Tag Archives: saif

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.

Phantom review: Kabir Khan’s ‘thriller’ with Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif is plain boring

There is only one explanation for Phantom: the cast and crew of the film really wanted a paid holiday. This in itself is not an objectionable aspiration. Who doesn’t want to be able to bounce around London, Beirut, Chicago and other beautiful parts of the world, and get paid to do so? However, when the cost of that bouncing around is approximately Rs 55 crores and those who foot that bill expect the movie-going public to recover that amount as box office collection, things may get a little more complicated.

As an idea, Phantom crackles with possibility. Humiliated and furious after the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in 2008, India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) decides to send an operative on a covert mission to teach those who plotted against India a lesson. He is a man who goes unnoticed in crowds and who has evaded Google’s all-seeing eye. He doesn’t care if his target has a human side or redeeming qualities — if you had any part to play in the Mumbai attacks, the phantom wants you dead.

In your head, you now see a desi super spy with Daniel Craig’s cool menace, Tom Cruise’s stunt-worthiness, Jason Statham’s punches. What you get in Phantom is Saif Ali Khan.

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As court-martialled soldier Daniyal, Khan takes the idea of a game face to a whole new level. For all of 147 minutes, he sports precisely one expression, give or take some make up and facial hair. He doesn’t move as much as lumber, he is thoroughly indiscreet and everywhere he goes, he sticks out like a sore thumb. If this was because of his good looks, we’d forgive it. But Khan spends the entire film looking both awkward and impassive, as though he’s got a hangover and is doing his best to block out the headache.

One can’t help but feel that there was hope and a prayer governing the decision to name Katrina Kaif’s character Nawaz in Phantom. Sadly, those prayers were not answered. Almost sharing a name with Nawazuddin Siddiqui doesn’t ensure the transference of his acting ability. Compared to Khan’s one expression, Kaif has none. Whether she’s crying over lives lost or reminiscing about having tea at the Taj Mahal Hotel, there’s not a hint of emotion to mar her perfect complexion and gorgeous features.

Smartly, director Kabir Khan decides to not rely upon his lead pair’s charisma and acting skills to woo the audience. Instead, he takes the audience globe trotting. We begin in Mumbai, move on to Kashmir, London, Chicago, Beirut, a recreated-in-Lebanon Syria and finally land up in Pakistan. In each place, people are killed and Daniyal wrinkles his brow, possibly because he’s trying to figure out how much of his beard he should trim since his facial hair changes as much as the landscape in Phantom.

When a film rests upon Khan and Kaif to hold the audience’s attention, the action better be explosive and the plot, tightly-wound. The stunts aren’t bad in Phantom, but they’re not memorable. Still, the sounds of explosions and bullets will at least keep you awake. For the plot, there is only one word: woeful. Phantom could have been a clever film. It borrows heavily from very dramatic, real incidents that are begging to be fictionalised. Only here, the characters are badly drawn, the dialogues are clumsy, the transitions are jumpy and the politics are horribly simplified — it’s as though the screenplay was written overnight. The film quickly starts feeling predictable and the strategies to kill the terrorists are not particularly gripping. It doesn’t help that one of the plans requires us to watch (and hear) Daniyal doing potty.

But well before art imitates life, you have to wonder about RAW’s judgement when we see Daniyal in action the first time around. With Nawaz, Daniyal is first supposed to identify a Lashkar-e-Taiba operative in a packed stadium and then, they’re to discreetly follow the suspect around London. Daniyal and Nawaz’s behaviour is so shifty and obviously suspicious — Daniyal’s midlife-crisis-signalling leather jacket really doesn’t help — that it’s a wonder they weren’t snapped up for questioning by the British security service.

Not only can he not blend in, Daniyal lets Nawaz (a civilian under contract with RAW) know he’s going around killing Lashkar operatives. This is not necessarily the best way to keep a top-secret plot, secret. Nawaz then proceeds to get deeply involved in Daniyal’s mission to avenge India. Why? Because her daddy used to take her to have tea and chocolate pastry at the Taj when she was a kid. If it’s the dessert-flavoured memory that’s fuelling her, it’s a good thing Nawaz hasn’t been back to Bombay and tasted Le 15’s chocolate and salted caramel tart.

Kabir Khan also tries the standard trick of casting good actors in key supporting roles, but Sabyasachi Chakrabarty, Rajesh Tailang and Zeeshan Ayyub are all wasted on characters that have been badly written. Ayyub, for instance, plays Samit Mishra, a chap who appears in the RAW director’s office out of nowhere. We mean this literally. His introductory scene literally has him materialise in the middle of a meeting, on the couch in the RAW director’s office, as though he’s been beamed in place by Starship Enterprise. Most tragically, he doesn’t even get to have chai with Nawaz despite having ventured into enemy waters to save her life.

Things finally turn a little tense in the second half of the film, when Daniyal is in Pakistan and the ISI start closing their net around him. There are a few close calls and at one point, it seems like Daniyal just might get caught after all. Unfortunately, since Daniyal might be the most bland and uncharismatic hero we’ve seen on screen in years, no one cares if he lives or dies. The man spends 147 minutes killing bad guys — Pakistani bad guys, no less — and the only moment when he drew cheers from the crowd was when he told a baddie called Haaris Saeed that India wants “insaf“.

In case you haven’t guessed, Haaris Saeed is the stand-in name for Hafiz Saeed. Evidently, his name was changed to Haaris at the last moment since when speaking of him, all the characters’ lips say “Hafiz” but voices say “Haaris”. Sajid Mir, the Lashkar-e-Taiba commander, doesn’t enjoy that privilege. Even the photo that we’re shown of him is quite similar to the photos of Mir that are in circulation.

Considering how Phantom cheerfully borrows from real life and makes no bones about ISI being in cahoots with Lashkar-e-Taiba, it isn’t surprising that the film isn’t being shown in Pakistan. However, considering just how much of a bore Phantom is, for once the Pakistani courts may just have done our neighbours a favour.