Fatima Sana Shaikh aka Geeta of Dangal (2016), didn’t realise how popular she has become post the release of the movie, until she went to a theatre recently and people started recognising her. “The magnitude of the film’s success, and how much people have loved it hit me after I went to a theatre recently,” says the actor, who is overwhelmed with the appreciation she has received, not only from audiences but from many actors and film-makers too.
Having worked as a child actor in Chachi 420 (1997), and later, as a grown-up in films, including Bittoo Boss (2012), Fatima admits the process as an actor was different for her. “I was very young during Chachi 420 and don’t remember much now. Kids and adults are treated differently on sets. Being a kid, you can get away with anything and it looks cute. But as an adult, it’s a whole new journey,” says Fatima. Talking about her experience of working with Aamir Khan, she says, “I was fortunate to get the chance to work with AK and Nitesh (Tiwari; director) sir. They were nurturing and I learnt a lot [from them].”
“I started stammering due to lack of confidence. It took time, but things became better.”
Fatima says that as a teenager, she didn’t have faith in herself. After being a popular child actor, where people thought she was “good with acting”, later came a stage when she didn’t have much work. “It was disappointing. At one point, I had lost my confidence as an actor, and working again was tough,” says the actor, adding, “I started stammering due to lack of confidence. It took time, but things became better. Now, I am not conscious. I am aware and confident.”
Fatima says she was “desperate to get a good role” and was ready to do anything for it – starting from physical training and cutting her hair to “putting on weight”.
Talking about Dangal, Fatima says she was “desperate to get a good role” and was ready to do anything for it – starting from physical training and cutting her hair to “putting on weight”. Working with Aamir taught her a lot, and she “admires him as a person”. Fatima says, “He is very childlike, and is excited and curious about things. I want to imbibe that [quality of his], and not lose my passion for acting over the years. I wasn’t an Aamir fan as I was a Shah Rukh Khan fan, but I always respected him as an actor and have watched all his movies in the first week itself. But after having worked with him, now I am his huge fan.”
Fatima quit acting when she turned 11 years old. As far as she can remember, she “was always an actor, even when she was a kid”. She just wanted a break to pursue things like other kids, hence took the break. “But once I joined full-time school, I realised I missed acting. At that age, I didn’t decide that I wanted to be an actor, but I knew I wanted to act. I never dreamt to be a heroine in a film. I did many character roles [as a child actor].”
Fatima says she realised it is “tough” to get good work once you are older. “I faced many ups and downs like any other actor. Not getting through auditions or even worse -- getting shortlisted and not being selected. Most actors go through the process.” Today, Fatima is sure that she wants to be an actor and do “work that is challenging”. Her pursuit is “growth as an actor and not necessarily only playing a lead role.”
The process of bagging the role of Geeta in Dangal was a long one but Fatima was prepared for it. “When I was called for the auditions, I had googled and done my research about the film and Phogat sisters. I had learnt all about Geeta Phogat, which made me confident about my audition. However, only after three to four months of gruelling audition process, we got to know about our selection. Yet, we were not sure as we were told not to tell anyone that we were doing the film,” she says. They had to keep the secret for over two months and that made her very “insecure”. “Even when we got hurt during the training process, we didn’t tell our coaches, as we feared that they would replace us,” says the young actor.