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I thought Dangal offer was a prank, says Sakshi Tanwar

The popular television actress talks about the experience of auditioning for Dangal and working with superstar Aamir Khan.

Keyur Seta

Sakshi Tanwar has been a popular face on television for more than a decade but has hardly been seen on the big screen. Now, she is being seen in the biggest film of the year, Nitesh Tiwari’s Dangal, in which she plays the wife of Aamir Khan’s character Mahavir Singh Phogat. In a free-wheeling chat with Cinestaan.com, she reveals how she found it hard to believe that she is actually part of the film even after the shooting was complete. Excerpts from the interview:

How did you get cast in Dangal? It was reported that you went blank when you were offered the film. 

When I first got a call from Mukesh Chhabra’s agency, I thought this was all part of a prank (laughs). I didn’t believe it. When they said, “Arre ma'am, come and meet. We are serious about it,” I met Mukesh Chhabra and asked about the role. He just said I should just do it. He said, “Aankh bandh karke bas kar lo [Just do it with your eyes shut].” After meeting Aamir Sir [Aamir Khan], in just two minutes he decided to do a scene. We did the scene which is in the trailer where I say, “Pehelwani toh sirf chhore kare hain [Wrestling is for boys]”, and he says, “Mhari chhoriyan chhoron se kum hai key? [Are my daughters inferior?]” We did a couple of variations and they asked me to meet Rao saheb [Srinivas Rao], who is the associate producer, to discuss dates, etc. Whatever dates he asked for, I was free as I wasn’t doing anything. I had a trip planned to Bhutan, but I didn’t tell them. I felt they might think, she is too busy, leave her.

When I was returning, I got a message from Aamir Sir. I remember I told my driver, ‘Ruk ruk ruk ruk.’ I called him [Aamir Khan] up and he said, “Welcome to Dangal. You are on board.” So it all happened so fast that it didn’t sink in. I didn’t have time to believe it. I was like, “Oh, okay. Thank you.” I came back and sat in the car, feeling blank. Not knowing what to do and how to react. Somewhere I was also happy. There was a lot of play of emotions. But I didn’t know which emotion to choose because I didn’t believe it. I wanted to be happy but I feared what if I don’t get to do it? I wasn’t telling anyone. I only told my sister and told her I can’t go to Bhutan. She was taken aback. I told her I might be doing a film with Mr Khan. She was happy but I asked her not to tell anyone as I wasn’t sure about it.

But before I could come to terms with it, the news was in the papers. There was a press release. Everyone started calling me saying, you didn’t tell us! I told them, believe me, I am still trying to believe that it happened. I didn’t respond to any calls or messages from journalists because god forbid if it didn’t happen, I wouldn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t believe it for the longest time. By longest time, I mean till I saw the trailer. When I finally saw the trailer, I was like, that looks like me. 

Didn’t you believe it when you were shooting for the film?

While I was shooting, it was somehow not sinking in. Everyone around me was telling me, “Wow, you are doing Dangal.” I used to feel it only at a surface level. It was somehow not registering. It was only after watching the trailer [that I started believing it]. I also don’t have a habit of checking the monitor. I never expected it. Even my career was never my plan A. I wanted to be an IAS officer. Things have just happened to me. Fortunately, the right things have happened. When you are not expecting something and it happens, you don’t know how to react. 

Do you think your entry into mainstream Hindi cinema has been late? You started with television long back.

Even television was never planned. I wouldn’t say it was late. I feel there is a right time for everything. I think it could not have been a better thing than this. So, I would say this is the right time, probably.

Were you star-struck when you first met Aamir Khan?

When I was on the way to meet him, I was wondering how to react and what to say. I was thinking probably I would get a picture clicked with him and go back because casting toh hogi nahin [I won't get the role]. But I was telling myself I won’t ask for a picture and behave like a star-struck person. I asked the girl who was recording the audition whether I could get a picture with Aamir. She said yes. I asked, “Even if I am not doing this film, can I get this picture?” She said of course she will give.

I used to think Aamir must be very serious because he has this image. I thought there would be serious discussions on the sets. And other than that, he would be sitting in one corner reading a book. But when I came to meet him, he was so unlike the superstar Aamir Khan. He is so down-to-earth. I didn’t see an element of stardom in him even once.

How did you prepare for the role?

As far as my preparations are concerned, thankfully I didn’t have to go through wrestling training. It was more with the language. It was taken care of by our teacher Sunita Sharma.

My casting happened when we were very close to the shooting. In fact, I was one of the last persons to be cast. So, I didn’t get combined reading time and language sessions with everyone. I recorded my lines in her [Sharma's] voice. I would keep listening to it [the recording] in my car and my driver would think ki didi paagal ho gayi hai [I have gone mad]. I would keep repeating my lines. I used to tell him, “Akhilesh, just bear with me. I am fine, I am sane.” Plus, I had Nitesh [Tiwari] Sir’s brief which helped me prepare for the character. His brief was so good. It was so precise. 

Have you met the real-life Mrs Phogat?

I hadn’t met Dayaji. So I had no point of reference. I did not know whom I am playing. I had just seen her photograph and I was like, “Err, I don’t look like her.” 

What kept you occupied till Dangal happened?

Acting is just a part of my life. It’s not the only thing I do. Also, when I am not acting, it’s not like I don’t know what to do with my life. Since acting was never plan A, I am happy and satisfied even when I am not acting. I do a lot of travel. Most of the times, I am planning some trip or the other. I was planning my Bhutan trip when I was offered the film. Till then I was shooting for Code Red, my crime-based show. That was just about four days a month. And it was getting wrapped up. 

Why don’t you do more films for your fans?

I don’t consciously decide anything because I am a very lazy person. Work finds me. Otherwise, I keep saying no to work unless it is really meant for me; then it just happens. What is meant for me will come my way. 

You did the Marathi film Katyar Kalzat Ghusli (2015). It was a negative character who destroys a character by mixing something in his food. Were you hesitant to sign the film?

No, no, this was the reason I chose that role. On the contrary, they were hesitant in calling me. [Director] Subodh [Bhave] wasn’t calling me as he thought I won’t agree since it’s such a negative role. They just took a chance by asking me. They said the role is negative and narrated it in just one line. After hearing it, I said of course I am doing it. I am more than happy that they took the chance of calling me, else I wouldn’t have known about it. 

Do box-office numbers matter to you?

You know, I barely passed in maths. So, don’t ask me about numbers. When I finished my board exams, I decided not to do it again. It has been such a beautiful process being a part of this film. Right now I am enjoying this moment. I have been waiting for it. It is more like giving an exam and waiting for the result. We can’t do anything now. You can’t go back and change your answers.

How was your experience with the four girls in the film?

They are amazing. They are outstanding. When I saw the two younger ones, I thought they would do a lot of tamasha on set. Most of my scenes are with the younger ones. I thought I will have a tough time as it’s tough to shoot with kids since they have their own moods. They would do so much masti before a shot. But as soon as Nitesh Sir would say, “Roll, action” they would be transformed. They would just be the characters. I was thoroughly impressed. And coming to Sanya [Malhotra] and Fatima [Sana Shaikh], they don’t appear to be newcomers.