'Dangal' girls, Sanya Malhotra and Sana Shaikh, talk about mentor Aamir Khan

Updated: Dec 13, 2016, 09:43 IST | Aastha Atray Banan |

Ahead of their much awaited release, the 'Dangal' girls, Sanya Malhotra and Fatima Sana Shaikh, talk about how working with Aamir Khan has changed their lives, wrestling and more...

Fatima Sana Shaikh (standing) and Sanya Malhotra will debut in Dangal with Aamir Khan
Fatima Sana Shaikh (standing) and Sanya Malhotra will debut in 'Dangal' with Aamir Khan

Dangal has truly changed our life," says Fatima Sana Shaikh, 24, who makes her acting debut as wrestler Geeta Phogat in Aamir Khan Productions' Dangal, that releases on December 23. "It's been an experience we wouldn't have got as just actors. An actor's journey is confined to the sets, but we are also interning with AK (Aamir Khan), and hence we know things about filmmaking, why is what happening, scripts, camera…" "Yes, yes, or things like why a movie needs a background score," adds Sanya Malhotra, Shaikh's co-star, who plays her sister, wrestler Babita Kumari.

We are sitting on the sixth floor of a Carter Road high-rise talking to the two young actresses who are all the talk of the town right now. They both star in Dangal, a movie focusing on Mahavir Singh Phogat (played by Aamir Khan), who taught wrestling to his daughters Geeta Phogat (India's first female wrestler to win Gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games) and Babita Kumari (who won silver). They look younger than their 24 years, and much more delicate than the posters of the film, where they sport a boyish avatar. They talk of Khan like a mentor, and there are many AKs dropped through the conversation. "He knows everything!" exclaims Shaikh, "It's true what you hear." "Yes, he is truly cool and a really nice man. I mean we have become family – AK and us, Nitish Tiwari (who has written and directed the movie), Sakshi Tanwar – and I feel it's going to continue, this relationship, you know," says Malhotra.

Dangal girls Sanya Malhotra, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Suhani Bhatnagar and Zaira Wasim with their reel father Aamir Khan
Dangal girls Sanya Malhotra, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Suhani Bhatnagar and Zaira Wasim with their reel father Aamir Khan

The familial feeling could come from the fact that it's almost been two years since the girls first auditioned for the movie. Malhotra had come to Mumbai from Delhi where she was a dancer, and was trying to act, and Shaikh was almost at the verge of abandoning her acting dreams for cinematography. In April 2015, they auditioned along with a thousand other girls, and for the next few months, were called over and over again for more auditions. "Every time we thought, this is it, we have got the film. And then they could call us again and say, 'There is one more round'. And every time we were told to keep it hush-hush. It was like a sword dangling over our heads," says Malhotra, to which Shaikh adds, "When it did happen, it was pretty bland." "Ya, we were called in, and AK was there, and he just said, 'You are Geeta and you are Babita', and after that they started talking about shooting and all. We were both just sitting there thinking, 'What just happened!'" laughs Malhotra.

What followed was intense wrestling training with the coach Kripa Shankar Bishnoi. The day would be almost regimental — they would wrestle for three hours, have lunch, sleep, gym, learn Haryanvi, and then sleep, only to wake up and to do it all over again. "We would chat with each other on the phone also in Haryanvi – even if it was dumb, nonsense chatter," says Shaikh, "I think our bond became stronger and you can see it translating on screen."

"Some things were too funny! Since I was a dancer, I would do a wrestling move, and in the end, point my toes, and Mahavirji would go 'Yeh ballet nahin hai'" says Malhotra. Ask them if that's what worked on their body language and transformed them from city girls to village girls, and Shaikh says, "Both those girls aren't very different you know. I was always a tomboy, and actually really hard to work hard on being feminine. But wrestling did help, as we started standing like that, talking like that — we actually spent nine months living the life of a wrestler," They say that they haven't been able to grasp the "fame" thing, yet, as Dangal has been almost all-consuming.

"We don't have any free time, so it hasn't really sunk in. Yes, people have messaged and called, and that is overwhelming, but right now, we just don't want this to end. We are dreading the release of the movie, because it means, all this will end. We have really been spoilt. We are in love with our lives," smiles Shaikh. It seems that the future will have to wait for a bit, but as Malhotra puts it, "We have wrestled, we have acted, and we have learnt so much. I feel, now, that whatever comes next, we can do it. We can
do anything."

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