Instead of being crushed by the pressure of making her movie debut with Bollywood’s biggest ever box office hit Dangal, Sanya Malhotra has powered on with winning performances in acclaimed films like Badhaai Ho, Photograph, Pataakha, Shakuntala Devi and Pagglait.
Having consistently won praise for her acting talent and screen presence, she adds to that impressive variety of projects with new released Netflix movie Kathal.
The rural comedy-drama based on real events sees her portray a police officer trying to track down two missing jackfruits in male-dominated surroundings, which leads to a bigger mystery and unexpected surprises.
The versatile actress headlines the multi-layered movie and was happy to discuss it with Eastern Eye. She also spoke about her impressive film journey, future hopes, acting, inspirations and what she would love to master. The bright star lit up each answer with a winning smile.
How do you reflect on your acting journey?
It’s been seven years in the industry. I feel in the seven years since my debut movie, I have worked with some really amazing co-actors and directors. I had big dreams I thought would not be possible to ever achieve. But to be honest, in the seven years, I have achieved whatever I had once imagined as a kid, growing up, when I was aspiring to be an actor. So, I think it’s been really good, so far.
You have played many dramatically different characters. Has that been a conscious decision?
Definitely. Maybe, because I started off with a film like Dangal, with a character that didn’t look like one a lot of actors start off with. We chopped off our hair, trained physically and got into the skin of our characters. So that has been my conditioning as an actor. And I saw how much our performances were loved by the audience. So definitely, I remember, even when I was shooting for Dangal, I was like, ‘oh, my God, this is so much fun. I’ll make sure that whatever characters I’m doing in future, I will make them look different, and feel different’.
That variety has definitely been there…
Somehow, I never wanted my characters to look alike. That is something I really focus on as an actor. Like, I really want all my characters to dramatically look or feel different. That’s the fun of it, right? I know, I might not be able to sustain this. But till now, I think I’m able to make all my characters look different.
How much does it mean to you thatyour work is constantly complimented?
It means a lot, to be honest, and feels good to be complimented. It’s gratifying. But at the same time, I also appreciate people who are honest with me about my performance, because that really gives me perspective and things I need to work on as an actor.
You have shown that you can do a wide array of genres, but which do you prefer?
I prefer everything. I haven’t done many of the genres yet. But I would definitely want to try everything possible. I don’t want to box myself as an actor and say that, yeah, this is my space, and I’m comfortable in it. The day I feel, for example, I’m comfortable doing comedy, then I might not grow as an actor. And that’s not what I want to do. I would want to always keep pushing, doing new things and new genres.
What did you like about your new film Kathal?
I liked the fact that there is so much to it. It’s not just a comedy. There are other aspects and it’s such a unique story. It’s about this cop who’s trying to find these two stolen kathals (jackfruits). It’s based on true events, which is bizarre. I just loved how beautifully Yashowardhan (Mishra), and Ashok (Mishra) Ji wrote the story. Kathal also has a very important social message.
How does Kathal character Mahima compare to others you have played?
First of all, this is the first time I’m playing a cop in a film. It is showing the reality of being a cop in India. I think the fact that I’m a cop in the film is the main difference.
What was the biggest challenge of playing this role?
The biggest challenge of playing this character for me was to get to know the world because I was quite detached from it. As an actor, I do a set of things when I’m developing a character. But even when I was doing that, I felt very detached from my character Mahima because I have never seen a small town or interacted with a cop that closely.
How did you overcome that detachment from your character?
So, I remember calling Yashowardhan, my director, who’s also the writer of our film, and telling him about how I feel detached, and if we could possibly go stay in Gwalior where we were shooting the film. We took that trip to Gwalior, and I got to spend a few days with the police inspectors, to sit and watch how they solve cases. And I think that was one of the biggest challenges. The dialect was very difficult for me to grasp.
Tell us about that?
Otherwise, I’ve picked up dialects before for my characters – I did Haryanvi in Dangal, and Rajasthani in Pataakha. I always thought I’ll be able to pick any dialect possible. But this one was very difficult. Luckily my co-actor Neha Saraf is from Madhya Pradesh, so conversing on set with her in this dialect really helped.
What would you say is your acting master plan going forward?
That is such a nice question. For me, I think my acting master plan right now is to work on speech. I think I would really like to experiment with different ways to talk, basically. I don’t know if that’s what you meant when you asked me this question, but I’m just going to share what I think I’ll be doing in future to make my characters more interesting and different. So, I will be working on my speech and watching movies.
Could you tell us about the movie watching aspect…
I never used to watch movies. So, my goal this year is to watch at least two films a week. And I’ve been pretty good at it. I don’t know why I didn’t watch movies. Maybe I was just lazy. But I think it has really helped me. It’s like research for me. It really helps, motivates, and inspires me when I watch different films, and actors doing magic on screen.
What would you say you enjoy watching as an audience?
I’ve been really liking, watching long format, and serials. I’m watching White Lotus, a lot of drama and comedy. Not a lot of crime series. I know a lot of people like it, but that’s not my thing right now. That is what I gravitate towards because the work has been really hectic these days. So, I like watching something light and funny, whenever I’m back home and not working.
Can you see yourself working in the West?
Yes, definitely. I would love to and hope that happens soon.
What inspires you as an actress?
I think challenges and that sense of discomfort, which happens usually when I’m trying to get into a character closely. It also gets very difficult to detach yourself from characters you want to play. And that puts you in a place of discomfort. That really inspires me, and what I seek as an actor. That’s what I like to do whenever I’m playing or preparing for a character. It really inspires me.
If you could master something new, what would it be?
I really want to learn a new dance form. I hope I get the time to maybe someday, hopefully soon take a sabbatical from acting, and just creatively learn something new like a dance form. I would love to learn tap dancing or flamenco. Hopefully, that happens because that will really help me get out of the creative rut I feel sometimes.
Why should we watch your new film?
You should watch it because there’s Rajpal Yadav, Vijay Raaz, Anant Joshi, Neha Saraf, Govind Pandey, and Shashi Ranjan. They are all amazing actors. You should watch because there’s a lot in it, not just two stolen jackfruits. It holds a very special social message. There’s comedy, drama, romance, and lots of laughter. It’s a film that you can sit and watch with your entire family. You should also watch it because it’s a female-led comedy. So please watch Kathal on May 19 onwards on Netflix.
Why do you love being an actress?
I love being an actress because I get to play such amazing women on screen. The fact that it makes me empathise with different kinds of people and personalities. That’s my favourite thing actually – getting to know different sorts of people very closely. And that’s what I like the most about being an actress.