Sanjana Sanghi gears up for Dil Bechara

‘I actually picked up my phone after the trailer launch to check for Sushant’s message’

As Sanjana Sanghi readies for her big release today, the 23-year-old Delhi girl spoke to The Telegraph on what went into being the terminally ill but spunky Kizie in Dil Bechara (that streams on Disney+Hotstar this evening), what her late co-star Sushant Singh Rajput meant to her and that she’s here to stay.

Congratulations for Dil Bechara. It’s, of course, a bittersweet time for you. Have you been able to wrap your head around the mix of emotions you’ve been feeling?

‘Bittersweet’ is actually the only way to make myself understand what I am experiencing. It’s so exciting and overwhelming that finally Dil Bechara, which is literally like my baby and has gone through this kind of elephant-long gestation period, is coming out. But when I set that against the loss that I’ve had to go through, then everything becomes numb and it doesn’t really become about the happiness of the first big film. I am sort of clinically trying to make sure that I bring the film out to people in the way it needs to be done, and not give into everything that I am feeling emotionally. I frankly don’t think I have got down to processing anything that I am feeling. I am also too young to be experiencing things like this. Before this, I hadn’t ever lost a friend and I don’t know what it feels like... I don’t have a precedent to explain things to myself. I feel it will take a long time to heal, and it will be hard. But there’s really no choice.

Sanjana Sanghi with Sushant Singh Rajput in Dil Bechara, streaming on Disney+Hotstar from 7.30pm today

The audience has welcomed the trailer and the album scored by A.R. Rahman with open arms. That must be pretty encouraging...
I was just telling my mum that I don’t know how other actors feel when they put out their material... I have been in films in only a small way before. But the way everyone has reacted to this makes me feel that the youth of this country believe that Kizie and Manny (played by Sushant) are theirs.... I don’t know if every film and every character is embraced with such a warm hug. Whether it’s a small gesture I have done in a scene or the manner in which Sushant has said a word... people are attempting our scenes, there’s so much fan art that’s been done....

We are in this phase where things are forgotten even before they are registered, whether it’s a song or a film. So to see people humming our tunes or mouthing our dialogues is something that only films of yore could hope for. Raj Kapoor put out a Bobby and it carved its journey and became evergreen. People still remember me as Mandy from Rockstar (2011). But that was 10 years ago. What I am experiencing with Dil Bechara is truly special. I am trying to keep the pressure at the bare minimum, but I have to say that the kind of elephants and butterflies that are fighting in my tummy... I last felt like that when I gave my Class 12 board exams. It’s an immense amount of nervous energy for sure.

What went into becoming Kizie Basu? Your director Mukesh Chhabra told The Telegraph that you spent a few months learning Bangla...

The thing with Kizie is that no Hindi film heroine will be launched in this particular way. It’s not your run-of-the-mill heroine... there’s nothing glamorous about her... there are no crutches like blow-dried hair or fancy clothes or big action sequences.... Our story is a deeply emotional and nuanced narrative. When I read the script, I realised it would require a lot of work. But that’s what excites me and I pray that every character needs me to prep the way I have prepped for Kizie.

I had a diction coach from the National School of Drama. She was with me for eight hours a day for three months. She taught me Bengali from the grammatical roots... we also watched Bengali films and discussed Bengali culture. Luckily, we had a lot of Bengali crew on the film. And, of course, Swastika (Mukherjee) and Saswata da (Chatterjee) were the best people ever to play my parents. I must tell you about this... it was my first reading with Swastika. And our scenes were written in a way that they were open to improvisation. She burst into a couple of lines in Bangla and I replied spontaneously in the same language and she turned to Mukesh and said, ‘I’m so happy you’ve found a Bengali girl to play this girl’. Mukesh and I looked at each other and I ran to him and gave him a hug because that was the biggest compliment for me. I am a Punjabi and a Gujarati and I’ve grown up in Delhi... I’m as far as it gets from being Bengali.

Also, it was important to portray this debilitating illness in the most authentic and non-sympathetic way. Kizie doesn’t like sympathy... she doesn’t want people to see her as a girl with cancer... she wants to be seen as a spunky girl with so much love to give. I was scared, honestly, because I didn’t want her illness to become her defining character. Imtiaz Sir (Ali, who directed Sanjana in Rockstar) called me after the trailer came out and said, ‘It was only when I saw the trailer for the third time did I realise that there is a tube below your nose’.

That was a huge compliment because Mukesh had always told me, ‘I want you to make this tube invisible... it shouldn’t register to people that she’s carrying this big oxygen cylinder everywhere’.

What aspect of Sushant — as an actor and a person — will stay on with you?

What I realised after working with Sushant is exactly what I felt when I worked with other great actors like Irrfan Sir and Ranbir (Kapoor), when I was really young. The thing with all of them is that they give out so little, you really can’t fathom the depths of their craft. That’s where the magic lies.

I have done films for 10 years, but Dil Bechara is my first film as the lead. Sushant was so humble in his craft that he never got into my domain. He respected my process, he helped me every single step of the way. He could tell when I was jittery and he would calm me down when I got too excited. These are things you can’t immediately put a finger on, but you know that they have helped you change your performance. I knew he always had my back. Every time I did a scene well, he would text me saying, ‘Killed it, rock star. You made me so proud’. I actually picked up my phone after the trailer launch to check for Sushant’s message because I am so used to hearing from him.... It’s very uncomfortable for me to speak about him in the past.

Mukesh has said that the team feels that Dil Bechara is the best tribute to Sushant’s memory...

Absolutely. When shooting, I would tell Sushant every day that I felt that Manny is the best character he’s played... Dhoni and stuff is legendary... but the kind of nuanced performance he’s given as Manny is so special. The pandemic hit and our May 8 theatrical release got cancelled. But once Disney+Hotstar, when we lost Sushant, went ahead and made the film available for free to everybody, I was so relieved because I felt that there was no better tribute to him, his talent and his life, than this. It’s the least that the man of his calibre and talent deserves.

What’s the way forward for you? Days after Sushant passed on, a social media post of yours (that said, “Khuda hafiz, Mumbai. 4 mahine baad aapke darshan hue. Mein chali, Dilli vaapis... Milte hain? Jaldi. Ya shayad, nahi”) made many think you are quitting films. Would you like to set the record straight?

That taught me a couple of things. I am a very honest person, I like wearing my heart on my sleeve. I understand that I am now in a place where my words may be pulled out of context. But I am happier to put out my feelings anyway and clarify them, rather than not put them out at all. I truly believe that the youth of India sees themselves in me... I have really worked hard and hustled to get here... and if I want to share my experiences, I will.

As far as my road ahead is concerned, I know that while negativity spreads, so does positivity. We had finished filming  Dil Bechara a year ago, but since then the word that, ‘Sanjana has done a good job’ has spread like Chinese whispers. I have been hearing some great stories and I will definitely be making a lot more films.

Sanjana stats

Candles on her cake: 23

Career 2.0 she can fall back on: A journalist. Sanjana has a degree in mass communication and journalism from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi

You would have spotted her in: Ads for Vodafone, Tanishq, Close Up, Dabur Almond Hair Oil, Subway, Coca-Cola, among others

She puts on her dancing shoes for: Kathak

You would have seen her on the big screen: In quite a few Bolly films.

Sanjana was only 14 when she acted as Nargis Fakhri’s sister in Rockstar. In 2017, she played the younger version of leading lady Saba Qamar in Hindi Medium, starring Irrfan Khan. 


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