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Sanya Malhotra: I don’t want a hero to come save me, I’m not a damsel-in-distress – read exclusive interview

In an exclusive chat, Photograph actress Sanya Malhotra talks about the real Sanya, her films, working with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Ritesh Batra, Vishal Bhardwaj, Anurag Basu and much more.



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Sanya Malhotra’s dream debut in Bollywood was the Rs 500 plus crore blockbuster, Dangal (2016). It was followed by last year’s sleeper hit Badhaai Ho (2018). She also did Vishal Bhardwaj’s Pataakha, in between. And though it did not crunch in heavy numbers, it did propel her graph as an actor. Clearly proving that Dangal was no flash-in-the-pan, and that she’s an actor to watch out for! And as her next, Photograph releases, Sanya beams with the confidence of an actress who knows her worth, and is yet unperturbed by box office figures. “I don’t know about numbers, but I’m having a dream run,” she tells us as she settles down for a quick chat.

You entered the elite Rs 500 crore club with your debut itself. Has that dulled the sheen of the number game or increased the pressure to perform at the box office?

Neither. I am just living this dream. Am happy with the kind of films I’m getting to do and the kind of actors and directors I’m getting to work with. I’m in a good space, enjoying my life, getting to grow and better myself as an actor. Am fortunate to get the kind of projects coming my way.

So, what is success to you if not numbers?

I don’t know whether I’m successful or not when it comes to numbers. But I would call myself successful because I’m getting to choose and do the kind of projects that I have wanted to. If I’m happy with the kind of work I’m doing, that’s success to me.

You are redefining conventional in Bollywood with your looks, as well as your choices of roles on screen!

I can’t say if I’m conventional or not. But I feel there is overall a change in the kind of cinema that’s being made and accepted. Those typical characters we saw in films used to be unbelievable. And as an actor, I thought this is not how I want to be! I don’t want a hero to come and save me. I’m not a damsel-in-distress. Thankfully, now, filmmakers are creating strong roles for women, not as an exception, but as a rule. So, it’s easier to make those choices for me as an actor too. Women are not being put on pedestals, they are flawed and being accepted with that. I’m happy doing roles that inspire or that people can relate to.

Do you think it’s a good time to be an actress?

Oh, absolutely! Today, many filmmakers are making films with strong women characters. They are more real and relatable. They feel like the women we come across in life. These characters are inspiring. The audience is also changing, largely due to the exposure to OTT platforms today. In life, they see women across strata claiming a space and finding acceptance as they are. These changes naturally permeate down to Bollywood too, where people want to see real women. I’m glad people are not just writing such characters, but they are being appreciated by the audiences too.

As part of one of 2018’s most profitable films Badhaai Ho, what was your take-away from the film?

When your choices as an actor get validated by the audience, it’s always a happy feeling. I was equally elated being part of Pataakha, even though the film wasn’t a box office hit, because of the love and respect my character earned me. The outcome is not always measured monetarily, although that too is great and always welcome.

From Nitesh Tiwari to Vishal Bhardwaj, and Ritesh Batra to Anurag Basu, you are working with the best directors.

I’m my own worst critic, so I can’t say if my acting or performance has anything to do with it (laughs). I guess, I’m lucky to be able to work with some of the best names in the industry so early on in my career. I can only hope that it continues.

Dangal, Pataakha and Badhaai Ho saw you play quite unhinged characters – bordering on the fierce. Whereas in Ritesh Batra’s Photograph, you’re playing a coy girl. Which is the real Sanya?

Extremely similar to my character Milonee from Photograph. Yes, people get surprised, but that’s a fact. I am very much like this character. She’s reticent, lives in her own world. Milonee is keenly observant, intelligent, and very calm and quiet. I’m a lot like her. But the world she comes from and the world I come from are completely different. And the challenge was to know her world.

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Photograph recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival. Hollywood Reporter listed you in the ‘5 Breakout Talents to Watch,’ how did you feel?

I didn’t realise how big an achievement it was until I saw it being written about so much.

Wasn’t Photograph supposed to be your second film, right after Dangal?

Yes, I had signed and shot for Photograph immediately after Dangal. It was a completely different character for me to play after Dangal, the other end of the spectrum. Not a lot of actors get this opportunity.

How was the experience of working with Ritesh Batra and Nawazuddin Siddiqui?

I learnt something new throughout my journey on this film. Ritesh helped me understand Milonee’s world. Nawazuddin and Geetanjali Kulkarni were so amazing to watch and assimilate from as co-stars. I learnt so much about acting and prepping for a character from them. In spite of being the new one, I didn’t feel pressure from the team. I knew I was working with a great director and I knew I didn’t want to mess this role. This was a perfect film for me and I was lucky to get it.

What’s next for you?

Post Photograph’s release, I’m working on Anurag Basu’s film with Aditya Roy Kapoor. Again, a completely different experience altogether.

As an actor, what’s the strength that comes from being a woman?

Being a woman, I think, we are more emotional, so knowingly or unknowingly, I get attached to the character. I don’t know if I can project that deep attachment on-screen or not, or if the audience can grasp my connection to the emotional aspect of it. For men, it’s easier to approach it practically. After shooting for Photograph, it took me a lot of time to disassociate from Milonee and be me again.

What’s the best thing about being an actor?

It’s fun to be a different person for those 45-50 days when you are shooting.

Tell us three things that people don’t know about you.

I’m an introvert and a home-body. Not the bubbly, chirpy person people think I am. I like being at home doing nothing (laughs). And I love dancing. My Instagram followers know about my love for it. At one point, a long time
ago, I wanted to be a ballet dancer.

What is it you miss as an actor – the flipside of stardom?

I miss shopping at Sarojini Market in Delhi (laughs).