Sanjana Sanghi was last seen in Dil Bechara, the official Bollywood remake of 2014 American drama The Fault In Our Stars. Her big Bollywood debut as a lead performer was also a moment steeped in tragedy, following the death of her co-star Sushant Singh Rajput. She talks about still not feeling a sense of closure, her memories of geeking out with Rajput and what she wants out of her future films:
Anupama Chopra: Sanjana, what have the last couple of weeks been like for you? Are you feeling now a sense of closure?
Sanjana Sanghi: Not at all. It's weird and really odd, because it's been well over a week since the film's release. When I was trying to get the film to people in the run up to the release, I was trying to be strong and put together and was trying to streamline my thoughts. I thought that once the film released, I would have an emotional release, but I think the opposite has happened. Seeing the film was akin to reliving it. Kizie has been such a heavy part of my life, that it took me months to get out of her. So the truth is that I'm in a pretty odd place right now.
AC: You don't have enough distance now, it's too soon.
SS: It's simply too soon. What I did start to have distance from was the severe emotional impact that becoming and being Kizie had on me. We finished filming more than a year ago, for 6 to 7 months after we finished filming, I just didn't feel the same. I used to feel so uncomfortable and so out of place because I was in college before Kizie and then suddenly, I had grown up and I was this young adult. I don't know who to be when I wasn't Kizie. I used to have like these weird untimely breakdowns because Kizie took so much from me. When you're shooting, you're just in this soldier-like mentality, you're giving, giving, giving day after day and then it just bursts in your face. So I had to really understand that phase.
AC: I read that you spent months getting diction training to get the Bengali accent right, you went to cancer wards to understand its psychological effect. Do you feel that all of that translated to the audience in your performance?
SS: Honestly, it didn't. It didn't get spelled out like, 'Oh we love her Bengali' or, 'Oh we love that we couldn't notice Pushpinder in the oxygen tube.' But people who aren't in the filmmaking world use certain words when they really like the character and my NSD theatre teacher, NK Sharma, had to teach me that. I called him saying, 'Sir mujhe bahut gussa aa raha hai, sab effortless bol rahe hain, sab bol rahe hain ki natural hai. Itna effort daal hai, yeh effortless ka kya matlab hota hai?' So he had to explain that it's the biggest compliment for an actor when the general audience calls you effortless. I am stunned that amidst all the noise, people still have made Kizie their own.
AC: This film had a very bumpy journey even before Sushant passed away. The shoot stalled, there were allegations of sexual harassment, you're so young and you invested so much into this. How did you keep the faith and keep going?
SS: That time was tough. When I think back to those moments, I used to feel so discouraged because I was filming and coming back after 17-hour-long days after giving something my honest sweat and blood. At that point, you're like, 'How is this the correct karmic cycle? How does this make any kind of sense?' I studied at Lady Shree Ram in Delhi University and I'm a gold medalist in journalism, so I'm very, very sensitive about the nature of journalism in our country and it hurts me at multiple levels.
AC: In one interview, you talked about how, when you were reading the script with Sushant, he wrote you a note about this collision of cinema and education and what it means. What did he say in that note?
SS: He found it incredibly fascinating that there was someone similar to him, someone geeky about the craft. We'd apply our discipline of academia to the craft – doing something everyday for many hours in a structured way. It wasn't something like, 'Aaj kar liya, kal nahi kiya.' So he just said, 'For the first time, I don't have to convince someone that academia and cinema do have a meeting ground. Because you're right at the center.'
AC: You also said in an interview that through the lockdown, you've learnt to centre yourself. In what way?
SS: I grew up in Delhi. My school is placed such in a way that NSD and the Shree Ram Centre for Arts were in one circle at Connaught Place, so my days involved the theatre, dance school, watching plays with my grandfather and having political conversations at a club in Central Delhi. When you grow up around these influences and then move away, it throws you off. I didn't realize that I was used to getting this nectar everyday. So after living in Mumbai by myself for a year-and-a-half, I realized that maybe I'd have to move between both cities because I care about humanitarian work too much. I care about feeling fulfilled a lot. The lockdown taught me and taught the world that this obsession that we have with being geographically placed in one spot has to be challenge. So it's centering in the form of self-discovery.
AC: We're in a state of crisis, do you have anxiety about what happens now? You're a young actor, you probably have amazing ambitions about what you want to do, where you want to go. How do you see the next two years of your life, given that nobody can see anything anymore?
SS: Exactly. At 13, on the set of Rockstar, I realized that I have this special bond with the camera. I continued to just be on sets and do plays and all of that added up to being Kizie. The thing about good word is that it goes around and so when people heard that I'd done well, I got to hear so many scripts over the last year. What upsets me that we can't make them right now. That's scary, but that's just the pandemic and it applies universally to all of us.
AC: Have you signed any films as of now?
SS: I don't have a bunch of films, sadly. Kizie has spoilt me because I expect every female character that I read about to be as wholesome and nuanced as her. Then I hear some narrations and my heart breaks into 15 pieces, because I'm like, 'Where did she go? What happened to her?' Kizie didn't have any frills, there was nothing to protect her in terms of fancy hair or makeup or clothes, there were no action sequences and nothing to make her larger than life. It's so liberating to have done that in my first film, now I feel much more at ease. There's no grand fear about picking characters, they just have to be more challenging than Kizie. That's my main parameter