Aamir Khan is the coolest boss, says Dangal daughter Sanya Malhotra

Sanya Malhotra, who plays Geeta Phogat in Nitesh Tiwari’s Dangal, talks about her experiences on the sets and her interaction with the superstar.

Keyur Seta

Sanya Malhotra’s Hindi film debut in Nitesh Tiwari’s much-awaited Dangal is very different from your run-of-the-mill debuts, where the heroine has to look pretty, act coy or bold, and lip-synch a couple of songs and act in a few intimate scenes.

Acting skills alone were not going to be sufficient for young Malhotra. She, and three of her co-stars, including the superstar Aamir Khan, had to learn the art of wrestling, for which they had to undergo rigorous physical training.

In a conversation with, Sanya Malhotra spoke about the ordeal that is going to be her debut and the experience of working with the perfectionist, Aamir Khan. Excerpts:

How are you finding the hectic promotional activities of such an important film?

I think after doing so much of wrestling we are so well prepared that we don’t find anything difficult now. It is fun to narrate our experiences because all these months we haven’t said anything to anyone as to what has been happening with us and how we got the film. So we are very excited. 

So how did you get the film?

I was born and brought up in Delhi. By the time I did my graduation, I had become a dancing professional. I auditioned for a dance reality show and got selected in the top 100. I came to Mumbai for that show. But I didn’t get through. I always wanted to act, but there were no opportunities in Delhi. I called my dad and said I want to see Mumbai for 15-20 days. Later I shifted to Mumbai. For the first 4-5 months, I had no idea what to do, where to go, and how to start giving auditions. I got a lot of ads and after a year I got a call from Mukesh Chhabra’s office for Dangal’s audition. 

I gave the audition. I was very excited and the scenes were very good. I thought I would get the film, but for a month I didn’t get a call. Then I saw the news that Kangana Ranaut would be playing Geeta Phogat. She [Geeta Phogat] has curly hair and even I have curly hair. It's okay, I thought, I could play Babita. I was auditioning for Geeta then, not Babita. I decided to return to Delhi and surprise my mother on her birthday. As soon as I landed, I got a call from Mukesh Chhabra’s office saying, “Congratulations, you have been shortlisted. Come back, Aamir wants to meet you.” After returning I realised that I was shortlisted but the list wasn’t short (laughs). There were 15-16 girls, including Fatima. This is how the whole audition journey started. 

How challenging were the wrestling scenes?

Wrestling is a tough sport. I would like to give all the credit to our coach Kripashankar Bishnoi. All the wrestling you see in the film is because of him. It’s a very difficult sport, but he used to make the practice sessions such fun. If we practised a lot one day, the next day we used to play games. It is because of him that we never felt like giving up. He used to motivate us. For him, we were not actors; we were pehalwans (wrestlers). He doesn’t care that we are doing a film with Aamir Khan. No, nothing doing! He also used to scold us. We also used to push each other a lot. When someone puts so much expectation on you, we believe we can do it. I have seen a lot of people who leave their students if they can’t do it. He used to make us keep doing it until we got it right.

Did you follow training procedures like real wrestlers?

We used to follow the same routine like real wrestlers because our wrestling is of international level. If we were to continue the same level of wrestling for another 2-3 years, we can actually get into the sport and compete. 

Did you suffer any injuries?

A lot of injuries. It’s a full-contact sport. Our coach used to say, 'Injuries are the ornaments of a wrestler.'

What role did Nitesh Tiwari play in all this?

The script is his baby. He knows what he wants from each and every character. He was always there and he made our job so much easier. We just had to memorise our lines in Haryanvi. He used to tell us how he wants us to act. He also used to tell us what Geeta and Babita must be thinking during a scene. So, we just had to go in front of the camera and do whatever he told us. 

How did you master the Haryanvi accent?

Sunita [Sharma] ma'am used to train us. She was the one who had also trained Kangana Ranaut for Tanu Weds Manu Returns. I am from Delhi so I know a bit of Haryanvi as the policemen speak that language. I also have a few friends in college who used to speak Haryanvi. So I had an idea how they talk and their tone. 

How much did both of you interact with the real Geeta and Babita?

They came for the mahurat and for our practice. We also went for Geeta’s wedding. During the sangeet night, Fatima [Sana Shaikh] and others danced to 'Haanikaarak Bapu’.

Both of you didn’t interact with them to get into their characters?

No, we didn’t do that.

How much did you learn from Aamir Khan? Was it just through observation?

We learnt a lot just by observing him. We are interning with Aamir Khan since the last 3-4 months. 

We all know Aamir Khan as a perfectionist. So, is he very strict?

No, not at all. He is not at all haanikaarak in real life. He won’t mind even if we tell him, “Sir, I won’t be able to come today for internship, we need a holiday.” Nobody will have a boss as cool as him (laughs). 

How much did your perception of the superstar Aamir Khan change after you met him?

Instantly! The moment we met him. He was like a walking-talking Teddy Bear when we first met him. He was 97 kilos! But after he lost weight and came on the sets, I was star struck. I was like, “Oh my god, Aamir Khan is here!”