Sanjana Sanghi was 14 when Rockstar (2011) fell in her lap. She balanced school assignments on one hand and the demands of working under the baton of Imtiaz Ali on the other. Working closely with Ranbir Kapoor at such a young age imbibed in her a love for acting which hasn’t gone away. All these years later, she’s still the wide-eyed girl who yearns to give her best on the sets. She has done films like Dil Bechara (2020), with Sushant Singh Rajput, whose memory she still cherishes and Rashtra Kavach Om, an actioner. Her last release was Dhak Dhak, a road movie featuring an all-women cast. She loves every minute of it. After more than a decade in the industry, she has found some sort of stability. Her maxim is to always remain positive, come what may, and learn from both victory and defeat. Excerpts from a heart-to-heart chat with the talented lass.
How much fun did you have while shooting for Dhak Dhak?
All four of us – be it Ratna Pathak Shah, Dia Mirza, Fatima Sana Shaikh and me are different from each other. So working with and then hanging out with such vibrant women was fun. I got to learn so much from Ratna ma’am. Interacting with her, on the sets or even otherwise, sharing stories over tea, has been a rewarding experience, which I’ll cherish forever.
What’s your takeaway from working on a road movie?
If something scares you, go, jump and try it, because then only you will learn how to swim. And this film scared me. How will I ride a Royal Enfield bike, which weighs 250 kgs and I’m a mere 50 kgs, in the Himalayas? But all four of us did it. After that, it felt like you could achieve anything. That nothing can stop you. And that is such a powerful feeling, especially in a world where everyone is trying to pull you down. There is always so much negative chatter. My biggest learning is that if you put your head down and focus on something, the negativity just fades away and you can then achieve anything.
You’re saying you learnt to overcome your fears?
The biggest fear that I had, which I overcame, was when I did Rockstar as a child actor. I was a child from Delhi, I had no connections to the film industry. Imtiaz saw me in school. I was doing a kathak performance, and he was like, “That’s the girl I want,” and I was suddenly on the sets. And that was my first test. if you were presented with the opportunity, just go for it. I think challenges keep changing at different stages. It was different when I started my career with Dil Bechara. Now, after five films, the biggest challenge was to know where the auditions are happening. The next challenge was not to feel depressed when you’re rejected. You just give it your all the next time. And it’s even more difficult when you don’t have a base in Mumbai.
Yes, when you don’t know people in this city and in this industry, how do you make people aware of your talent?
I had done Rockstar and have done ads growing up. People still remember me and recall my work, so I used to get a lot of calls for auditions. But the call backs weren’t that much. I used to call my dad and cry my heart out. And he’d say, “It’s not rejection, it’s you being brave and it’s you trying again.” So my only message to kids like me who are outsiders and want to make it big, is to become a better actor and try once more till you succeed. Never give up.
Now, do you feel validated?
Of course, now I feel validated because I know my fans love me. Still, people keep telling me I have rhino skin and thick skin. I have thin skin. I am still sensitive. I am still emotional. I think God has been kind over the last two to three years, and I am getting to do some incredible work.
Please tell us something about your initial days in Mumbai.
This city is so expensive. Maintaining daily expenses is quite tough. I remember when we used to go for auditions, a simple blow-drying hair job used to cost a minimum of 500 rupees and I couldn’t afford that kind of money every time. And Mumbai weather is so unpredictable. You come out happy out of a salon all dolled up and then it starts to rain and everything gets ruined. Then, you have to carry around this huge tote bag which will have like 10 changes. You move from one toothpaste commercial audition to an audition for a shampoo and you learn to become a hustler and be presentable for all your assignments, come what may. Now that I’m financially secure, I can afford to laugh at those mad days. But this success hasn’t come easy, let me assure you of that.
What was an eye-opener for you when you entered the industry?
I used to think that if you work hard enough, you’ll succeed. What I understood from my initial days in Mumbai is that the way isn’t straight and narrow. You can give your all to a film but that doesn’t mean that the film will do well at the box office. It doesn’t mean that people will love the film, love your performance. What I’ve learnt is that you must keep knocking and the doors will surely open for you.
They say survival is tougher for outsiders?
You see athletes running on a track. If you’re in the inner circle, you’ll reach the end faster. Those who are running the outer circles will have a longer run. That’s how it is in the industry as well. Everyone has to run the race, of course. But for some, the distance is shorter. The main thing is that you should never let the tiredness seep in. You just put one foot after the other and carry on, till you reach the end.
What is the one thing that you don’t like about this industry?
I love everything about the industry. But I also believe in having a life beyond films. It’s good for both your physical and mental health. The strange thing is that so few people talk about it. Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Anushka Sharma, two women whom I have idolised, and have grown up watching, have opened up about these factors now. We glorify workaholism. Priyanka has said that when she was in her 20s, she didn’t eat or sleep properly. That does take a toll on you in the long run. What is the point of being booked 365 days a year if it’s affecting your health? You have to invest in a life beyond films if you want to be a better artiste.
What’s your take on love?
Call me crazy but I’m a hopeless romantic who believes in love at first sight. Actually, I’d blame my parents for this. My parents fell in love when my mom was 14 and my dad was 18. So the only people whom they dated were each other and got married at a really at an early age. So my brother and I have grown up with this rose-tinted view of romance. That you find your true love, your soulmate the first time and then get to spend the rest of your lives with each other. I’m 27 and I still haven’t found my soulmate. But I understand now that love isn’t just attraction but demands lots of sacrifice and commitment as well.
How do you deal with heartbreaks?
Heartbreaks have phases. There’s that phase where you feel life’s crumbling as the person you wanted a perfect life with is no longer around, then there comes the phase where you accept things as they are and try to move on. Phase three occurs when you become indifferent to it all, indifferent to the person who has caused you all this anguish. The ideal scenario is when you make sense of it all, understand why it happened and still love the person for what they are – but this doesn’t always happen.
What qualities are you looking for in a man?
Believe it or not but everyone has a type. We fall for types. There’s a commonality amongst all the people we date. I should feel safe with the person I’m with. If I don’t feel safe, then there would be no second date, however successful or good looking you might be.
What would be your relationship advice to girls?
I was in a committed relationship for seven years so my advice is that if you’re in love with someone, don’t give up.
Which actors from the industry would you like to date?
Hrithik Roshan is my dream boyfriend. In Hollywood, I don’t care how old Bradley Cooper is; I would love to date him.
Name the actors you want to work with
I worked with Ranbir Kapoor when I was just 14. Now that I’ve all grown up, I’d love to work with him again. I want to work with Ranveer Singh as well. I’m actually in awe of him, as I feel his energy and versatility are unique. And I really want to work with Ayushmann Khurrana.