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‘Emotionally, the lockdown was a period of introspection’

Actor Sanya Malhotra, 29, on playing a young widow in her just-released film Pagglait, and how the character is still a part of her

Written by Alaka Sahani |
March 28, 2021 6:20:55 am
sanya malhotraIn Character: Sanya Malhotra in a still from the film Pagglait, streaming on Netflix.

Pagglait has an ensemble cast. Did you feel any pressure when you took up the role of the protagonist?

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When I first heard the script, I fell in love with the character of Sandhya who can’t grieve when her husband passes away. The movie is about her finding freedom and forgiveness. Even though I was very keen on essaying Sandhya’s character, I had some doubts regarding whether I would be able to pull it off. Writer-director Umesh Bist and Guneet Monga (co-producer) expressed so much confidence in me that it drove away those doubts. The movie has a beautiful ensemble cast and it was an honour to work with these great actors. I concentrated on developing Sandhya’s backstory and understanding her emotions. Once on the sets, my energy was on reacting to my co-stars. I’m thrilled that I get to play such interesting roles.

How close have you been to the character of Sandhya?

Sandhya is still somewhere in my system. She has taught me how not to be bogged down by heavy emotions and start a new chapter in life. For about 50 days, I was living her life. Umesh Sir gave me freedom to be Sandhya. I used to go up to him and say how I didn’t see Sandhya reacting in a certain way or doing certain things. Once, we even re-shot a scene because I believed Sandhya would react differently than what’s mentioned in the script.

In your last three movies, your looks and costumes are very different. Do these elements help in portraying a character?

They help tremendously. For example, a month into the shoot of Pagglait, I felt as if I had forgotten how I looked. Be it Pataakha (2018), Shakuntala Devi (2019) or Ludo (2020), make-up and costume contributed to understanding the characters better.

Pagglait is your third consecutive movie (after Shakuntala Devi and Ludo) to have a digital release. Are you missing the thrill of theatre screenings?

I chose to be an actor because I was drawn to the charm of watching a movie in a theatre. Yet, I am grateful that in 2020, when we could not step out, we had all these digital releases. It was humbling that the audience could enjoy my movies during such a trying period.
From your Instagram reels, it seems you have danced your way to the release of Pagglait.

That’s the feel of the film. It’s all about making your own choices, finding freedom and not seeking validation from others. My character Sandhya goes through a journey of finding her freedom. She makes me happy.

During the lockdown, you made people happy by posting reels of ‘Gopi bahu’ and dance videos.

I had totally forgotten about these videos. I’m privileged to have everything I needed during the lockdown. Emotionally, however, this period was introspective. I was alone in my Mumbai home with my cat for about three months. Then, I met with a kitchen accident. I injured my hand when I put it in a mixer grinder by mistake while making chutney. After the surgery, I visited Delhi to be with my family. After five years since I moved to Mumbai, I got to spend so much time with my family and friends. When Ludo released, we created a red-carpet experience for them by using my mother’s red silk sari at our home. I will do the same for Pagglait but with my cat since I’m in Mumbai now.

When you dance, how often do you choreograph it?

All my social media dance videos are choreographed by me. I have choreographed a song for Secret Superstar (2017). But I can’t choreograph for a film and be in front of a camera as well. I might try that in the future.

How would you sum up your last five years in the industry?

It still feels like a beautiful dream. As a child, I dreamt of becoming an actor, wearing make-up, dressing up and walking on a red carpet. Today, I’m living my dream.

How busy does 2021 look for you?

It is going to be hectic. But I don’t mind that. I was shooting for Love Hostel (directed by Shanker Raman) in Bhopal. I took a break to promote Pagglait (online). Recently, I finished shooting for the movie Meenakshi Sundareshwar (directed by Vivek Soni). It’s the first movie I shot after the lockdown.

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