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I can cry in front of Aamir and he consoles me, says Dangal daughter Fatima Sana Shaikh

Fatima Sana Shaikh is making her debut with Aamir Khan’s big project, Dangal. But she, along with the other debutant Sanya Malhotra, has acquired fame even before the film releases.

Keyur Seta

Fatima Sana Shaikh speaks about her journey from being nobody to landing a prestigious role in Dagal, directed by Nitesh Tiwari in a friendly chat with Cinestaan.com.

How were you selected to play Geeta Phogat?
I was struggling for 3-4 years before Dangal started. I had given up on acting. I thought, acting se kuch hone wala nahin hai. I would go for auditions daily but nothing clicked. I thought this cannot be my career as I am not getting anything from it. So, I tried my hand at photography and worked with a studio for 6-7 months. I then thought of learning cinematography. I assisted a cinematographer for an ad. During that time I was called for Dangal auditions by Mukesh Chhabra’s assistant. She said they are auditioning for Geeta Phogat’s role and sent me the scenes.

Instantly I googled Geeta Phogat. I am so ashamed to say I didn’t know who she was then. She had won gold for our country and I had no clue about it. I saw that she was a strong, tough-looking girl. And that time I was very thin. I told them that I am not the right cast for the role so I shouldn’t be auditioning for it. I was sure I wouldn’t get the film. They convinced me saying that I wouldn’t know what they are looking for. I agreed thinking I would get a chance to act. I didn’t expect I would get the film though. I didn’t get a call for a month, like it had happened before. So, I had no expectations. But I got a call saying I am shortlisted. I thought, “Wow! Shortlist ho gayi. Now I want this film.” 

But when I went there I realised there were 15 other girls. I thought I have been betrayed. We had 6-7 levels of auditions. We had one with AK (Aamir Khan). When our coach Kripa Shankar Bishnoi saw me, he said, 'She doesn’t look like a wrestler at all. Yeh toh lukkhi hai'. They called us again and we had a two-week long session for wrestling and working out. I just couldn’t get up in the morning. And I lived on the third floor which made it worse. Then after a month-and-a-half they told us that we are selected. Initially, we thought they called us to say, 'Tata bye bye'.
What role did Aamir Khan play in all this?
We used to wrestle for three hours in the morning. So, actually the person who played a role in our training was Kripa Shankar Bishnoi. He was the person we used to meet every day along with our gym trainer. AK used to come sometimes and we used to have acting workshops with him. But for our physical training, only Kripa Shankar sir and gym trainer did a lot. Even if you spend just a day with him, you will learn a lot. We are interning with him. So, we are following him in all the processes — post production, background mixing, subtitling. He is like a chalta-phirta school. He just never gets tired. He gets up early. From morning till night he is just working. So, it is difficult. 

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

What was your average day like?
We used to get up at 6.30am. We used to stay in Bandra and our practice was at Kandivali. There used to be a lot of traffic while returning. We then used to sleep for half an hour and then have our Haryanvi class for an hour. After that we would train in the gym for an hour. Following this we would get home, have food and sleep by 9pm and die (laughs). 

How challenging was it to master the Haryanvi accent?
We had tuitions for about 3-4 months every day. I have lived in Mumbai, so there is only Marathi being spoken around me. I had no clue what Haryanvi sounded like because I didn’t have any Delhi or Haryanvi friends. So it was a bit difficult to catch the accent. But we were practising daily. So, if I couldn’t learn in such time, I would never learn. 

What is your equation with Aamir Khan off the sets?
Now we have a bond which is beyond the actor-co-actor relationship. We are genuinely very fond of each other. We get along really well and share our lives with each other. We seek his advice if we have issues. I can cry in front of him and he consoles me. 

Have the real Geeta and Babita seen the film?
They haven’t seen the film. But they have seen the trailer and they texted us that they liked it. 

How much time did it take for you to be comfortable around a superstar like Aamir Khan?
The perception of a superstar was never around. He is not that kind of a person. He is a simple man. He came barefoot. He is someone who makes the other person very comfortable. So, he made a comfortable environment for us. He never made us feel as if he is a superstar and we are newcomers.