Published: Verve Magazine, Cover Story, August 2013
Sanskaar is a word often associated with her, she says. Sonakshi Sinha is unabashedly confident, reclusively shy and riding a wave of professional good fortune. The homegrown actor is uncomplicated and easy-going…and quintessentially Indian…
She is always excruciatingly punctual. Apparently, on set she’s the first one in – ready before even the lighting guys have set up. At magazine shoots, she’s there with at least a couple of minutes to spare. Sonakshi Sinha crashes on the bed of the hotel suite we are shooting in and experiences a ‘lazy’ moment. Indigo skinny jeans, fitted tee and a smart cropped black leather jacket, a faint hint of lipstick and reflector shades complete the biker-chic look.
We chat lightly. Her grilled cheese sandwich and fries are on their way. While she agrees that an Indian woman is meant to be traditionally curvy and voluptuous, you find that she looks surprisingly slimmer in person than she did recently on screen, and her stomach is enviably flat – but her face is as captivating when she breaks into a smile. That smile reaches her large, expressive coffee-brown eyes that are immersive and can sparkle with a mood of their own. When her lip curls in dissatisfaction, it takes you back to her recent role of Pakhi from Vikramaditya Motwane’s Lootera, seared in our memory, as she transcends the elongated scenes in the movie with her emotiveness. She speaks easily, points out that she keeps getting asked certain questions – answers to which she’s “rattoed” (memorised by rote) and admits she enjoyed our little conversation.
The largely well-received Lootera was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I felt it was written for me”. People kept telling her not to do the film, that it was meant for a more mature actress, but she figured it was a dream role. And, she admits, the very fact that people were advising her against it goaded her to go for it. While she makes no pretense to high cinema, the 26-year-old girl, who’s taken on masala blockbuster movies head-on and won the heart of the hinterlands, feels that a slow, period romance like Lootera has given her recognition as an actor.
She comes on the set, gets ready with her lines and awaits the director’s instruction. Opening each day with a clean slate, she prefers to be moulded according to the director’s vision, believing that no one understands the character better. In her upcoming release this month, the Akshay Kumar-Imran Khan starrer, Once Upon A Time In Mumbai Dobaara, she plays a girl who makes the move from Kashmir to Mumbai to act. The first Milan Luthria film was a gangster thriller; the sequel has a stronger love angle, requiring a different chemistry for each character (Akshay and Imran), and balancing that became a challenge for her. “I was never a movie buff – I watched very few movies. I like to observe people and their nuances. I meet so many people every day – there is so much variety.”
“Sonakshi is professional, dedicated, fearless and magical. She has a wonderful presence – if she chooses her roles well over the next few years she could be one of the all-time greats.”
– Vikramaditya Motwane, director
Standing tall at five feet and eight inches, she’s comfortable in her own skin, but remains a quiet person. “I am a Gemini – two sides of a coin. I’m a shy person; I like to be by myself sometimes. I don’t overindulge in conversations with people I wouldn’t know.” She knows she’s here to do a certain job and that’s all that matters. “Some people are just meant to do what they are meant to do. I’ve inherited it from my father (actor-politician, Shatrughan Sinha) – he’s a very confident person. Besides, I don’t have anything not to be confident about – I’m very happy, I’m doing well; I’m working hard.” But it’s an industry of insecurities. “That’s what a lot of people tell me. I don’t know. I don’t want to be the centre of attention, I’m not insecure, I’m very comfortable with who I am, with what I’m doing, I don’t poke my nose into other people’s business. I guess that makes me a misfit!”
Sonakshi has her life cleanly compartmentalised. “I switch on and switch off with the camera. I don’t like to take my work home, I don’t like to talk about it; at home it’s a completely different life.”
Preferring to hang out with her school and college friends rather than fraternising with industry people, she says, “Going out for events and promotions, crowds of people yelling and shouting your name – that’s where it ends. At home I’m not a star, I’m my parents’ daughter and my brothers’ sister. If I do something wrong I’m reprimanded for it.” Having lived an unabashedly sheltered life while growing up (not being allowed to go abroad to study or to join her brothers at Kodai International boarding school), she admits, “I still have to be home at 1.30 a.m. when I go out! I have a deadline…it’s always been like that.”
Her mother used to be by her side all the time when Sonakshi had just started her movie career, but now she leaves her to figure things out for herself. “While she knows we are always there for her, workspaces have changed today. She’s grown up now, she understands her limits,” says erstwhile actress, Poonam Sinha who recalls how her daughter has always been sure of herself, quick to take a decision, with no qualms after. “She used to sketch much before she knew she wanted a career in fashion design. She would throw the sheets away, but I used to collect her sketches. Even her foray into films – she entered without any formal training in acting, dance or dialogue delivery. But she was confident from day one. I remember Salman Khan saying to her, ‘Wow, you are a one-take artist!’ She also has a strong gut instinct – she had a feeling about Pakhi (Lootera), that no one but she could play that role. She didn’t think twice.”
Sonakshi has wriggled into a very specific niche in Hindi cinema, quietly making it her own. Somehow, that garners the most queries from viewers who are now accustomed to bare-all-wear-nothing heroines. “It’s ironic that people keep asking me why I keep doing traditional roles as opposed to glamorous ones and no one asks any other Hindi cinema actress why she doesn’t do traditional roles as opposed to glamorous ones! We are talking about India, aren’t we,” she snips back with a smile. Playing a UP girl in Dabangg, a Bihari in Rowdy Rathore, a Punjabi kudi in Son of Sardaar, a Bengali in Lootera and now a Kashmiri girl in Once Upon a Time…she’s been captivated by the places she’s shot in. “I’ve covered most parts of India and found the interiors of the country fascinating. While sitting in the city (Mumbai) we tend to plan vacations abroad, and shooting in these locales has been an eye-opener…they are beautiful! And, I love Mumbai. However much we may crib about the mess and the roads, there’s just something about being home – about this being home,” she says with a broad sweep of her hands, encompassing the rain-tossed waves and palm fronds of Juhu beach outside the windows.
You don’t think she’ll hop off to perform a puja anytime soon, but you do think that she’s been raised to be careful of her screen presence and of her public persona. To be mindful of the way her actions would reflect upon her family. “The world has moved on, children live in a freer world, inspired by the West, but we are a very conventional family. She knew her dos and don’ts. Her father comes from that part of India, is a politician…she’s had to understand her responsibility,” says Poonam Sinha. Sonakshi adds, “There has never been any pressure from their side to do any of it – it’s just the way I have been brought up. I am a certain way, I don’t wear certain kinds of clothes, and we are a conservative family. It’s a part of my value system. My upbringing has everything to do with my rootedness and morals. It’s instinctive. Today wherever I go, when I meet somebody senior, actors or technicians, they give a direct compliment to my parents by saying, ‘I want my daughter to be just like you,’ and they use the words sanskaar a lot.”
“She’s got the swagger and attitude of Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar, and what makes them attractive is what makes her attractive: her inherent confidence and security. She’s simple, straightforward and uncomplicated.”
– Imran Khan, actor and co-star
So she sinks easily into her onscreen traditional avatar. She dons the saris and bindis and smiles beatifically into the camera. She’s mastered the art of holding her face at an angle just right, so that her sharp profile can be seen at its best advantage – she knows she can charm the audience with her warm smile and demure flicker of her eyelashes. And when I relate what her co-star and director have to say about her for this interview, you can’t miss the faint blush creeping up. She’s bashful; she’s smiling, she’s unable to look up. “The overall perception is that the youth is getting immoral – but that is a generalisation. I think India remains a rooted country, a country bound by values. That’s the basic story.”