It’s past 7pm when we meet up with Sonakshi Sinha in a restaurant in Mumbai. Although it’s been a long day for her – conducting a slew of interviews promoting her new movie Akira – she is still bouncing with enthusiasm and verve.
Dressed in a short white dress with a blue jacket, the star looks svelte and relaxed although her schedule has been punishing. ‘My day began around 9,’ says the actor, whose lean, toned body belies no trace of the earlier Sonakshi who had piled on the pounds.
It’s obvious the star chooses what she wears carefully. She is forthright when this is mentioned to her.
‘I’ve always been very comfortable with myself. Yes, it is a task to turn out presentable every time you step out of the house. Honestly if something looks good on me I’ll wear it – if something doesn’t I will not wear it even if it’s trendy,’ says the star who gave up a career in fashion designing to pursue acting.
Even as she is settling down for the interview, an assistant bends down to whisper that her flight to Lucknow for some more promotion is in a few hours. ‘Sure,’ she says, smiling. ‘I’ll be ready.’
Is she tired by the fast-paced life?
‘I am… a bit,’ she says, ‘but I’m enjoying it.’
She should be. Her role in Akira, where she portrays a headstrong girl who takes on corrupt officials, kicking and punching baddies in her pursuit of truth, is getting her a lot of critical acclaim. The character is a stark contrast to the award-winning debut role she essayed as a demure heroine in the hugely popular Dabangg opposite Salman Khan. She followed it up in the second part, and is still fiercely possessive of the franchise, keen to be part of the third instalment as well.
‘I am what I am because of Dabangg,’ she says. ‘I was noticed in Dabangg… my very first film, my very first character… I will always be grateful, thankful and loyal to that film. Even if they need me for a guest appearance [in the third instalment] I will do that role,’ says the actor who is the daughter of well-known yesteryear Bollywood star Shatrughan Sinha.
Is Dabangg 3 on the go?
‘They are still working on the script. But Rajjo [her character in Dabangg] will be Rajjo… I am still there, I’ve not died! You can’t suddenly change the character irrespective of how they take the story forward. Whether it’s with additions or subtractions to other characters, if there is a character for Rajjo, it will always be played by me. When the time is right, once the script is ready, Arbaaz [the director] will make an announcement.’
Back to Akira, is she satisfied with the way the movie has turned out?
‘I feel Akira came at the right time in my life, when I was seeking to do something different from what I’ve done so far,’ says the 29-year old who has starred in R… Rajkumar and Holiday, among others. ‘The kind of films I have done have got me the reach, adulation and admiration that very few people get. I’m thankful for my journey so far. I wanted to be challenged in a way that I haven’t been before.
‘It has been a great learning experience.’
She says she’s learnt a lot from every film she’s done, ‘be it good or bad. Each person teaches you something. And honestly, the learning process is still on and I hope it never stops. That is what contributes to my personal growth.’
So what did she learn about herself from Akira?
‘I learnt that I am willing to push myself. It really wasn’t easy playing this character. I learnt that I would go to any extent to make it look good and convincing.’ A mix of action and emotion was difficult at times, she says. ‘I am really thankful to my parents that I have big eyes, so half the emoting happens there,’ she smiles.
‘It was also challenging having to play the role of a girl who has gone through situations I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams. She faces allegations from these corrupt cops…
‘What she goes through is plainly emotional and it was up to me to play it out.’
But growing up, did she foresee a life in films?
‘In my teenage years I showed absolutely no interest in the profession,’ she says. ‘I enjoyed school, college, fashion designing. But I also kept getting bigger and bigger. Seeing my weight, everybody kept saying, “OK, she is not going to go into films”.’
The star admits she got a bit traumatised by her weight gain.
‘I don’t know what happened but one day, I decided to make a change. I wanted to for myself… and began to lose weight. I did it for health reasons. And then before I could realise it, somebody offered me a film, I did it, it became a super hit and I am now an actress!
‘It was actually that quick for me. Honestly, I couldn’t be happier or more grateful. I now feel this is my true calling and I couldn’t do anything else.’
Having actor parents – Shatrughan and Poonam – must have surely helped? But she admits that the only advice her father gave her was to ‘just be yourself.
‘He is truly proud of where I am today, and that makes me happy. He knows that I have worked really hard to reach here.’
Does she discuss her work with him?
‘I discuss some of my films with him, as and when we get the time. He doesn’t really interfere in what roles or movies I choose. He watches my films as a father and is my biggest fan.
‘I usually switch off from work and movies when I am home. Family time is family time.’
But with films in her blood, Sonakshi and her twin brothers Luv and Kush launched a home production, Kratos Entertainment, in 2014. ‘That process is taking a little time because my brothers and I have to agree completely on a project, but a movie will happen soon,’ she says.
The strong bonds there are evident, unlike the trailer of Akira, which is introduced as: ‘When there is no one to count on.’
‘I’m blessed because I’ve not faced a situation where I didn’t have anybody to count on,’ Sonakshi says.
‘I have a wonderful family and wonderful friends, great people I’ve worked with. I wish and pray I never have to go through that.’
The actor says she does not believe in making plans for her life.
‘It’s destiny that always makes the plans for me,’ she says. ‘I never wanted to be an actor; I got Dabangg. I didn’t know what I would do after that, whether or not I would be accepted by viewers. But I was and the rest is history. I kept doing the films I was doing and finally, I got Akira.’
She says the only decision she made was to ‘want to do something different.
‘I wanted roles that would really push me to my limit and would extract something the audience had not seen of me.’
She seems to have gotten lucky. Because almost on the heels of Akira comes Force 2, where, according to director Abhinay Deo, she is ‘shoulder to shoulder with John Abraham on the action. She has done surprisingly well.’
Sonakshi is thrilled with the new roles. ‘In Force 2 I play a Raw agent, then I play a journalist in Noor. It is the journey of a girl, her ups and downs; a fun quirky character. I’m really enjoying all of this.’
So has she changed a lot since entering films after completing her course in fashion designing from Mumbai’s SNDT University with flying colours?
‘No,’ she says. ‘I don’t think so, because I’ve grown up in this environment. I’ve been accustomed to seeing fame with my father being a part of this industry; which is what also keeps you very level-headed.
‘For me, it has always been about enjoying my work and never about being a part of any rat race or the numbers game. I just want to do good work.’
Does she get upset when she faces criticism?
‘Well, when you get nasty comments and realise it is really not for your benefit, that is upsetting. Constructive criticism is always welcome; if something is going to help me, I will consider it. But if somebody is trying to attack me for no reason, or has no right to, I’ll ignore it or give it back,’ says the actor who is known for speaking her mind.
Having acted with some of the top actors in the industry including Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and Ranveer Singh, what has she learnt over the years?
‘One thing I realised is that all of them do not take stardom too seriously, which is why I feel they are there! They enjoy their work even after so many years and that really shows in their work. That is a great lesson.’
She recently also admitted that she sneaked a few tips and tricks on acting from Salman and Akshay, which she used in Akira. And her acting prowess has not gone unnoticed. Apart from walking away with the Filmfare award for best debut actress in Dabangg, she has also received praise from some of the stalwarts in the industry including Akshay who said ‘All power to Sonakshi for pushing boundaries… Directors see you for all your worth.’
Basking in the praise, Sonakshi says that it’s great to be a woman in India today.
‘Look at the female sportswomen bringing back medals from the Olympics. Now everybody is taking note of their achievements.’
She says the change is happening in the world of movies as well. ‘Scripts are being made with women protagonists and scriptwriters are taking pains to write movies specifically with women actors in mind,’ she says.
Was it different working with director AR Murugadoss this time in Akira after her earlier outing in Holiday opposite Akshay?
‘Honestly, hats off to sir,’ she says. ‘I’ve seen him directing Akshay Kumar and I’m proud to say he directed me the same way as he would a hero. I found that so nice, so encouraging. I remember thinking “Wow! Here’s a man with a vision to only make a good film irrespective of a male or female lead”.’
With Force 2 and Noor lined up next, and all the action she’s been indulging in, Sonakshi isn’t yet ready to take a break. ‘I’ll probably take time off somewhere in the middle, but right now I have films to complete.
‘I am enjoying being busy. I am a complete workaholic!’