In Vishal Bhardwaj’s upcoming film Pataakha, the daily activities of Champa ‘Badki’ Kumari and Genda ‘Chutki’ Kumari’ include slinging mud at each other, fist-fighting, grabbing one another’s pig tails, and mouthing expletives. The Rajasthan-set comedy follows the lives of the two sisters after they get married into the same house.
Despite their on-screen animosity, Radhika Madan and Sanya Malhotra, who play the warring siblings, displayed a crackling chemistry during a recent interview at the Kyta Productions office in Mumbai. While the soft-spoken Malhotra seemed a far cry from her character, streaks of Badki could be seen in Madan’s exuberance, the duo said.
Saniya Malhotra, who also stars in Ritesh Batra’s Photograph and Amit Sharma’s Badhaai Ho, made her debut as the quieter Phogat sister, Babita, in the blockbuster Dangal (2016). Madan burst onto the scene with television show Meri Aashiqui Tumse Hi in 2014 and has also appeared in Vasan Bala’s 2018 festival favourite Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota.
Pataakha, based on Charan Singh Pathik’s short story Do Behnein, also stars Vijay Raaz and Sunil Grover and will be released on September 28. The actresses spoke to Scroll.in about crafting their characters, getting their accents right, and working with Vishal Bhardwaj.
What about Chutki and Badki’s relationship fascinates you?
Radhika Madan: Champa Kumari is more bossy. She feels that she is always right and loathes the presence of the younger one for no reason at all. Our characters are like any other siblings.
More than their relationship, the script really excited me. They are not just struggling with one thing. That journey of Champa Kumari from 16 to 28 years excited me. Working with Vishal sir was exciting. Even if he told me to play a watchman, I would have done it happily.
Sanya Malhotra: Chutki is somebody I cannot relate to at all. She is very loud, aggressive and out there. I am not that in real life. She is someone who is spiteful and hates her sister for no reason. She too is very passionate in the film.
What was the audition process like?
Radhika Madan: I had finished the first schedule for Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota and I got a call for this film in December last year. In February end, I wrapped up Mard and went to Goa to celebrate. The second day, I got a call saying Vishal sir wanted to meet me and audition four scenes. I rehearsed at the Goa airport and landed in Mumbai. He told me right away that I had been selected. I thought he was joking.
Sanya Malhotra: I was shooting for Badhaai Ho when I got a call. He gave me three scenes for the audition. On my off day, I was rehearsing for the scenes. The dialect is very similar to Haryanvi, so I did not face any difficulty.
I got a call from Vishalji asking if I wanted to rehearse the scenes with him. The next day, I gave the audition and got the role. He then told me that I would have to put on 10 kilos for the part. I was even ready to put on 50 kilos for the part, as long as it is for this film and Vishal sir.
Vishal Bhardwaj used the word “primal” to describe the film’s milieu. What did your preparation include?
Radhika Madan: We had a lot of workshops with Atul Mongia [casting director for the film] and Vishalji. We were in Rajasthan for around six days and stayed at Charan Singh ji’s house. We used to fetch water, cook breakfast, bathe buffaloes and make dung cakes. That helped me to understand where Champa came from.
Sanya Malhotra: They speak Rajasthani with a Gujjar dialect. In Ronsi village they speak a similar dialect. This was the first time I was attending an acting workshop. That also helped both of us connect and become friends.
Radhika Madan: I used to be Badki externally, but her character took some time to understand internally. Vishal sir used to throw a lot of questions at us like, “Why is she doing this?” and “Do you feel like she is going to do this?” But he would never answer these questions. We were forced to think even about the things that were not in the script.
Sanya Malhotra: We used to do a lot of readings. We used to improvise our scenes in different ways. He used to give us a lot of freedom to perform and get into the character. He never rushed us into anything. It took me two weeks of the workshop to get into Chutki’s character.
Sanya, you were part of another sibling story in ‘Dangal’. How differently did you approach Chutki’s character?
Sanya Malhotra: I don’t think Babita will ever talk to Geeta like this and blurt expletives. The fight here is very freestyle. I have an elder sister. While growing up, I used to hate her, but now I love her.
As an actor I wanted to explore this side of acting because the roles that I have played till now are characters I can relate to. I can relate to Babita in Dangal and Renee in Baadhai Ho. But this is a character I could not relate to at all. I don’t understand Chutki.
Giving the audition of Pataakha was a learning experience. At that time, I was confused about my potential as an actor. I wanted to check if I could play a character like Chutki. I approached my audition with this mindset.
How important was it to maintain a good friendship off-screen?
Sanya Malhotra: That was really important. When I met Radhika, I never thought that I would be able to gel with her or be friends with her. We are opposites. I thought that would be good for the characters as they hate each other on the screen.
But when we became friends, that is when I realised that it is very important to bond with your co-actor to play characters like Chutki and Badki.
Both of you have begun your careers with acclaimed films.
Radhika Madan: I did not have an option, to be very honest. With Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, it just happened, and I really liked the script. I have realised that when I plan stuff, it does not work. When the universe plans stuff, it works out.
Sanya Malhotra: Pre Dangal, I did not have many films to choose from. But post that, if a narration creatively excites me, I say yes. If I can imagine myself in the character, it is good enough.