A new kind of movie star is born

Sanya Malhotra
Sanya Malhotra



It has been almost two and a half years since Sanya Malhotra made a stunning debut in Hindi film Dangal with Aamir Khan and delivered a knockout performance in the record-breaking wrestling drama based on real events.

Instead of being crushed by the pressure of starring in the highest-grossing Bollywood film of all time, the young talent has been slowly building a strong repertoire of films and playing a diverse range of characters.

Fresh from the blockbuster success of her last film Badhaai Ho (2018), Sanya is now looking forward to the release of her next movie Photograph, wherein she is paired opposite Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a romantic drama about two individuals from different worlds forming an unlikely connection.

The latest movie from award-winning filmmaker Ritesh Batra recently had premieres at the Sundance Film Festival and at the 69th Berlin Film Festival.

Sanya was lucky enough to attend the premieres, where the film was well received. Not surprisingly, she was feeling confident when Eastern Eye caught up with her to talk about Photograph, working with Nawazuddin Siddiqui and her criteria of script selection, among other things.

You are an actress in demand; what drew you to Photograph?
It was a lot of things. First of all, working with Ritesh (Batra) was a big opportunity for me. To be cast opposite Nawazuddin Siddiqui was also a great opportunity for me. When I read the script, there was a lot of pressure around me from various people because this was my second film post Dangal. People were telling me, ‘the second film is the most important one in an actor’s career, so you should only sign the best one with the finest director and the best actor.’

Photograph is not what would be considered the traditional film, did you take a risk with it?
Not at all. I would not call this film a risk. It was the best opportunity an actor could get. See, I am very new to acting, but I knew that I would learn a lot from this film. So when I read it, I was very happy. When Ritesh creates a world through his writing, you are sucked into it as an audience. You really want to know more about his characters and the same thing happened with me too. When I read the script, I wanted to know more about Miloni and other characters as well.

In one of your recent interviews, you said that you were quite nervous before going to the Sundance Film Festival where Photograph premiered recently…
I was nervous because I had not watched the film, not even a single scene. While dubbing, I just saw a few glimpses but not the entire movie. This was my first time at Sundance, so I was very nervous. I did not know how it was going to be, but when I saw the film there, I was very happy with it and with my performance. I am usually very critical about my work. Maybe if I see the film again, I will find something (flaws) in my performance, you never know. I am pretty chilled-out now because those who were watching the film at Sundance and in Berlin, were not a Hindi-speaking audience, so I was worried if they would connect with the dialogues and emotions and the whole movie scenario. I am glad that they did.

Your selection of scripts seems terrific. After Dangal, you did Pataakha (2018), followed by Badhaai Ho. Is it a conscious decision to opt for roles which are totally different from one another?
When I read a script, the things that come to mind is my character, whether I can imagine myself in that character, if it excites me as an actor or creatively triggers me? I am really grateful for the kind of films I am getting. Choosing the scripts is not a conscious effort; I am lucky that I get such scripts. I am really fortunate to work with such amazing actors and directors so early in my career. My only conscious effort is to do my job right. If I take up a movie, then I want to perform my best.

How was it working with Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Photograph?

Sanya Malhotra with Nawazuddin Siddiqui

Honestly, I was very scared. I was wondering what would happen on the first day of the shoot with Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Ritesh did not want us to meet before. So I had never interacted with him. But I did a lot of research on him. I wanted to make sure that I did not look stupid in front of him. He is such an amazing co-star. Whenever I interacted with him on the sets, he was Rafi, not Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

Your performance in Pataakha was appreciated by everyone, but somehow the film did not fare well commercially…
I am really happy with Pataakha. I learned a lot in the process of playing that character. The character in the film is different from what I am in real life. So to play such characters, you have to come out of your comfort zone. It was directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, so that was a huge deal for me. It did not do well at the box-office; but many people watched it and liked it when it came online. As an actor, I am really satisfied with the film.

Do you feel that people look at you differently after the huge success of Badhaai Ho?
They do. It may be because of my look in the film. Fortunately, I have different looks in all of my films.

Do you relate to any of the characters that you have played so far?
I am not at all like Chhutki in Pataakha. I am more like Miloni from Photograph. But the world where she comes from is completely different from where I come.

Do you feel any pressure after doing four amazing films in four years?
No, I don’t feel any pressure because I don’t think I have become a great actor yet. I have miles to go. I still have to learn a lot of things and do some more characters. But I am satisfied with my work and I am happy.

Tell us something about your next film with Anurag Basu?
Aditya Roy Kapoor is also there with me in the Anurag Basu movie. I am enjoying it a lot. I am very stress-free also.

Tell us, if you have any plans to dive into the world of web series?
If the content, script and the director are good, then why not? I would love to do a web series if I get one.

Do you think that the growing popularity of web may overpower cinema in future?
The web is a great medium and people are loving it. It is definitely going to bring a lot of changes in Bollywood. We have to come up with great content and good acting because now our audiences have seen everything and are well aware of several aspects of movies. So we can’t fool them by making just anything.

Photograph is set for its India release on Friday (15), 2019 and will release in the UK later this year