The Dangal girls – Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra
2016 has seen several sports drama, yet Dangal has something that sets it apart from the rest. Directed by Nitesh Tiwari, the film is a biopic based on the life of Mahavir Singh Phogat, played by Aamir Khan, and his daughters Geeta and Babita Phogat. Essaying the roles of Geeta and Babita are two fresh talents Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra.
While Fatima has had a rendezvous with cinema as a child artist in Chachi 420, Sanya began her acting career with advertisements. The girls who have already charmed the country through the film’s trailer spoke to Pandolin about the audition process, training for wrestling and working with Aamir Khan.
Fatima Sana Shaikh
You started as a child artist in the movies, how would you describe your journey in the industry?
As a child actor I don’t remember anything about my journey. As a child you are pampered, you’re everybody’s favorite on set; it’s different. After working as a child actor for sometime, I left acting and I when I returned to the industry, people didn’t remember me, which is bound to happen. It was after I signed Dangal that everybody recollected that I’m the girl from Chachi 420. But when I was auditioning for films, that didn’t matter and it was tough for me. I was struggling before I got Dangal. I would go for auditions and get rejected one after the other. I would get a call saying that I have been shortlisted, but nothing happened beyond that and it was heartbreaking.
I began to think that I cannot have a career in acting. I started working as a photographer in a studio and thought of trying my hand at cinematography, I assisted a cinematographer for an ad and that is when I got a call for Dangal after which the whole audition process began.
The auditions for the wrestling part went on for two weeks, which was a very tough phase especially since I have never even worked out in my life
Since you started acting from a very young age, was acting always your dream career?
When I was younger, acting just happened. But when I got a little older I had to miss a lot of school for acting and I was always around older people. I couldn’t do that anymore at that time as I wanted to chill and hang out with people my age. Hence, I gave up acting and went back to school.
It was then that I realized that I hated school and missed acting. After a while I started auditioning again and did a few small roles. I worked on a few movies like Tahaan, but as I grew older I found it hard to get work. I was out of work for the longest time and I had dropped out of college after HSC; in short I did not have any backup plan. I decided to not act anymore because it was not paying me. I had to find something else and that is when I found photography. I also wanted to do cinematography because I wanted to stay close to the industry and be part of filmmaking.
Tell us about he audition process of Dangal and the challenges you faced.
I got a call from Mukesh Chhabra’s office informing me that there is a film called Dangal and they are auditioning for the role of Geeta Phogat. I instantly Googled Geeta and was very embarrassed that I didn’t know that she had won a gold medal for our country. Visually she is a very strong woman and I was dainty and small. I called the office and told them that I didn’t think that I was right for the role, but they told me to come for the audition as they were looking for good actors. I auditioned but having faced so many rejections, I wasn’t expecting anything. After a month, I received a call back saying that I was shortlisted for the film.
Post that we had workshops with Mukesh (Chhabra, Casting Director) and Nitesh (Tiwari, Director). Aamir Khan came and met all the shortlisted girls and asked for our introductions. We had one level of audition where they saw how well we ran and how we looked while working out. We also had auditions with Aamir Khan. The auditions for the wrestling part went on for two weeks, which was a very tough phase especially since I have never even worked out in my life. Eventually Sanya and I got selected for the roles.
I was struggling before I got Dangal
How did your foray into acting happen?
I have no acting background at all. I am actually a trained dancer and used to dance in college during which I also did a lot of workshops. I came to Mumbai from Delhi for a dance reality show; I was in the top 100 dancers in Dance India Dance. I did not make it into the show, but I wanted to see the city so I asked my father to let me stay here for a while.
As a child I dreamt of acting, but there very limited opportunities in Delhi so I stuck to dance. But when I came to Mumbai I fell in love with the city. I went back and told my dad that I wanted to move here and purse acting. By that time I had completed my graduation and though my mom wanted me to purse my post-grad, I asked them to give me a year.
When I came to Mumbai, I had no idea about what to do, where to go or whom to talk to. I had no idea about casting directors or coordinators. So the first 4-5 months I would just wake up in the morning, clean the house and eat pizza. But then I started auditioning and got a lot of ads. After a year, I got a call for Dangal.
Aamir Khan works with so much passion that as a co-star it inspires you to work with similar kind of passion
Coming to Dangal, how were the dynamics between Aamir Khan and you?
He was really sweet and the entire team was really nice. They gave us a lot of freedom and most importantly, they would give us direction. Nitesh sir would tell us what he wanted from the characters, which made our job really easy. We had to just stand in front of the camera and do whatever he told us.
As for Aamir Khan, he is very passionate about his work. He starts preparing for a role three-four months before the shoot starts. He tries to get into the mindset of the character, the physiology, psychology and meter of the character. He works with so much passion that as a co-star it inspires you to work with similar kind of passion.
What was the preparation process for your role like?
I think the first two months were very difficult for Fatima and me. Physically and mentally, mentally because we were not allowed to tell anyone that we were part of the film and every day we would see a new article saying that some girl is in Dangal. We started having doubts and started wondering if there something that the team was not telling us or if we were backup options, therefore, mentally we were very insecure.
Preparing ourselves physically was also difficult especially since we had never done any kind of wrestling. Since wrestling is a body-contact sport where a lot of training is required, it is a very difficult sport. We used to start our day with three hours of wrestling after which we had our Haryanvi tutions. We would then go to the gym and weight train for two hours. The entire process was very tough for both of us.
For the first two months it was very difficult but after that it become a routine, like a lifestyle and it was majorly because of our coach and the entire team of the film. They have helped us become Geeta and Babita.
Preparing ourselves physically was also difficult especially since we had never done any kind of wrestling