Fatima Sana Shaikh has had a roller-coaster ride in the industry even though she has only two films under her belt. She talks to Titas Chowdhury about her last disappointment, how she dealt with it and how she is using it for her future projects
Your first film, Dangal, was a major blockbuster and the second, Thugs Of Hindostan, underperformed at the box office. Within just two years, you’ve experienced the biggest highs and greatest lows. How does that affect you as an actor so early in your journey?
It was very heartbreaking when Thugs Of Hindostan did not perform as well as we had hoped. Not only for me, it was difficult for everyone involved with the film. It was hard because while this film was being made, we had a great time. I shared some amazing moments with everyone and gained great experience during the year and a half that we spent making this film.
But there is never only one journey of a film; there are always two journeys. The first one is the writing, scripting, shooting, post-production work and finally how the audience reacts to it. The other is of the people involved in it, who have done the film and who have had a great time.
We had amazing moments and I got to work with great talents like (Amitabh) Bachchan sir, AK (Aamir Khan), Aditya Chopra and so many others. Given an opportunity, anyone would want to do a YRF film. When it did not work the way we wanted it to, it disturbed me. I broke down, I cried and I felt very sad. But it’s okay because you move on. It gave me time to reflect on myself.
And I am an escapist. I run away from anything that I am uncomfortable with, whether it is a confrontation or a conversation, anything that I am uncomfortable with. But there was no running away from this (Laughs). When the whole of India is talking about it, where do you go? You have to deal with it. And when I thought about things, and thought about myself as a person, I realized that I have been a very insecure person. I am emotional and insecure and I do get affected by things.
Now, I am much more secure as a person and am not quite as affected. I am hungry to work on myself and become a better actor. I feel I need to do more workshops, meet more actors, I want to read more about acting, I want to watch master classes, anything that will help me nurture myself.
I think it has been bitter-sweet because I have enjoyed the journey but the result has not been great. Badi mushkil se I have got a chance to be in this industry and one failure is not going to make me run away. It is not something I want to run away from. This is the only thing in my life I do not want to run away from. I am still here and I am still going to give my best. And I have no shame asking for work. I am one of those people who can text someone over and over again, asking whether I can meet them for work.
But that’s a good thing.
Yes, I hope it is great as long as they don’t get annoyed (Laughs).
They won’t. From what everyone has seen in Dangal, you are talented and you should know that.
I don’t know that, yaar. I have never been happy with myself, I have always questioned my ability and talent. Earlier I used to get very badly affected. However, after Thugs Of Hindostan, I feel that if I am not good enough, it is okay, let’s work on it. Matlab kuch karte hai yaar, aise ghar mein nahi baithna, sad nahi hona, rona-dhona nahi, bas kuch karna hai.
As an actor, you gave the film everything you had. What did you think did not connect with the audience?
I cannot really say, because I was too involved with it, and after a point it is too emotional to comment. I am someone who watches and reads all the reviews. I did that for Dangal as well. And after watching people say not-so-great things about the film, I feel like arre yaar, kyun bol rahe ho yeh! (Laughs). But, as I said before, it’s okay. I am trying to be positive and accept it.
Fatima, have you become more careful while choosing scripts?
No, not at all. Choosing ka matlab kya hota hai? I am doing my next movie with Anurag Basu sir and Rajkummar Rao. Anurag Basu dada called me to his office. I was sold on the fact that he was even considering me for a film. There are some people that you want to work with irrespective of what they are making and for me he is one of them.
I loved Barfi! I love his films. I have always wanted to be a part of his world. So I wanted to do this film. I want to try everything. So I am going to be reckless, I am going to be risky. Failure and success are not in my hands; hard work and giving it my best shot is.
Can you tell us something about the film with Anurag Basu and your role in it? Is it a sequel to Life In A Metro?
It has four stories like Metro had, so woh sab toh hai. But I don’t know if I can talk about what it is about or what my role in the film is just as yet.
You have done two films and with these two films you got the opportunity to work with actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan. What did you learn from these seasoned actors?
They are an institution in themselves. They have a lot of experience. They have seen success and failure in their careers. And they have experienced it much more than anybody else. The fact they are still very hard working and 100 per cent honest about their projects and their films is inspiring. They can switch on and switch off. I mean, sometimes we do the same scene 50 times, and you tend to zone out. But when you see these people after so many years, being there after every shot, you learn how passionate they are about their films. I really learnt that from them. I am at the very beginning of my career and want to be like them when I grow up, feel that hunger and passion even after 30 years in the film industry.
You have done two films so far – you’ve played a wrestler in Dangal and a warrior in Thugs Of Hindostan. Both these are strong, gritty characters. Do you think you might get typecast in these roles?
I don’t think so. The films being made today and how the industry is have changed. Now there are different kinds of scripts; we have films like AndhaDhun, Badhaai Ho, Stree and Raazi, which belong to different genres and they have all done well. So the scope for an actor being typecast is much less, I think.
Also, people are experimenting a lot with the stories they want to tell. And because there are a variety of characters, people are not getting stuck in one type of role. I have done two films and the third film I am doing is a completely different character. If Anurag Basu dada can see that I am capable of doing something different, I am sure everybody else will be able to see it as well.
Do you think you have figured out your process as an actor in terms of approaching a role?
I still get too involved with a character and the emotions I portray on the screen stay with me. I need to learn to disconnect. However, I think the more work I do, the better I will get at that.
Do you have a wish list of directors you want to work with?
I want to work with everyone. There is Rajkumar Hirani, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti… each one is in a different zone and makes different kinds of films. So I want to work with all of them!
The digital space is booming and many mainstream actors are venturing into it. Do you think you would be open to it?
Definitely. I think the digital space offers a lot of scope and liberty. And with minimum censorship, the kind of stories being told is varied and interesting. Look at a platform like Netflix and the amazing concepts that are being explored… Selection Day, Sacred Games, Lust Stories. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether it is theatrical or digital, it should be a good film and a good character. Nothing else should matter.