How Shy Sanya Malhotra Became Pataakha’s Firebrand Chutki
Ahead of Pataakha’s release, actor Sanya Malhotra talks about her dreamy experience of working with Vishal Bhardwaj, her close bond with co-actor Radhika Madan and how she became the effervescent Chutki.
Sanya Malhotra made her big Bollywood debut in 2016 with Aamir Khan’s blockbuster film Dangal. (Image: Instagram/Sanya Malhotra)
Five minutes into a conversation with Sanya Malhotra, and you’d know that she is nothing like the characters she plays onscreen. The 26-year-old is a soft-spoken introvert, unlike Babita, her fierce wrestler in 2016 blockbuster Dangal or Chutki, the warring younger sister in her upcoming Vishal Bhardwaj film Pataakha.
However, like most actors, Sanya always wanted to work with Bhardwaj, but unlike most, she didn’t have to wait too long. “I knew I’d work with him at some point, but it would come this early, I’d not expected,” says Sanya, who is only a film old in Bollywood.
Forget working with Bhardwaj, she rubbished the idea of even auditioning for Pataakha. “I couldn’t understand why would he want to take a newcomer like me when my manager first told me about the audition. For me, Vishalji is like a dream to work with,” she says.
But the two ended up meeting in Delhi, where she was shooting Badhaai Ho, her film with Ayushmann Khurana, and the rest followed. “One day before my audition, he called me up and asked if I wanted to rehearse the scenes or was having any problems with the dialect. At the time, I was just auditioning, I wasn’t even on board but he still called and we did two-three scenes together on phone. He is so humble,” she says.
Pataakha releases in two days, but for Sanya, all of it still feels like a dream. “I remember our first reading together. I just couldn’t believe that I was reading a script with him. I was fumbling. I couldn’t say even a single dialogue properly but he kept correcting me and never pushed,” Sanya says recalling the initial days of filming Pataakha.
Known for films like Maqbool (2003), Omkara (2006), Kaminey (2009) and Haider (2014), Bhardwaj, Sanya feels, is incredibly secure in his craft, and therefore is able to extend great freedom and comfort to his actors. “We were allowed to do anything with our characters. He gave us the freedom to improvise, to question him without ever judging us or getting offended. He made me feel really important,” she says.
Sanya wanted to become an actor ever since she was a kid but didn’t know how to go about it. So she tried her hand at dancing. She came to Mumbai to audition for Dance India Dance, made it to the top 100 and never really left. She started by doing about ten ads in one year and auditioning for Dangal. “I was really blessed that I was able to crack it,” she says.
But becoming Bhardwaj’s firebrand Chutki wasn’t easy for Sanya. To start with, she had to gain 10kgs to look her character. After cropping her hair for Dangal, she says it was no biggie. “Because I am very new to acting, this character was a challenge for me. I can relate to my characters in Photograph (her upcoming film with Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and Badhaai Ho. I can understand why they would do something. But with Chutki, I just can’t relate. I am not her. She is aggressive. She is out there. She speaks her mind. I don’t. I overthink before speaking. I take a lot of time to open up. I am an introvert.”
Thankfully, Bhardwaj set a firm footing. Though the film was shot within 28 days, a lot of work went into its making. The cast had a three-week-long workshop in Ronsi, Charan Singh Pathik's village, where the film is set. Incidentally, Pataakha is an adaptation of Pathik's short story, Do Behnein.
It was these exhaustive rehearsals that opened up Sanya and helped her become Chutki. “I had an ‘I would perform directly on set’ mind set because I am really shy. I was having problems performing in front of Vishal ji and other crew members. But by the end of the workshops, it completely changed. They really helped me in getting Chutki right.”
However, Sanya isn’t the only Pataakha in the film. There is also Radhika Madan, who plays her elder sister Badki. Looking at their electrifying onscreen chemistry, it is difficult to believe that there was a time not so long ago when they were complete strangers.
“She is my total opposite. When I first met her, I was really glad that we had to fight on screen because I thought I’d not be able to become friends with her. But I was completely wrong. It was only after we bonded together that we were able to play Chutki and Badki convincingly on screen.”
Apart from the usual learnings that come with working in a Vishal Bhardwaj film, Pataakha has given Sanya an invaluable lesson. Chutki has taught her to use body to express when there are no words. “As an actor, when you don’t have any dialogue, you don’t know what to do with your hands. But because of Chutki, I have learnt how be comfortable with my body. Even if you don’t have any dialogue, you can still express yourself bodily,” she says.
Follow @sneha_bengani for more.
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