Bollywood actress Fatima Sana Shaikh warns us that her brand of humour will not appeal to everyone, but her latest comedy ‘Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari’ doesn’t suffer from that problem.
“I have got potty humour and if you understand it, then it’s fine. But there are some people who get icked out by it all … but trust me there’s no potty humour in ‘Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari’. It’s got some great, sharp writing,” Shaikh said with a laugh.
We are on a Zoom call to discuss her latest satire ‘Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari’, also starring Manoj Bajpayee and Diljith Dosanjh, out in UAE cinemas on November 13.
Directed by Abhishek Sharma, the satire tracks a wedding detective (Bajpayee) who’s an expert at digging up dirt about potential grooms and brides. Shaikh plays his feisty sister who falls in love with a young man (Dosanjh), who happens to be under her sleuth-brother’s scanner.
The self-made star is attempting to make people laugh for the first time in her career. Shaikh is relatively new to Bollywood and has acted in films including the critically-acclaimed wrestling biopic ‘Dangal’ and the star-spangled fantasy spectacle ‘Thugs Of Hindostan’.
“Acting in a comedy was a lot of fun. I didn’t have to wrestle or fight because there was no action that I had to do … I was very much at peace and the vibe on the sets were great … We would crack up a lot during filming of scenes,” said Shaikh.
“Diljith is at ease with himself … And the other character [Bajpayee] is very chilled out and isn’t as heavy duty as the ones he usually does. We all had a blast. Whenever we sat with him [Bajpayee], we heard so many stories of his journey, where he came from and where he has reached … We used to talk about the time he stopped working and began teaching kids … It was lovely to spend time with a person like him. It’s like an education of sorts.”
Shaikh remembers overcompensating during readings just to match up with her co-actors’ collective experience.
“I felt they were all such good actors and I went over-prepared … Even during readings, I read out my lines with such emotions and reactions … I was trying so sincerely.”
The actress, who was discovered by Aamir Khan and who had her big movie break in ‘Dangal’, remembers that she had also sincerely told director Abhishek Sharma that she was looking for work.
“I did not audition for the role, but I was coming out of a restaurant in Bombay [Mumbai] when I bumped into Abhishek Vyas from Zee [producers of ‘Suraj …] He asked me what was happening post-‘Thugs [of Hindostan]’ and I said that I was unemployed and asked him if there was any work,” said Shaikh.
The actress follows the veteran actress Neena Gupta’s code of conduct. The National Award-winning actress famously posted on her social media that she was looking for good work in cinema. Usually, stars refrain from talking about the unpredictability of being an actor, where work is often seasonal.
“If you are not getting work, just ask. I don’t mind at all. I send texts to directors every now and then to remind them that I exist and that I want to work and work with them. They tend to forget because there are many actors like me around.”
Shaikh, who enjoyed a spectacular debut with ‘Dangal’ but had to deal with failure after ‘Thugs Of Hindostan’ release, is surprisingly pragmatic about the debate about nepotism and favouritism plaguing Bollywood.
“Every person has a different experience, mine was different. I also don’t think this industry is this big bad place and it’s come to eat everybody alive … This industry has been giving opportunities to outside talents since forever … Jackie Shroff got work, Sunil Duttji got work … They were identified because someone saw potential in them … Look at Shah Rukh Khan, Kangana Ranaut or Priyanka Chopra … it’s unfair to tag this industry as an evil industry.”
Shaikh claims that the industry and its fans have embraced her with open arms.
“Let’s just count all the newcomers that are around … Siddhant Chaturvedi, Radhika Madan, Sanya Malhotra, Vijay Raaz … There are so many people who matter. Why aren’t we counting them?”
According to her, nepotism exists in every industry around the world.
“Which industry doesn’t have nepotism? Look at a lawyer’s family, all the kids are born lawyers … I have a friend who is a pilot and his father is also a pilot. His father became a pilot from a small town, so imagine his journey. But my friend’s journey was far more easy as everything was mapped out for him … It will always be easy for someone whose parents are in that industry or have some sort of lineage.”
I don’t think Bollywood is going anywhere … Films are an escape and has always been an escape just like literature. You read book to escape our current situations, so I just want people to go and watch my movie and forget about things going on outside
Shaikh is equally clear that she would also promote her own sibling or her own child if she had to in the future.
“Why would I not want to protect them? But it is unfair to say that there are no opportunities for outsiders, there’s an outsider coming into Bollywood every other day … But it’s always difficult for any outsider in any industry.”
She’s also disillusioned by the intense vilification of Bollywood this summer following the death of Sushant Singh Rajput. The actor’s suicide in June has reignited debates about nepotism and the toxic working culture in Bollywood.
“We hear that an intern doctor was bullied by a senior doctor and they committed suicide, but do we say that field is bad? No, we don’t … Students commit suicide because of academic pressure but do we say stop studying? We don’t, right? There’s good and bad in every field.”
Her mantra to charting her own course in Bollywood is simple.
“You have to build your own journey and you need to find the positives because you know it’s going to be a hard journey. I knew I am an outsider, I knew it’s going to be difficult, I knew star kids are going to get priority, I knew they’ll become A-listers before I become one, but I’m still optimistic.” Her game plan is: “I will kill them with my hard work.”
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‘Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari’ is out in UAE cinemas on November 14
“I don’t think Bollywood is going anywhere … Films are an escape and has always been an escape just like literature. You read book to escape our current situations, so I just want people to go and watch my movie and forget about things going on outside,” said Shaikh.