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I have fond memories of meeting Sanya Malhotra for the first time at Aamir Khan's abode during the promotions of her debut film, Dangal in 2016. Together with her co-star Fatima Sana Shaikh, she was a house on fire! Cut to 2018, she's still that jovial, sparky girl whose confidence leaves you in awe. It's almost late night when I catch up with her, but she's still a bundle of energy.
In an exclusive tête-à-tête with Filmibeat, Sanya bares her heart about playing a character like Chhutki, her bonding with Fatima Sana Shaikh, catfights in Bollywood, wanting to do a thriller film and much more.
Excerpts from the conversation-
Sanya, you had mentioned that you were quite overwhelmed during the first reading session of Pataakha. How was the feeling when you faced the camera on the sets of a Vishal Bhardwaj film for the first time?
It was amazing. The first day on the sets was as smooth as butter for me because of the amount of improvisations and workshops which we had already done before. Till now, my best first day on the sets of a film has to be that of Pataakha. I remember the scenes were getting done in one-two takes and I was completely into my character. I was totally enjoying Chhutki's role. I wasn't as overwhelmed on the sets as I was during the reading sessions. That's also majorly because of Vishalji (Vishal Bhardwaj). He made us feel very comfortable and important both on and off the sets. He gave us a lot of freedom to perform and improvise our characters.
From Dangal to Pataakha, the transformation has been massive. Were there times when you felt that you imbibing the traits of Chhutki in real life as well?
I am Chhutki in real life. I have an elder sister and while growing up, I did have a very similar relationship with her. I used to hit and hate her too. While growing up, I used to feel that we will never be close and have any kind of a bond. That was a major concern for my mother too. She used to be very worried because we used to constantly fight with each other for petty issues. Though in Pataakha, I couldn't relate to Chhutki's character, but internally I could understand why she is doing certain things. Externally, I am not lke her. She's this extrovert, spiteful, aggressive personality and I am totally the opposite- very introvert and shy.
What excited me about this character was that I had to challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone and be very comfortable with each and every body part. Thats what I learnt through the process of Pataakha through workshops. I am glad that I got an opportunity to play a character like her because I wanted to essay a role like that. I could relate to my characters in Dangal, Photograph and Badhaai Ho. But this was completely different.
Like you mentioned that your character in Pataakha is quite aggressive and spiteful, were there times when you felt that you are carrying the remnants of her back home?
During the shooting, I completely cut off myself from all. That's what I do deliberately but organically happens as well. I live alone so whom would I shout out (laughs). So, I didn't. For us, when we used to be in those costumes and attire, it's the time when I used to actually feel like Chhutki. Other than that, I was not.
Vishal Bhardwaj made a very interesting statement when he said that he wanted to cast Uma Thurman and Scarlett Johnson in Pataakha. But unfortunately, they did not know the Rajasthani dialect. Do you think things would have turned out to be different if these two actresses were cast?
Obviously (laughs). I think it was a joke. Or wait, was he serious? He is too cool yaar. But you know what, it would have been lovely. I would have loved to watch how they would have played Chhutki. They are such brilliant actors. They would have been able to play these characters on screen.
You and your Dangal co-star Fatima Sana Shaikh have been dropping some major friendship goals on Instagram. In the industry, there is a certain perception that two actresses cannot get along and we often get to hear rumours of a catfight brewing. What's your take on that?
I am not saying these things don't happen. But it has never happened with me. I am really good friends with Fatima Sana Shaikh and even Radhika Madan. I hate fighting and don't like hating people. So, I am the kind of person who gets along with everyone. But then, if someone doesn't like me then that's a different story. (laughs)
You are a trained ballet dancer and you had mentioned in an interview that you want to take up a film where you have to act and dance. Have you been offered something like that?
(pauses) Yes and I hope things work out. It's still too early to talk about it.
Are you still in touch with Aamir Khan and Nitesh Tiwari considering you took your first step in Bollywood under their wings?
They are my family in Bombay. Same holds true for Fatima as well. We have this Whatsapp group where I keep posting things if I feel I have achieved something. I just bought a house of my own. I still have to give them a house-warming party. I have started my journey with these people, so they are very important to me.
What was the biggest compliment that you received when the first look of Pataakha came out?
When I showed the trailer to Aamir Sir, I was really nervous. But after watching it, he told me that he really like it and he would want to see this film. That's when I was very happy and felt relieved. That was the biggest compliment for me.
What kind of films are you looking forward to explore next?
As an actor, I would want to do everything and explore every genre. But, I would really love to do a thriller now. I love reading thriller and I think it would be fun to dabble with this genre as well.
Which is your favourite thriller film?
Gupt (laughs). Internationally, it would 'The Girl On The Train'. There's a book named 'The Kind Worth Killing' which I think if adapted would make for a nice film.
Be it Dangal, Pataakha or Badhaai Ho, you have been very lucky to get a wide range of roles. Have these things fallen in place organically or is it a calculative move?
Whatever is happening is very organic. It's not calculative at all. I feel really blessed and grateful for that. Everything happened when I decided not to plan things out or put goals in my life. Pre Dangal, I used to have these yearly goals. But now, I stopped that and that's actually working for me. I always wanted to be an actor. I feel extremely grateful that I was given this opportunity with a brilliant debut in Dangal, a chance to work with Ritesh Batra and Nawazuddin Siddiqui on Photograph, with Amit Sharma in Badhaai Ho and Vishal Sir. I feel really blessed that I am getting these opportunities and getting to do such amazing characters as an actor.
Last but not the least, what's the best and the not-so-good part of being an actor?
There's nothing bad about being an actor. I do everything. I enjoy everything and go everywhere. The best part of being an actor is being on the sets. Even if I don't have a scene or have an off-day, I visit the sets because that's my happy place. I find peace in the chaos there.