience does not remain a passive viewer throughout. (In general, this would be a good time to brush up on our Hindi reading abilities, please note.)

This trait, of not taking the audience for granted, runs through the film.

The plot itself is standard international espionage fare for a seasoned viewer of Hollywood’s self-aggrandising CIA movies. (Stories of the CIA blatantly using Hollywood, for something that goes beyond even propaganda, make for a fun read if you love conspiracy theories.) However, beyond that, the film actually does a good job of not dumbing everything down.

In fact, Force 2 can well be compared with any commercial film with an espionage backdrop from anywhere in the world, and it would hold its own because at the heart of it, the film’s intent is clear. There exist different types of patriotism, and even service to one’s nation cannot be seen through a monochrome  prism. It blurs the lines between what we call ‘massy’ and ‘classy’, keeps the setting contemporary, and serves up a fairly engaging plot all the way till the end.

Credit for this must go to director Abhinay Deo, who has always displayed a sensibility that is far more evolved than most other filmmakers. Incidentally, he happens to be one of India’s finest advertising filmmakers. He has made plenty ads over the years that showcase his ability to use the visual medium effectively without having to spell everything out. Watch one particular scene early in the film, where an Indian RAW agent is assassinated while riding a motorbike. It is a brutal scene that eschews gore in favour of pure imagery to make its point.

The hiccups in Force 2’s screenplay mostly come from trying to straddle that line between what’s right and what sells, and this is something even the most hardened cynic must grant to at least the producer of the film.

So, you have an Indian police officer appointing himself for a mission abroad involving the death of RAW agents. You have a perfectly made-up woman, from RAW no less, who partners with him on this mission. And you have a charming, baby-faced villain who oozes snarky charm. A few convenient liberties here and there are bumps in a film that otherwise keeps you interested for the most.

A special mention for John Abraham here.

The man does best in roles where he doesn’t have to emote, so he sticks to them. Back in 2013, when the Congress was in power, he co-produced and starred in Madras Café, which took a more than sympathetic view of (if not one that was downright in favour of) Rajiv Gandhi. This year alone, he has had Dishoom and Force 2, both of which firmly take a position aligned with the current government’s rhetoric.

Here’s a man who plays his cards right, and it explains why he’s still able to continuously churn out films as producer and solo lead, even if some of them don’t emerge winners at the box office.

Credit for Force 2 must go to the man who is at the receiving end of enough jokes about his acting talent, or lack thereof. Yes, we’re still a long way off from giving the world a global action film that we can be proud of, but Force 2 seems like a surgical baby-strike in the right direction.