Aamir Khan’s protégé talks about her fangirl moment with the other Khan
Natasha Coutinho (MUMBAI MIRROR; February 3, 2017)

Twenty four-year-old Fatima Sana Shaikh jumped into the ring with Aamir Khan’s Dangal and, as Commonwealth gold-winning wrestler Geeta Phogat, has become an overnight star. But she still wakes up and rushes to work out, then interns with co-star Sanya Malhotra at Aamir’s office. “It’s people’s reaction to me that has changed. People approach me with so much more warmth,” she marvels, admitting that the film just happened. “When you are a newcomer, you don’t get too many offers or have too many options. I’m fortunate I auditioned for something this big and got the part.”

She’s all praise for her mentor, who she describes as “a grounded man and a really nice guy who is sensitive and caring towards everybody”. A self-confessed Shah Rukh Khan fan, she recalls meeting her idol at a Diwali party just before the release of her debut film. “I managed to be calm and well behaved. But when AK who’s really proud of Sanya, Zaira (Wasim) and me, was showing SRK our wrestling practise videos and he said something funny, I took the chance and touched him while laughing at the joke. It was borderline creepy, but for me it was a huge moment,” she laughs.

Recently, her 16-year-old costar Zaira Wasim, who played the younger Geeta Phogat was embroiled in a controversy after she posted a picture with Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. Quiz her on the subject, and Fatima suddenly turns wary, saying, “What happened was unfortunate but I don’t know much about it. I’d like to speak to Zaira personally and ask her about it.”

The real Geeta Phogat stood up for Zaira but hasn’t been faring too well in the ring.

Fatima admits she hasn’t interacted much with Geeta and her younger sister Babita after the film’s release or watched their matches. “I’ve met them very briefly after the screening and the last match that I watched was at the Rio Olympics,” she says.

She must be flooded with film offers? Has she consulted Aamir on them? “I’ve not got any offers for which I had to consult AK. But if I need help, I know he’s there,” she shrugs, adding that she won’t restrict herself to a particular genre. “I’m available and ready for anything exciting even if it’s a non-commercial film or something to do with sports again. I love Ranbir Kapoor, whether it’s in Barfi! or Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. And I love Priyanka Chopra too.”

Looking back on Dangal, she points out that wrestling is tough, both physically and mentally, but four-hours of training every day helped her build up her mental strength. “In a few days, I realised that if you’re not focussed, no matter how fit or agile you are, you won’t be able to take it,” says Fatima who was rejected a few times before Aamir spotted her. “They made me stronger. Everybody struggles, be it personal or professional. If you go through it, you also come out of it.”