News Helpline | June, 23 2016
Anushka Sharma stands apart from all actresses. Not just in terms of roles, but the way she conducts herself professionally and personally. She has some rules and she lives by them. She doesn’t follow in the footsteps of her contemporaries or legends. She has decided: ‘This works for me, so this is what I will do’. She is one of the most sorted actresses I have met in B-Town. Also, one of the brightest. And by that, I mean that she may not necessarily be street smart but she is armed with IQ and EQ. Her next film Sultan is due to release soon,On a Sunday afternoon, at her home, she tells me all about the prep for the role, the difficulties she faced and her first meeting with co-star Salman Khan.
For Sultan, how much did you push yourself?
If you have to play a wrestler on screen, you obviously know it’s going to be hard, but this was especially hard because I had very little time to do what I had to do. I had less than six weeks to prep before they began shooting my first bout as Arfa. There was a time crunch and I had a lot to do. I was also working with a disadvantage of the same perception that people have in their minds about what wrestlers look like.
That most wrestlers are big and bulky. Then, I started researching and realised that there are different categories of wrestlers. Not everyone is in the same height or weight class. People fight in different weight classes. I researched some international and really tall and lean female wrestlers. The idea was to find someone with my body type. I found them quite toned and decided that was the way to go. I started working towards that. I was already working with a physio and trainer because I had a nagging back problem after NH10, so I had to be guided properly. My training for Sultan was hectic. At one point, I was doing 50-kg deadlift and 40-kg front squats, which is supposed to be great.
What came next?
I had a trainer, Jagdish Kaliraman, who has competed in professional wrestling. His father (Chandgi Ram) was a wrestler as well. His entire family is into wrestling. Jagdishji has an akhara in Delhi and would come down to Mumbai to train me. He had a male assistant I would train with as an opponent. He felt that as I didn’t have enough time, if I could wrestle with a guy, it would become that much easier wrestling a girl in the film. The thing is, though I was ready to begin wrestling, it’s an extremely physical contact sport and you have to be very close to somebody. At one time, your face is in someone’s armpit or close to their butt and as a girl and as an actor, you have your own sense of space and boundary. When someone comes too close to us, we feel uncomfortable and wrestling is much closer than that. I know this guy was amazing and focussed on what he was doing, but I would have been uncomfortable, even with a girl. In general, I am not a very physical person. I am not a touchy-feely person, so I was hesitant and wasn’t giving it my all because I wasn’t comfortable. I was doing what he was teaching me, but I wasn’t really going all out... Like yeh kya ho raha hai? But I had to get over that feeling as it was not natural. After a few days, I started watching a lot more videos and started saying to myself, ‘You are going to act when you are doing this!’ That’s what we are doing, right? I am in this business because I am acting out a role. Then I started doing it. My trainer said, “Aap sikhne lag gaye ho.” I told him I just started thinking that I was a wrestler and this is how I was going to do it. I have learned a lot about wrestling through the film. I can have a decent conversation with somebody on wrestling... I know the moves, how to do it. Wrestling is about power but also about your agility and ability to bend somebody’s technique to such an uncomfortable position that they have to give in. Arfa is like that— she has the ability and technique, so she’s quick. When you are quick, you may be able to overcome somebody who is more powerful than you. I was always asking about information not because I needed to know but because it was so interesting. I love gaining knowledge and learning things. I have learned these little tricks of the sport.
Apart from wrestling how did you prepare for your role?
I met many female wrestlers and talked to them, just to hear them speak in Haryanvi. That was the third thing I had to learn — the accent. So I used to tell them to keep talking to me and they would try to correct their Haryanvi. I would tell them, ‘No jaise aap baat karte ho, waise hi karte raho.’ I would try to understand their tone. They have a certain way of speaking, they don’t go singsong, they are quite flat in their expressions. So I had to change my way of talking also as I learned to speak like them. I also wanted to know from these girls what were the difficulties they faced as some of them are so young. They are so focused and so determined about what they want to do, that was wonderful to hear about. The kind of guru-shishya relationship that they had, has so much purity in it... it was just amazing to see that.
Is this the most physically demanding film that you have done?
Yes. I thought NH10 was the most physically demanding film but Sultan is more physically demanding, for sure. I had to work a lot on my body. I had turned vegetarian two years ago. If you have been a non-vegetarian all your life, you take your time to get used to being a vegetarian because now you are suddenly looking at these things on the menu. I met a nutritionist who told me I am supposed to eat, a high-protein veg diet. I had spirulina, which tastes disgusting, but I had to do it because it’s good for me! I had a lot of soya, tofu, paneer, peas, quinoa... People have this myth that only non-veg food builds up muscles. I don’t think that’s entirely true because I did it being a vegetarian. It was a very hectic time because while I was learning all these things, I was also shooting the film. Mornings, after waking up, I would train for a hour-and-a-half — and this included weight-lifting — and then, I would go shoot the entire day in the sun as we were shooting outdoors. After that, I used to come back to YRF Studios and practice wrestling for long hours. The only thing I had to ensure was that I was eating right and sleeping well because I had to recover also.
There was no heroine for Sultan for a long time. Did you feel comfortable coming on board much after the shooting had commenced?
Absolutely. These things don’t matter to me. The script was great. When the script was narrated to me, I didn’t know what had happened earlier. We have way too much information in our heads in any case and we really don’t need to do that if we want to stay stable and level-headed. So I don’t take in too much. I am not aware of what film someone is doing, who’s been offered, etc... My story with Sultan began the day Adi called me and said he wanted me to do it. I asked him if I could hear the script and he told me that director Ali Abbas Zafar would come in that day and that I should hear it. Ali came in at 11 pm after shooting the entire day for Sultan. I did not ask who had been offered the role earlier or if somebody else was even approached for it. I didn’t care because it didn’t serve any purpose.
Did you interact with Salman before the film?
While I had met Salman socially a couple of times, I didn’t know him at all. I met him for the first time when we did a photoshoot to announce the film. He was working out at the YRF gym when I walked in and he was lying down on the ground and looking up. When you see Salman for the first time it has to be something hatke. It can’t be a standard thing of him standing and us saying hi/hello.
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