'I had to turn to Hollywood and look at Scarlett Johansson. This is what made the film more interesting,' said Sanjana
Sanjana Sanghi. File Pic
Hindi cinema has rarely had a slick woman-led action film. Among the few times that it has been attempted, the women have been sexualised in femme fatale avatars, complete with leather outfits. When Sanjana Sanghi stepped into the universe of Om: The Battle Within, she partly expected a similar tonality. The actor was pleased to see that director Kapil Verma had a different vision for his actioner.
“I can’t deny that historically, we have seen very few leading ladies do action. This is only my second film. I can’t deny the trappings that exist. I didn’t have any reference points for the film. I had to turn to Hollywood and look at Scarlett Johansson. This is what made the film more interesting. Kavya, my character, is a full person. In a testosterone driven world, she is an anomaly. She is leading the pack here. The script gave me the responsibility inherently, and I built from there. I didn’t feel the desire to do bigger stunts to feel more important in the story. My director Kapil Verma mounted the story in such a way that the female perspective is important,” she says.
Even as leading ladies are getting meatier roles, the gender bias is evident in the smallest of instances. The first look of Om featured only leading man Aditya Roy Kapur, with no sign of Sanghi. “Of course, it bothered me, and I told Ahmed sir [Khan, producer] I need to be in it. We launched a new poster with the trailer,” she states.
Om marks her second film after her debut vehicle, Dil Bechara (2020). Preparing for the role was challenging, she admits. “I trained with Parvez Shaikh [action choreographer] and his team. I learnt hand-to-hand combat, weapon use and underwent gun training. Aditya and I learnt [to handle] pistols, M16 and different kinds of rifles.I learnt how many bullets go into what, how to empty out the guns. What helped was having Adi by my side. He held my hand and walked me through it. Just knowing he was there to catch me, if I fall from a harness was the kind of comfort that made my performance better.”
From fronting a love story in Dil Bechara to an actioner, there is a paradigm shift. Sanghi insists it’s a conscious move. “There are false notions about action. I know that I have kicked ass in the film. I want young girls to know that you got you. You don’t need a man for protection. That’s [the confidence] a woman doing action on the big screen evokes.”
The actor is currently shooting for Dhak Dhak, which also stars Ratna Pathak Shah, Dia Mirza, Fatima Sana Shaikh and is produced by Taapsee Pannu. She is glad that the film asserts the conversation around sisterhood. “A film like that asserts the conversation around sisterhood. I choose films based on what it makes me believe. When Taapsee sent me the script, I read it in a day and called her to say I am doing it. I didn’t know who else was in the movie. The eclectic cast is a win-win for us. In Tapsee, I have found a guide and a friend, a sounding board I could seek advice from. To have such secure, skilled actors coming together is beautiful. Every scene is a new visual because we haven’t seen four women riding an Enfield bike as a visual in Hindi films. When we think of a bullet, we think of a boy! But I guess women across generations in the industry are willing to go all out and risk it,” she says.