I felt like I screamed and no one heard: Actor Siddhant Gupta Wknd

Movies were a rare treat at actor Siddhant Gupta’s house in Jammu. His parents – mother Sandhya Gupta, now 54, runs a clothing business, and father Sukesh Gupta, 60, a retired forest officer – saw mainstream cinema as a potentially corrupting influence.

    (Smriti Dutta) premium
(Smriti Dutta)

Among the films the couple gave their two boys, Siddhant and his elder brother Sanat Gupta, were Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (Aditya Chopra; 1995), and Dil Chahta Hai (Farhan Akhtar; 2001). They took the theory to another world.

It wasn’t just that the settings and characters looked larger than life, rich in color and fun. It was also that they held the impossible: the promise of adventure.

Anything can happen in a movie. Three young men could get into a car, drive across state lines to a hilltop fortress and talk about passion and purpose. A young woman can travel across Europe and find life-changing love.

“I had wonderful friends and a beautiful childhood, but I grew up in a protective environment, and I wanted to choose a different life. I didn’t want to choose a safe lifestyle,” says Gupta. In a world where risk is perceived only negatively, “I never in my wildest dreams thought that one day I would be on the screen that I was watching.”

The 34-year-old has been on those screens for 10 years, but has recently had her first big release. He is part of the main cast of director Vikramaditya Motwane’s Jubilee, and plays a struggling filmmaker who is reeling from post-Partition trauma and loss of identity in 1940s and ’50s Bombay.

Before this big break, Gupta had made her way through a modeling career in Mumbai’s notoriously ostracized and overcrowded film industry. But he spent years inhabiting less demanding characters, in films and shows that came and went. There was the romantic comedy Badmashiyan (2015), in which he played a lovelorn man whose girlfriend goes missing. Operation Romeo (2022), in which he was an angry lover who gets into a fight with a policeman.

Jubilee is a carefully crafted look back, with mixed emotions, into the history of Hindi cinema, directed by an auteur whose first film, Masterful Udaan (2010), screened at Cannes. Gupta’s character, Jai Khanna, is a young refugee from an old theater family in Karachi. Before partition, the Khannas fled to Bombay. Jay takes a broken script for a story he wants to stage someday.

Angry, at sea, and suddenly poor, he fights and ends up behind bars. Working in the canteen of a production house ends a streak of odd jobs. Between the actors and waiting on the floor, Khanna begins to fall in love with the relatively new medium of cinema.

What struck the actor about the character when he first read the script, he says, was his ability to evoke magic beyond the everyday. The actor knows what it takes to capture this fleeting feeling that there is something more. At the age of 19, he went to Delhi from Jammu. The initial dream was to become a commercial pilot. Modeling, a side hustle, open to something new. “I realized I didn’t want to live a life of confinement in a cockpit,” he says.

At the age of 20, he set his sights on Bollywood. Mumbai felt like a calling; A place where he can make a life out of emotion and creation. Her first audition told her she wasn’t ready for this life yet. He dropped out due to lack of acting experience. “I couldn’t say a word.” Determined to learn the craft, Gupta signed up for workshops and an acting course. But he learned most of what he knows, he says, on the sets of his first real acting gig, Zee TV’s romantic drama Tashan-e-Ishq (2015).

Gupta played the conflicted but caring husband Kunj Sarna. His subplot, about an arranged marriage that starts off rocky but quickly turns to love, earned him a legion of fans and numerous telly awards and nominations (Best Beta; Best Debut Male; Popular Couple).

He quit within a year. It became like working on autopilot, he says. “I enjoyed the rom-com space, but living the life of the same person every day was monotonous,” he says.

In 2016, he appeared in the celebrity reality dance show Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa, which he dipped for a while; Cameo in Sanjay Dutt starrer Bhoomi (2017). “I realized I wasn’t happy. I felt like I was screaming and no one could hear me,” says Gupta. “I needed to understand why I wanted to do this job. I decided to step away for a while.

During this break, he traveled to Paris and London. A chance meeting with an acting coach at Drama Center London will prove invaluable. He and the coach (who prefers to remain anonymous, he says) had some valuable one-on-one sessions. Gupta also met the students at the center who trained “their lives depend on it”. They were driven by an intention he shared: to create.

Gupta also trained under director-writer-producer John Markland (who trained Jeremy Allen White in the 2022 series The Bear). Markland, he says, helped him discover new levels and greater depth as an actor.

He returned to India and got a call from Casting Bay. They were auditioning for new roles in Season 3 of the cricket-themed drama web series Inside Edge (2017-). Gupta was cast as a spirited off-spinner named Imad Akbar.

The following year the pandemic hit, and in the silence of the lockdown he resumed the dialogue he had begun with himself. He realized he couldn’t blame industry politics, nepotism and lack of opportunity for all the ways he felt stuck, he says. He decided to wipe the slate clean and asked an important question: What does he want?

Answer: Work that allowed him to feel a place. Between his training, his experience and his new resolve, he emerged from the lockdown as a changed actor. “I suddenly had a lot to give to my characters, and nothing to hide.”

At this time, Casting Bay was called again; They were auditioning for a new series directed by Vikramaditya Motwane. When Gupta read the script, he was drawn to the honesty in the story, he says. As she played the role, “I could share all the pain I was carrying … and I felt like I was healed.”

It took a decade to get here, but her father, once worried, no longer worries. Neither is Gupta. The actor is going through the script. He is in no rush. The projects he chooses next need to be discussed with him, he says. The word “newcomer” still follows him around. Even that does not satisfy him. He knows that he has not just arrived; He just arrived.

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