Fatima Sana Shaikh on two consecutive releases Ludo, Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari and setbacks after Thugs of Hindostan failure
Fatima Sana Shaikh shares that following Thugs of Hindostan critical and commercial failure, she was dropped from several projects.
Fatima Sana Shaikh, whose breakout role was 2016's Dangal, has had an eventful year. With two consecutive releases under her belt — Anurag Basu’s ensemble comedy Ludo (out now on Netflix) and a social comedy, Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari, with Manoj Bajpayee and Diljit Dosanjh (released in cinemas on 15 November) — the 28-year-old actor seems to have recuperated from the box office debacle that was Thugs of Hindostan.
In a conversation with Firstpost, Shaikh talks about losing projects after the Yash Raj Film bombed, working in comedies, her co-stars Bajpayee and Rao, and no longer being a part of horror comedy, Bhoot Police.
Edited excerpts from the conversation.
You have had two releases, both belonging to different genres of comedy, within a gap of three days. Why did you opt for these films?
I am very excited. For me, it’s a huge thing that two big films came [out] together. It’s been quite a while since my last film [Thugs Of Hindostan] came out. And Dangal was some four years ago. More than my character, I look for a great story. But I also go by my instinct. I don’t think too much. I don’t like that feeling of dread, ‘Oh shit, I am working with these people.’ I don’t like that emotion.
You have worked two very fine actors — Bajpayee and Rao — as your co-stars.
Though I haven’t done a lot of work, I am happy that I worked with some great people. Rajkummar Rao is a lovely person, he is so vibrant and I love him as an actor. I also like his attitude. He is on the set even when he is not a part of the scene [being shot]. The last time I worked with such an actor was Aamir [Khan] sir.
That first scene of his [Rao] in Ludo, where he is reciting the restaurant menu, I saw him do that extremely difficult scene in just one take. It would have taken me 10 to 50 takes. He is also my age and great fun to hangout with.
As far as Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari is concerned, I jumped at the chance to work with Manoj [Bajpayee] sir. I am a huge fan of his work, like a lot of us. I love his films, from Gangs Of Wasseypur, to Aligarh, to Gali Guleiyan, which I watched pretty recently. He is very superior in his craft. After watching him play such intense characters, to see him do comedy was also a lot of fun. I spent all my time on set asking him numerous questions about his craft, about the roles that he’s played, how he gets into his characters, how he has such different nuances playing someone old or young. I was totally blown away as a fan. And even otherwise, as a person he is so amazing. He is very calm, chilled out, very disciplined and punctual on set. I also like Diljit [Dosanjh], he is a very natural actor. He is a star in Punjab but the way he meets people, the way he carries himself, he is so humble and kind.
You were also working with two directors – Anurag Basu and Abhishek Sharma who have a very diverse processes. What was the experience like?
Yes, it was a very different experience. With Anurag sir, the actors don't know what they have to do next till the last minute. There is, often, no script to go by. We would discover the scene after reaching the set. But that process was great fun because there would be no stress. He would be very comforting and clear that an actor’s performance is not going to be compromised. I could just submit to my director, and that is a very beautiful journey for an actor. I feel an actor should get this experience once in their lifetime. I love Anurag sir’s films, storytelling and the aesthetics that he brings. I have loved all his films and the quirky way in which he presents them.
And it was completely opposite with Abhishek (Director of Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari). He preps with actors, reharses before the take. At the same time, he is very open, flexible and fluid. He likes to take suggestions. He will change the script, he will change scenes and do whatever it needs to better the script. That is a lovely way to work because your voice is being heard, and you feel important as an actor.
How funny are you in real life, how did you pull off these characters? Was it a challenge?
I don’t know…when I start doing it just happens. I don’t think too much. I like to play characters where there's some substance and an actor has something to do. So far, in my career, I haven’t played a simple character. Ludo is a bit off-beat, and even Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari is not a completely regular character. I have not played an urban character yet. I really enjoy playing parts where there is a lot to do. Talking about comedy, some people are instinctively good at it, they are spontaneous and have a great comic sense. I am not very funny in that sense but if the script is good on paper, it's funny, I get better on set.
Your first film Dangal was a blockbuster, but Thugs Of Hindostan took a beating, both critically and commercially. How did that affect you?
When Thugs Of Hindostan didn’t work, I just wanted to crawl into a room, shut the door and weep. It was heartbreaking. It was shocking. I thought my career was over. But then I felt that the actors are luckier than directors. Directors make films far and few, and therefore they carry more burden than an actor. An actor will move on. I will move on. I can do five, six, seven films in a year, plus ads, plus events, but it's director actually taking the brunt of it [the failure of a film]. So, at that moment I was giving myself a lot of importance but I realised that I have to keep working. I didn’t want to give up. I have to keep meeting people. I have to go out there because I love acting. I genuinely enjoyed working on Thugs Of Hindostan. I enjoyed working with Victor (Director Vijay Krishna Acharya) and all the actors. My experience was good but the result was bad. I failed the exam though I enjoyed taking it.
But does the industry's perception change with your success or failure? They say that actors are known for their last Friday.
I lost a few films, and dropped out of a couple. You wonder if you will get work. That's what happens when your big ticket doesn’t work. But otherwise it's all fine. I feel if you continue working, and these days there is a lot of work, there are many other platforms. If you are not getting films, you can take up projects on OTT, or you can do short films. If acting gives you a high then your passion will get fulfilled, but if you are only chasing success then that's going to take time. It all depends upon where your satisfaction lies. I am very satisfied with my work and the people I work with. So, momentarily I find a lot of happiness in my work.
Rumour has it that you only accept roles that match your ideology and that you have turned down some films. Is that the reason why we don't see you onscreen so often?
Definitely, of course. I don’t know if I am right or wrong but if I don’t like watching something, or I cringe watching something then I don’t want to do it. I lost out on big films. I probably would have been in a better position doing those films. But I don’t want to play regressive roles. I don’t judge people because I believe that one should have total liberty to do anything creative. An actor can play all kinds of roles. Now that is a personal choice and it is not that I am judgemental, or I am putting down any film or any genre. It is just that I don’t want to associate with such projects. At times you wonder whether you are in a position to make those choices but I rather be happy.
Also, the films took some time to get made. Ludo started on time but finished a bit late. Then I was supposed to do Bhoot Police, but that was also getting pushed. Then I had refused a few films, I was also letting go. But this year is good and I will have a lot of work next year as well. 2021 will be a busy year. I have some good projects lined up.
Why did you opt out of Bhoot Police?
I didn’t opt out, they had to recast. I think due to the change in the production house. Ali Fazal was also part of the project earlier, but he's out now. These things happen. But I am really very fond of the director Pawan (Kripalani — director of thrillers like Phobia and Ragini MMS). I reached out to him wishing him best and also told him that now he has to make a film with me.
So, do you believe in approaching directors that you are keen to work with?
Yes, of course, I do. I message directors saying, ‘Just to refresh your memory that I am...’ There are a lot of people in the industry, sometimes people forget that you exist. As it is I don’t take up many projects so it is important to reach out to filmmakers and remind them – ‘Hello I am here’.
Did you miss working in the lockdown period?
Yes, I did. I love being on set and I am very passionate about acting but I also enjoyed being by myself in this period. I was in Dharamshala with my friends. I was hiking, I was walking. I was surrounded by such beautiful nature. I would love to shift to Dharamshala and work from there (laughs). I also used this time to catch up on films and shows.
Are you nervous about the theatrical release of Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari?
I am someone who always wants to go and watch my film on the big screen. That excitement is something different. And it's like a new beginning after the pandemic, it is a huge thing. People are now getting out of their houses. At this point in time you can’t think about the box office numbers. It is more about the experience. Even I want to get out of my house, sit in a restaurant and have coffee. I really enjoy travelling in an auto rickshaw, which I can do now.
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