Bollywood actor Sanya Malhotra made a striking debut with the Aamir Khan-starrer Dangal. Since then, there’s been no looking back for her. She has managed to impress the audience with her flawless performance in films like Badhaai Ho, Pataakha, Ludo, Pagglait, and Meenakshi Sundereshwar to name a few. She will now be seen in the crime thriller Love Hostel opposite Vikrant Massey. The Zee5 film follows the volatile journey of a rebellious young couple who are being hunted by a ruthless mercenary. In an exclusive interview, Sanya talks about her character, behind-the-scenes moments, her journey in the Hindi film industry, her character in Sam Bahadur, her birthday plans, and more. Excerpts:

What made you say yes to the script?

When I read the script, I fell in love with it. It was the best script I’d read in 2020. I knew that I had to be a part of Love Hostel. The film is directed by Shankar Raman, Vikrant Massey is the actor, Red Chillies and Drishyam have backed it up. All geniuses have come together, so it has to be good. Love Hostel is not just a crime thriller, but it has so many layers to it – it has romance, Ashu and Jyoti will spark hope, love, and empathy in the audiences. 

On the surface, the film talks about honour killing, inter-faith marriages, but it also reflects a section of society and practices. There are undertones about how we are still caught in social repression and stigma. Did you ever feel angry about anything while shooting it?

I was. I was quite blown away when I got to discover about all of it. Living in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, I never saw that happening in my family or with my close ones. I had an idea that it prevails, but just on the surface. It was hard-hitting when I got deeper into it. All of it made me empathize with Jyoti. I am sure a lot of people will be able to relate to the characters and their journey. My heart broke when I researched about it. I was angry and upset. After the first reading, I went back home with a heavy heart. I could not sleep and the next day I had a costume test for Jyoti. I was so uneasy and Shankar sir figured that out. I started crying when he asked me how I am feeling. I had immense pain for Ashu and Jyoti and I wanted to protect them. 

What has been the most difficult scene in the film? 

There were many. I had no visual reference to understand what Jyoti and Ashu were going through. I had lived with the character for days. I surrendered myself to it. There’s a scene where I didn’t know what to do – nobody should experience what Jyoti did in the film. I asked Shankar sir to roll of the camera and requested other actors to fully perform to give me that support. I was not sure how I’ll pull it off. I had to believe that it was happening to me. It was a tough night. I was constantly in touch with my best friend and my therapist after that. I knew that I was in a secure environment but it was heavy. 

How do you detach yourself from the character?

It is difficult. I am still learning how to have those healthy boundaries with the characters. Actors have to induce and imagine things that are not related to their real-life to bring out a character and that stays with you in your subconscious mind. It happened with me during Photograph and for the longest time, I thought I am like Miloni. I am learning to draw a line between my reel and real life. 

You’ve always portrayed strong characters. Has it been a conscious decision for you while choosing scripts? What do you look for in scripts?

Women are strong. Kaunsi aurat strong nahi hai… all of us are strong. I gravitate towards these characters as they reflect my belief system. It’s my responsibility to play such characters – they inspire me and I am sure they must be inspiring many women out there. These are women I see in my day-to-day life and I am glad that these characters are now being written.

Do you remember your first day in Mumbai? How was it? Were there people who told you ‘Nahi ho paega tumse’. How do you look back at your beautiful journey in the industry?

My first day was fun. I was picked up by a college friend. We were five girls living together at Yari road. We got a mattress, a pillow, a bedsheet. I also bought posters for my corner. I started auditioning and working hard.

There were so many people who told me that I can’t make it big. I remember a close friend telling me that it’s a risk and it takes time… I can’t just wake up one morning and decide to become an actor… and whatnot… It was hurtful at that time but gave me a push. I remember it but have no malice in my heart. These are people who were trying to make it in Bollywood. I have been lucky and blessed that I got the opportunities. I was at the right place at the right time, probably. 

Coming back to Love Hostel, are there any BTS moments that we’ll not see in the film but have been special.

Working with Vikrant has been the most fulfilling experience. We all know that he is a brilliant actor. I am quite geeky when I prepare for a role and Vikrant is just like me. He does his homework so well. We were able to find that rhythm. We had fun on the sets and made our own parodies to make the mood lighter on the sets. 

The film is releasing on an OTT platform. Do you think they are a game-changer? And women characters are being portrayed in a better light?

OTT is a game-changer. It has given a push to my career and I am sure must have helped many other actors and directors. It’s a boon and now we can do so much with this platform. We are experimenting with ideas. It’s a plus for the industry. Women characters are now being portrayed in a better light. As an audience, we are asking for the right representation and we should not stop doing that. 

What are your birthday plans?

I’ll be watching Love Hostel with my parents and the entire cast and crew of my next film. I’ll be working, so it would be a good break for all of us. 

Sanya, you are a graceful dancer. Are we going to see you doing films that have dancing as a theme or choreographing for someone? 

I will choreograph something for myself. I want to do a dance film. I have been manifesting it for five years now. I have left it to God and it will come my way soon.

We’ll be seeing you in Sam Bahadur now, what can you tell us about the film?

It’s a biopic on Sam Manekshaw. I am playing his wife Siloo Manekshaw. It is directed by Meghna Gulzar. I was the happiest when I got the film. I feel grateful to be working with her. I want to make her feel proud.