‘Dangal’ girls ‘Sanya Malhotra’ & ‘Fatima Sheikh’ in conversation with ‘Divya Solgama’
First things first, kindly walk us through the whole casting process of ‘Dangal’ and how did you all get the film?
Sanya Malhotra: I was born and brought up in Delhi. While I was doing my graduation, I was dancing professionally. I gave an audition for a dance reality show and got selected in top 100. For that audition, I came to Mumbai. I always wanted to act but I didn’t get any such opportunity in Delhi so I decided I should come to Mumbai. I didn’t get through but I called my dad and said I want 15-20 days, I want to see how Mumbai is. After that, I told him that I want to move to Mumbai. The first 4-5 months I had no idea about what to do and where to go and how to start giving auditions. I started doing advertisements, I got a lot of ads. After one year, I got a call from Mukesh Chhabra’s office for Dangal’s audition. I gave the audition, the scenes were good, I was very excited and I thought I’d get the film. For a month I didn’t get a call. I used to follow the news and saw that Kangana Ranaut is doing Geeta. At this time, I was auditioning for Geeta, not Babita. After a month, when I didn’t get a call, I decided that I’ll go and surprise my mother on her birthday. As soon as I landed (in Delhi), I got a call from Mukesh Chhabra’s office that I’ve been shortlisted and Aamir wants to meet. I came back and saw the short listed girls, the list wasn’t short at all and Fatima was also there on the list. That’s how the audition journey started.
Fatima Sheikh: I am from Mumbai only. My parents are from Jammu Kashmir. I have been struggling since the past 3-4 years before our film started, before I auditioned for Geeta. By then I had given up on acting. I was like acting se kuch hone wala nahi hai, kuch kaam toh mil nahi raha hai. I go for auditions everyday but nothing happens so this can’t be my career as I wasn’t getting any money from it. I tried my hand at photography. I was working with a studio for around 6 months. Then I thought of learning cinematography so I assisted one cinematographer for an ad and during that time, around January, I was called for Dangal’s audition. I got a call from Mukesh Chhabra’s assistant that there’s this film called ‘Dangal’ and we are auditioning for Geeta Phogat’s role. She sent the scenes to me and instantly I googled who Geeta Phogat is. I am so ashamed that I didn’t know who Geeta Phogat is. She has won gold for our country and I had no clue about it. I saw her and she is this strong woman, tough looking girl. During this time, I was lanky. So I called the assistant and told her that I am not the right cast for the film. I don’t think I should audition. She told me to just come and give the audition. The scenes were good so I went. I didn’t think that I’ll get the film I thought I’ll just go and act. Till a month I didn’t get a call, as usual, like how I didn’t get a call back for my ads. I had no expectations saying shortlisted. I was like ‘wow, I am shortlisted. I want the film now’. I was the first one in the room and I was waiting. Then one by one 15 girls came. I was like ‘mere saath dhoka kiya gaya hai. Ye cheating hai, I thought I was shortlisted’.Then our workshops started with Mukesh Chhabra, Nitish sir (Tiwari). These are our levels of auditions. We had around 6-7 auditions—they wanted to see how we look when we run, workout. Then we had an audition with AK (Aamir) doing the same thing that we were doing. They called us once, separately, and told that we couldn’t tell anybody and took us to meet Kripa sir, who is our coach. He saw me and said ‘ye toh wrestler nahi lagti, ye bohot lukkhi hai’. He said that we’ve given our acting test but we have to give the wrestling test, the film is on a wrestler. They called us again and we had a 2 week long audition for wrestling and working out. If you haven’t done this in your life, it is very difficult. I used to cry every morning. The body used to be so sore. Then finally they told us that we’ve got it.
Sanya Malhotra: After one and a half months. They called us together. We thought they were calling us to tell that we haven’t got through.
The entire process of ‘Dangal’ was pretty long and right from the audition to its release took around two years. So, was there any point when you wanted to give up in the middle of it?
Sanya and Fatima: Never giving up. This is a dream.
Sanya Malhotra: Both of us are not like that. We don’t give up. We know wrestling is a tough sport. I would like to give all the credit to our coach.
Fatima Sheikh: All the wrestling that you seen in the film is because of him.
Sanya Malhotra: It wasn’t difficult for both of us. It’s a difficult sport but he used to make the practices so much fun. He used to motivate us a lot. For him, we weren’t actors, we were pehelwans for him. He used to scold us but also motive us a lot. Even we pushed ourselves a lot. When someone keeps a lot of expectations from you, you feel you can do it. If we didn’t get any move, he never gave up on us, he made us do it till we didn’t get it.
What was an average day for you like during preparation for your roles in ‘Dangal’?
Fatima Sheikh: We used to get up at 6:30 am, we stayed in Bandra and our practice was in Kandivali. Our travel time was 1 hour 15 minutes. After wrestling for 3 hours, you are exhausted, you need food and you want to go back home and just sleep. But then we used to travel for one and a half hour. Once we got back, we would have our lunch, sleep for about half an hour, get up, do our Haryanvi class for an hour. After that we’d go to the gym, train for an hour. By the time we got back home, we used to eat and die.
Sanya Malhotra: We used to sleep by 8:30 or 9.
Fatima Sheikh: We were training like real wrestlers.
Sanya Malhotra: We were following the same routine as theirs.
Fatima Sheikh: Our wrestling is of international level. If we still continue that level of wrestling and training, we can actually get into the sport.
Did you get injured while training?
Sanya Malhotra: Ya, a lot of injuries because of wrestling. It’s a body contact sport. So it’s a part and parcel of the sport.
Fatima Sheikh: We were bound to get hurt. Our coach used to say that ‘injuries toh ek pehelwan ka gehna hota hai’.
How was it working with the ace perfectionist Aamir Khan?
Fatima and Sanya: We learnt a lot.
Sanya Malhotra: We are interning with Aamir Khan since the last 2-4 months.
Fatima Sheikh: We are with him through all the process—post production, background, mixing, sub titling. He is a chalta phirta school. Even if you spend one day with him, you will learn a lot. He never gets tired, from morning till night, he is just working.
Sanya Malhotra: He is not strict at all.
Fatima Sheikh: Instantly! Aamir Khan was like a walking-talking teddy bear.
Sanya Malhotra: He was 97 kgs when we first met him.
Fatima Sheikh: So the perception of a superstar was never around. He is not even that kind of a person. He is a very simple man. He came bare foot to meet. He is the person who make the other person very comfortable. He made a very comfortable environment for us and we never felt that he was a superstar and we were new comers.
Sanya Malhotra: After he lost weight and he came of set, I was star struck.
Fatima Sheikh: That was the same with me, I was like ‘Oh my god! Aamir Khan aa gaya’.
Both of you have watched ‘Sultan’? Are they any similarities?
Sanya Malhotra: Yes
Fatima Sheikh: Yes, loved it.
Sanya Malhotra: When you see ‘Dangal’, you’ll know it’s a very different film. I found Sultan very different and a very good film. I whistled a lot during the film.
Fatima Sheikh: The films are very different.
‘Danga’l took a lot of time considering the training also. Did all that take a toll on your personal life? Did you have to make adjustments or compromises?
Sanya Malhotra: Since my family is in Delhi, I used to chill with my friends only, almost daily. That has reduced a little, I miss doing that. Nothing more has changed, they are still like that and so am I.
Fatima Sheikh: I have very few close friends and most of them aren’t in India or most of them are working. I was the only one who was vella. So I used to chill alone, go for movies alone. I had nothing to do. So it’s good that I am busy. You know that saying, ‘An empty mind is a devils workshop’. So I am happy.
If not Dangal, what would you be doing?
Sanya Malhotra: We would still be auditioning. I wouldn’t have left hopes so soon.
Fatima Sheikh: I had given up on acting as a career. When I grew up, I found it very difficult to come back to the industry. There are so many beautiful and talented people, it gets very difficult. I found it difficult to come back to the industry. Just because you were a child actor, it isn’t a chip on your shoulder, you aren’t going to get work for it. I never got work only because I was a part of ‘Chachi 420’.
Fatima, do you remember anything about Kamal Haasan while working with him in ‘Chachi 420’?
Fatima Sheikh: No, I just remember me being pampered as a child.
I don’t remember too much about working with him.
Source – BollywoodTimes