About 20 minutes before my scheduled phone call with Sanya Malhotra, I encountered all the technical glitches one can imagine. The slow death of my terminally ill Wi-Fi, the sudden disappearance of all my network bars, (thanks to a little rain and thunder) and a minute accident that resulted in the demise of my very dependable phone charger’s cord. After tackling a series of uncertain events for what felt like an eternity (40 minutes) I finally managed to get on that call, albeit 20 minutes late. The conversation began with me frantically apologising, almost expecting stern disapproval of this delay. To my surprise, I was met with an extremely comforting voice on the other end, “Hey, that’s totally understandable, I face network issues in my house too.” And just like that, Sanya Malhotra and I rambled on for a minute about all the unprecedented issues that nobody can expect while working from home. Her calm, composed and charming demeanour, with frequent bouts of laughter, disarmed all my preconceived notions of how a rising star is supposed to be. Can we officially make being kind cool again?
Sanya is an exception to the norm. Case in point: Contradicting the cookie-cutter style big screen debuts, her onset in Bollywood was a refreshing game-changer. Who can forget her powerful portrayal of wrestler Babita Kumari in the biographical sports film Dangal? Apart from her physical transformation, cool pixie cut, and choke-slam moves in the ring, she was lauded for her salient performance in an ensemble cast. In the coming years, her conscious choice of strong roles with staunch female voices contributed to her steadily upward moving graph. The critically-acclaimed actor spoke at length about her deliberate intention of picking relatable parts, using social media as an outlet to showcase her humorous side and accepting her accident-prone clumsy self after a graphic incident with the blender during the lockdown.
Congratulations on the success of your recent film, Shakuntala Devi. What about the script and your character convinced you to pick this part?
When I first heard the narration of Shakuntala Devi, I was blown away by the script. All of us were aware of her accolades as a mathematician, but none of us knew about her personal journey. After learning about it and the kind of roller coaster of a life she’s had, I wanted to be a part of this story. Also, fun fact, while hearing the script I had no idea that Vidya (Balan) was playing the titular role, but throughout the recitation, I could only imagine her in that role! So when I found out that it was, in fact, her who will be playing the part, as her all-time fan, I was ecstatic to be working alongside her.
I wanted to play Anu, because, through her perspective, I learnt that it’s high time we stop putting mothers on a pedestal and start seeing them as humans first. The constant pressure we put on our mothers to be perfect is exhausting, they should be allowed to make mistakes and this was a story of a woman who lived on her terms 40 years ago, which wasn’t an easy time to do this in.
All the characters you’ve played on screen have had a strong female voice. Has that been a conscious choice?
When I pick a script, I make sure that the character I’m playing is empowering me and simultaneously inspiring young girls who are watching me. We’ve all grown up watching female characters we couldn’t relate to, the damsels in distress who could never fight their own battles. When, on the contrary, I’ve seen my mother fight her own battles in real life and emerge as a winner. Luckily, the times are changing, writers are writing better scripts, and producers are betting their money on films with strong female voices, so it’s a welcoming change for all of us.
With things opening up, are you comfortable to get back to work just yet?
At the start of this month, I shot an advertisement in Delhi, and honestly, I was scared and anxious. I had second thoughts about it because I had to go back home to my parents and it’s risky, but once I stepped on set and saw how meticulously organised and sanitised everything was, I was a little relieved. Everybody had their PPE kits on and people were practising social distancing, which put me at ease.
Sanya Malhotra on social media is a whole different version from what we see on celluloid, tell us a little more about this light-hearted side you reserve for the internet?
I save my dramatic self for social media, It’s the kind of humour that I enjoy, and to my surprise, a lot of people do too. I used to think I’m not funny, but that one viral video of me enacting a daily soap gave me the right amount of ego boost to believe otherwise. The lockdown has been so stressful for all of us, we all needed something to uplift ourselves. This funny side came out of me after I met with an accident while I was living alone in Mumbai, my finger got crushed in a blender, so instead of throwing myself a pity party, I decided to be my own cheerleader by making this quick witty videos. I am very clumsy, and I have now accepted it with a pinch of salt. Making those videos brought back so much nostalgia from my earlier days when I and my friends just recorded silly videos of ourselves for our entertainment.
Having spent so much time with yourself, what new have you discovered about yourself during this lockdown?
As an actor I am constantly on the go, therefore even after living alone I never really felt alone. But during the lockdown, I realised how terribly I missed the physical presence of my family. Now that I am with them in Delhi, I am happy, relaxed and have had the liberty to slow down. Instead of jumping on all the Insta-food trends, I have personally enjoyed making and learning simple ghar ka khana.
How do you combat trolls?
I treat social media as a job, and what I put out there is a part of it. I draw a line between who I am and what I do, so if someone is criticising me, I don’t take it personally. Of course, it’s toxic and it can get to you, but I keep reminding myself that the faceless/nameless trolls don’t know me and their opinion of me shouldn’t define me. Also, often, I don’t read the comments, nothing is more important to me than my sanity.
Can you share some of your upcoming projects?
My next film, Ludo, will be out on Netflix soon. It’s the first film I have shot without a script, and for the first time, I will be watching it just like the audience. I don’t know how my character and the storyline will pan out, it was all in director Anurag Basu’s mind, and I trusted his process. He’s a genius while shooting we didn’t have any material in hand to perform, everything was spontaneous. As an actor, the process was refreshing for me because I like to prepare myself in advance. This was a good learning curve.
Photographs: Mayank Sharma
Subscribe to our YouTube channel