Braving the bruises

Fatima Shaikh (left) and Sanya Malhotra don’t regard being typecast as an issue and feel Dangal will only catapult them into success  

Fighting sleep deprivation and braving delayed flights seems no big deal for Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra. The two actresses, who play Geeta and Babita Phogat respectively in the upcoming Dangal, have embraced the tough life since getting that first audition call for the film. “Those two months were horrible,” says Shaikh recalling the gruelling trials. “We had to go through five rounds of auditions, physical training and workshops with [Nitesh Tiwari] as well as Aamir [Khan]. Then we got the film.” Almost wincing at the memory, Malhotra adds, “Each morning, we would cry, because we were in so much pain.”

Shaikh, best remembered for her portrayal as the child Bharati in Kamal Haasan-Tabu starrer Chachi 420 (1997), realised early on that academics were not her cup of tea. Dabbling in photography, while simultaneously auditioning for years without fruition, Shaikh had almost given up on her dream of becoming an actor. “After so many years of rejection, I felt acting would have to become a hobby, rather than a full-time profession,” she says. “I was about to give up acting when I got the call about being short-listed for Dangal.”

Malhotra, a trained dancer, shifted base from New Delhi to Mumbai three years ago to participate in a popular dance reality show, but that plan didn’t quite work out. Having nurtured the dream of becoming an actor, she too worked the audition circuit, landing advertisements and assisting camerapersons for television commercials. After competing with thousands of girls, Shaikh and Malhotra were short-listed for the film along with a dozen others. From there began the race to sign on the dotted line, one that involved several rigorous rounds testing both their physicality and acting prowess.

Pain and gain

There’s been a drastic change in lifestyle since then for the newbies. Earlier, they would binge on pizza every day and a “workout” meant going for a jog or yoga sessions, at most. Through the months of training, their routine included three hours in the gym followed by wrestling. No wonder they credit their coach, Kripa Shankar Bishnoi, for their healthier lifestyles and stronger physique. Malhotra fondly recalled the innovative ways he would come up with every day to make them practise. “Kripa sir made wrestling a lot of fun and would always make us laugh,” she says. Bishnoi is also the coach for the national wrestling team and Shaikh thinks they were very lucky to have him teach them.

The tutelage of Nitesh Tiwari and Aamir Khan was just as crucial. They were present at every stage of the girls’ training, not letting them slip even once. There couldn’t have been a more daunting debut than with Mr. Perfectionist Khan. The girls, however, seem to share a great rapport with A.K. (as they call him) and are even interning with the actor’s production house. “He was fat, used to wear chappals and loose clothes [for the role] when we first met him, so we weren’t really star-struck,” recalls Shaikh. They both go on to extol Khan’s oft-quoted virtues like passion, sincerity and dedication to his craft, displaying a genuine appreciation for their mentor. “Whenever we had a scene to shoot, Aamir would sit and go on rehearsing his lines like a good student,” says Shaikh. Having seen his physical transformation first hand, both the girls have tremendous respect for the superstar, who, despite having been in the industry for decades, prepares for each role as meticulously as if it were his first.

Work experience

After being coaxed to share some anecdotes from the shoot, Malhotra reveals, “There’s one thing I have learnt from Aamir, that is to never be shy about trying something new, even if it makes you look like a fool. If he thought it would help his performance, then he would just do it.” Both the young women remember incidents from the dance rehearsals, where Khan, unable to pick up a dance step would keep at it, often failing miserably. Yet on the day of the shoot, he could put any professional dancer to shame.

Talking about Sakshi Tanwar, who plays their mother in the film, they reveal how easy it was to work with her, and how just being around their on-screen parents taught them a great deal. Through the hectic shoot schedule, injuries were common and stress levels ran high for the débutantes. Scared of being dropped from the film, they initially wouldn’t tell their coach about the pain, much to everyone’s dismay. The learning has been tremendous, they concur, and the process is ongoing. Interning in Aamir Khan Productions, they have learnt about filmmaking and what goes into pre- and post-production, expanding their horizons.

For the future

After having rigorously trained to portray the celebrated wrestlers, a challenge that may loom large is the fear of being stereotyped into “masculine” roles. However, the girls don’t regard being typecast as an issue in the film industry today. Giving the example of their contemporary, Alia Bhatt, who has balanced mainstream roles with offbeat performances, they are confident that this dream launch project will only catapult them into success by giving them a chance to do something other than romancing actors.

Future prospects have not been considered yet, given that they’re still immersed in work related to Dangal. Their wish list includes working with all the top directors in the industry, right from Karan Johar and Rajkumar Hirani to Imtiaz Ali and Anurag Basu. Shaikh is inspired by roles such as Kareena Kapoor Khan’s Geet in Jab We Met (2007) and Alia Bhatt’s performance in Udta Punjab (2016). On the other hand, Malhotra is particularly enamoured by Ranbir Kapoor in both Rockstar (2011) and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016). Kangana Ranaut is a favourite for both.

As of now, their fingers are tightly crossed, and they are waiting for the world to see their dhaakad performance in the much-awaited, year-end biggie.

The writer is an intern with The Hindu

Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 11:10:05 AM |

Next Story