Sanjana Sanghi: ‘Sushant and I used to talk about the authors we love’

Making her debut as a lead in 'Dil Bechara', the actor discusses her teenage obsession with 'The Fault in Our Stars' and working with Sushant Singh Rajput

July 23, 2020 01:01 am | Updated July 24, 2020 02:17 pm IST

Coming-of-age drama:  Sushant Singh Rajput and Sanjana Sanghi play terminally-ill characters in  Dil Bechara .

Coming-of-age drama: Sushant Singh Rajput and Sanjana Sanghi play terminally-ill characters in Dil Bechara .

Actor Sanjana Sanghi’s Twitter bio reads: “cinema and academia are beautiful things”. A topper in journalism at Delhi University and invested in grassroots education and development in the Capital, the 23-year-old chanced upon acting in films in school. Casting director Mukesh Chhabra had spotted her in a school play and asked her to audition for a supporting role in Rockstar (2011). Then 14, Sanghi quickly realised that the camera does not intimidate her, but the profession was not the end-goal in itself.

As an actor, she wishes to channel fame into enhancing her work in the education sector. “I want to make the country a better place for our youth,” she says, over a phone conversation.

Her interest in academia is what enabled her to instantly connect with her co-actor, Sushant Singh Rajput, who died by suicide in June. The two play terminally-ill characters, Kizie and Manny, in the coming-of-age drama, Dil Bechara , an Indian adaptation of the commercially successful novel and film, The Fault in Our Stars . Rajput’s last film is set for a posthumous release.

“We used to talk about the authors we love. He used to find it exciting that if he mentioned John Berger, I would say Ways of Seeing , or Yuval Noah Harari and I used to say 21 Lessons for the 21st Century , so he really loved that I actually loved those books… It was rare for him to find that [with fellow actors] and I hate that it is rare,” she reminisces.

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Teenage favourite

The Fault in Our Stars was among the books Sanghi fawned over as a teenager in high school. “I was that 16-year-old who was obsessed with the novel and bunked school to watch the film,” she recalls. When Chhabra approached her to audition for Dil Bechara , she was excited yet apprehensive of doing justice to a story that has already been told in two mediums. “But the writers have done a good job at culturally adapting it to Jamshedpur,” she informs.

The actor’s interpretation of Kizie, a character battling thyroid cancer, involved going beyond her illness. “Initially, when a person is facing a debilitating disease, that disease defines them,” she observes. “When we did several readings of the script, we realised that the disease cannot define them because there is so much more that they grew up with.” Sanghi arrived at this understanding after spending time with young survivors at the Indian Cancer Society in Mumbai. “I chatted with them and understood their emotional reality, how they go to school with a cylinder and come back and do five blood tests,” she recalls. “Initially, it was debilitating but two years on, you adapt and as humans, we adapt.”

Hurdles and accusations

The actor came on-board the project freshly out of college at 21, and two years on, the film is ready to release on Disney+ Hotstar on July 24. Although shot for the big screen, the pandemic compelled the producers to opt for a direct OTT release. Even before the pandemic, the film faced several hurdles and delays. In 2018, Chhabra, who makes his directorial debut with this film, was accused of sexual misconduct as part of the #MeToo movement. He was suspended as the director, but was reinstated reportedly after conducting an inquiry. Allegations of sexual harassment were also made against Rajput, which was dismissed by Sanghi as “baseless”. “That really breaks my heart when I look back at it,” she confides. “The journalism I learnt is one of honesty and objectivity. When I saw things that are so far from reality being written, it affected me… I was so young and inexperienced that it used to really bother me but then I knew our reality.”

The biggest learning for Sanghi with Dil Bechara has been that filmmaking has several variables that can derail a project. “The pandemic and Sushant not being with us in post-production, these are not in my control and I’m struggling to come to terms with [it] but I have to adapt,” she shares.

The actor is in no hurry to sign any new films and prefers “to be choosy” and be known for “quality over quantity” in the long-run. Based in Delhi and invested in the theatre, art, culture and educational landscape of the city, Sanghi says that “stardom doesn’t excite her”, but it’s merely a tool for her to create visibility for the causes she believes in.

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