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Fatima Sana Shaikh: ‘I wasn’t quite sure about playing Indira Gandhi in ‘Sam Bahadur’


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Fatima Sana Shaikh, who began her acting career as a child artist, gained widespread acclaim for her portrayal of Geeta Phogat in Aamir Khan’s 2016 film Dangal. She recently played India’s former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in filmmaker Meghna Gulzar‘s highly acclaimed film Sam Bahadur. Through her compelling performance, she brought to life the essence of one of India’s most influential leaders, capturing the nuances and complexities of the character with remarkable finesse.

Beyond her portrayal of Indira Gandhi, Shaikh has carved a niche for herself in the film industry with her ability to seamlessly embody diverse roles, each characterized by depth and authenticity. Eastern Eye recently spoke to the talented actress about her experiences in bringing historical figures like Indira Gandhi to life on screen, her experience of working with co-star Vicky Kaushal, the nuances of her craft, and much more.

After a great theatrical run, your film Sam Bahadur is now streaming on ZEE5 Global. How do you feel about it?

I am happy because it will now receive maximum reach and more audience will have access to it. I am more than happy. As an artist, you want to make sure that more and more audiences watch your work and that your work resonates with them.

When director Meghna Gulzar approached you for the role of Indira Gandhi, what was your first thought?

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I was not quite sure about doing the role and I had mentioned that to Meghana Gulzar, but she was like, ‘Just trust me’. For me, that was enough. For me, my director to ask me to trust her was assuring. And that’s how we set the ball rolling. We started working on it, prepping on it and we went on set. I tried to be as honest as I could be and give Meghana what she wanted from me as an actor. That’s it.

You were tasked to play an iconic Indian woman on screen. Were you intimidated?

Yes, I was scared and that’s the reason I wasn’t sure about it initially. To be honest, the process was quite smooth because Meghana as a director is quite clear about what she wants from her character. When it’s about her script and the characters, she is crystal clear about it. The kind of behavioural pattern I should follow or I shouldn’t, the pitch of my voice, it’s all her. So actually this is Meghana’s Indira Gandhi. I have tried to give her whatever she needed from me and as an actor that is also an interesting process where you just have to sit back, relax, and listen to your director. So that’s quite an interesting process as well and that was really comforting for me.

How much time did your makeup occupy?

Oh, just don’t ask me about that. It used to take them 1 to 3 hours. That was quite interesting.

You had some terrific scenes with Vicky Kaushal also. So how was the give and take between the two artists?

Vicky Kaushal is undoubtedly a phenomenal actor of all. I feel that he is one of the best actors of the younger generations. That is what I truly believe and when I used to observe him on sets, in his character, also he was extremely sincere and always arrived on time. He is extremely professional and he also gives you some cues. So you know, he is a good co-actor, whatever you need from a co-actor, he is giving. And he was so patient and he was so nice and that you can see on screen. That hard work, the dedication, and the talent, it’s so seamless. So I had a good time with him.

You started as a child actor in the industry. How did you bag your first project?

I was very young at that time so I don’t remember much about it. So somebody told me about the audition and I went there, auditioned for it and I bagged the project. They used to ask the kids to recite a line and they repeat it. That’s how kids bag a film. Honestly, I was too young to remember anything.

Did you want to become an actress because of that experience?

So after working as a child actor, I decided not to act anymore. When I was a teenager, I wanted to pursue fine arts. But we weren’t able to afford that and after that, I realized that acting was fun. And I was like I was not good at any other things and nor was I good at studies, so I could not think of a better career option than acting. When I wasn’t getting any work as an actor, I started learning about cinematography as I genuinely considered it as a career option and was genuinely pursuing it. So I was assisting a cinematographer and by then Dangal happened. But I always wanted to be a part of this world.

How did Dangal happen?

They just called us for an audition and we just got selected. I mean it wasn’t that easy but this is how it is. You just need to keep on giving auditions and you never know when you will land in a film.

Your co-star of Dangal, Suhani Bhatnagar, is no more. Did you talk to family?

It’s not happy news, it’s sad and it’s very disturbing. She was just 14 and she was just a kid when we did Dangal. I can’t even imagine what her parents might be going through. To lose a child, at the age of 19, when you have seen and you have spent so much time with that kid of yours. And you cannot even see through it. So I can’t even imagine and I have spent some time with her, 7 years ago but those memories are very fond and I can never forget the smile. It was heartbreaking. I can’t even express how any of us has felt. And it took a while, to even process, to even understand, it took me a few days, to be honest.

The interesting thing about Sam Bahadur is that you and your Dangal co-star Sanya Malhotra are together in the film, but there are no scenes between the two of you.

This is the second time that it has happened, it has happened in Ludo too. I miss working with her, like doing scenes with her because she is a great actress and a dancer and she is a good-natured woman. And I am fortunate that I have her in my life as a friend also because to stay in touch with people is very tough and we have managed to find that, you know, rhythm in each other’s lives. I hope we do something together but already the work that she is doing is so impressive. I am so proud of her.

What are you doing when you are not working?

For the time being, I am working and I cannot even dare to breathe. I just meet my friends and chill with them like everyone. I sleep, then I eat and then I take rest.

When did you realize that you have become famous?

I never feel that I have arrived because the struggle is lifelong and that never escapes your mind. Because when you achieve something, then you start to chase another thing and then another. So we are never happy, so I never feel that I have arrived because every day you are fighting to get something else. So it’s a struggle with yourself.

Is there any character or role that you want to portray?

More than characters, I feel I want to be a part of films that bring a change in society or any character that moves people or inspires them. I want to do projects that make me happy and the audiences happy, something that challenges people, society, and people. So yeah, that’s all that I want.




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