Sanya Malhotra plays the role of Vidya Balan’s daughter in the biopic Shakuntala Devi that releases on July 31st on Amazon Prime Video. She tells Sneha Menon Desai about being ‘paralysed’ in awe of Balan on the set and the importance of self-love in the life of an actor:
Sneha Menon Desai: I know you’re a fan of Vidya Balan, but what did it really do for you as an actor to just watch her on set?
Sanya Malhotra: For the first few days, I was extremely nervous around her and I remember not talking at all. On the third or fourth day of the shoot, Vidya was like, ‘Do you talk at all? Or do you just like to be in character?’ and I was like, ‘No I take my time to be okay around people.’ That was a nice ice-breaker and after that, there was no looking back. We became friends. Sometimes, I’m so starstruck and awestruck that I get paralysed. It’s like I can’t talk at all. I don’t want to embarrass myself and so I go into that loop of ‘It’s better to stay shut than embarrass yourself in front of Vidya Balan.’ But she’s such a wonderful co-actor. I never felt like I was shooting with Vidya, she was Shakuntala Devi for me. She’s such a brilliant co-actor and it was such a beautiful learning experience because she was there throughout. No matter where the camera was, even if it wasn’t her shot, she would be present and give you her cues perfectly. Even if she had to cry and the camera wasn’t on her, she would cry. So she was such a beautiful co-actor to work with, I’m grateful.
SMD: Avinash Tiwari told us that actors are used to being in lockdown and spending long spells waiting for the right role. Do you feel that way too?
SM: Avinash Tiwari is such a spectacular actor. I totally agree with him, we’re used to being in lockdown. It was my dream to become an actor and I won’t compromise on anything. If I’m working, I want to be fully there. I want to be happy, I want to be satisfied and I want to feel like the work I’m doing is good and I’m happy with it. Only then will the audience also be convinced.
SMD: I saw that you signed up for a masterclass on self-love with Ru Paul, tell us all about it.
SM: I wanted something that would be soothing to my mental health. The masterclass really helped me because as an actor, you’re always scrutinized, you’re in the limelight, and on social media, if people don’t like you, they can just comment something nasty about you. I used to think that it wouldn’t affect me, but it does, subconsciously. You feel, ‘I’m not so bad. Why are you being so mean?’ Obviously you can’t go and explain to that person that you’re not like this, your personal life is different from your work life. Main bhi insaan hoon, mere andar emotions hain. So I think that one masterclass really helped me to learn more about self-love. We talk about self-love and connect it to the ego, which shouldn’t happen. Self-love is not ego, it’s understanding what your strengths and weaknesses are. You transform yourself and truly love yourself.
SMD: The general assumption is that actors must be high on the vanity quotient, but I can also imagine how vulnerable and insecure your profession can make you. Is that why you feel the need to focus on self-love?
SM: Vulnerable, yes. Definitely, because we’re always so open when we’re prepping for a character. As an actor, you have to be vulnerable. I overthink a lot, I have too many emotions. I sometimes go to an extreme when I’m feeling something. Sometimes, when I’m in a character, my psyche changes majorly. So if I’m doing a sad scene, I might be in that emotion for days and sometimes, also for months. It happened with Photograph. So I have to practice all of this to get back from that universe. I practice things like meditation and affirmations, just so my career doesn’t become bigger than me (as a person). That break needs to happen mentally.
SMD: At this point, everyone is anxious to get back on a film set. Is there one change that you hope we can make?
SM: The importance of taking breaks. We shoot Sunday, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and for 12 to 13 hours. I think we all need a break mentally when we’re preparing, not only the actors, but the whole cast and crew. Some people just don’t know how to take breaks at all – I didn’t, I was shooting non-stop for the past 7 to 8 months. So I think, from now on, it’s very important for those working to also give importance to breaks and weekends.