Meet Sanya Malhotra, No Longer “That Dangal Girl”


Meet Sanya Malhotra, No Longer “That Dangal Girl”

Illustration: Shruti Yatam


ack in December 2016, when Nitesh Tiwari’s Dangal released to record-breaking success, it transformed the lives of Fatima Sana Shaikh and Sanya Malhotra, the debutantes who essayed the older versions of the wrestlers, Geeta and Babita Phogat. Typical of any Aamir Khan project, even Dangal – an ambitious wrestling origin drama – amassed breathless attention before, during, and after its completion. But for Shaikh and Malhotra who were swiftly branded the “Dangal girls”, the experience of witnessing their film become a cultural event, felt surreal. Moreover, their moment in the spotlight was underlined by an unusual impediment: As newcomers who were also outsiders, how could they follow up Dangal, immortalised as the highest-grossing Hindi film ever?

Sanya Malhotra had to wait just a few days that December to solve the conundrum. Amid the congratulatory calls for Dangal, came an offer for her second film: a lead role in Ritesh Batra’s Photograph. “Ritesh sir called me two days after Dangal released,” Malhotra tells me when we meet at a noisy “elite club” hotel in Andheri. “I liked the script and auditioned for the role when he flew down to India.” A yoga convention and the cacophony of kids frolicking in the hotel’s pool provide an unnecessarily amusing backdrop to our conversation; Malhotra remains unperturbed by the disturbances, and despite a day of promotions, unreasonably animated.