In a recently released book, Vidhu Vinod Chopra compared Sadia Khateeb, the leading lady of his last directorial feature ‘Shikara’, to the late actress Nutan. According to Chopra, Sadia has “that same face and demeanour” which the legendary actress had. It has exactly been a year since ‘Shikara’ released. Sadia was studying electrical engineering and had only seen a handful of films in her life when her first acting opportunity fell into her lap. A little over a year after the release of the film, Sadia reflects on the life-changing journey she embarked upon after signing the film and all the memorable moments that came along.
It has been more than a year since ‘Shikara’ released. Did life change for you in any way after the release of the film?
My life changed the day I got the film. Since then, so many wonderful things have happened in my life because of ‘Shikara’. Preparing for the film, shooting for it, seeing it getting a release and now, living with it – all these experiences have been special. ‘Shikara’ will always remain the most beautiful chapter of my life.
You were enjoying your college holidays when you got a call from Indu Sharma who was the casting director on the film. You were not somebody who had any interested in acting. How did all of this happen?
I am still not sure how all of this happened (laughs). Even Indu Sharma does not have an answer to this. What happened was that a year before they called me, the team at Mukesh Chhabra’s office were looking for actors to cast in ‘Laila Majnu’ (2018). For the longest time, they could not find anybody who they thought would be suitable to play Laila. Somebody from the casting team stumbled upon my Facebook profile. It was a private account but the person realized we had a mutual friend. Through him, they got my number and called me. When I was told, they were calling from a casting agency’s office, I thought it to be a hoax call. A year later, Indu found my contact number and approached me.
You grew up closer to Kashmir where the film was set in.
Yes, I am from Badherwah, a small town which is a part of the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. I have been born and brought up in Jammu. I had not experienced the things or the events you come across in the film. I was born much later. I had friends who were Kashmiri Pandits but for a long time, I did not know about their history.
What is the kind of preparation you had to do for the film?
I arrived in Mumbai on July 31, 2017. We prepared for the film for around a year and then, started shooting for it in early 2018. I had come to Mumbai for the look test. After that, I went to Jammu to do some research. I lived in refugee camps and heard the stories of the people who were living there. It was a very personal experience. When I came back, we started our workshop. We trained with Mr. Abhay Joshi who is an acting coach. We used to do 10-hour long workshops every day. There was one thing that stayed with me – camera catches each and everything you do. You have to believe in the character you are playing and become that character. It was a long but fulfilling process.
Vidhu Vinod Chopra is known for being someone who has an eye for detail.
Yes! He gets to know even if your eyeball has moved in a way it should not have. He treated me like his daughter. He made us feel very comfortable and allowed us to do what we wanted to. He is like a university. You get to learn so much from him just by sitting and having a chat with him. He is a very instinctive director.
Most of the film was shot in Kashmir. Given the fact that the film was dealing with a very sensitive issue, was it easy to shoot there?
We shot in Kashmir for more than a month. Most of the shoot happened there. The production team managed everything, so I would not know if they faced any issue. I was in another world altogether. I was living Shanti. I was talking Shanti, talking like her, behaving like her. I was completely immersed in my character.
The house, which Shanti and Shiv live in, plays an important role in the film. Who did that house originally belonged to?
It belonged to a couple who were from Badherwah which, incidentally, is my home town.
Were the characters Adil and you played based on some real-life people?
Shanti is the name of Vinod sir’s mother. He must have added certain nuances in the character which were similar to his mother.
Adil and you shared great chemistry in the film. He worked as an RJ for a long time and was quite famous. When you first met him, you mistook him to be a spot boy.
Yes, you have done good research (laughs). When Indu ma’am came to audition me, Adil was with her. She had messaged me saying that she will be coming with someone from the office. When he came, I thought he was a spot boy (laughs). He was a famous RJ but I barely knew anybody from the city or the industry. I came from my home. I remember saying ‘Hi, hello’. When she asked him to perform the scene with him, I was quite surprised. Much later did I realize that he was going to be my co-actor in the film.
You were studying electrical engineering and were in the second year of your course when you were asked to audition for the film. You had come to Mumbai thinking that the work on the film will be over in three months.
Yes, I thought it will take hardly three months and after that, I would come back to my hometown. I never went back (laughs). My friends used to message me and ask where am I. I could not tell them that I was working on ‘Shikara’ as I was not allowed to. It was a very exciting journey for me. I was very happy and went with the flow.
Do you plan to finish your engineering studies someday?
I don’t even remember what I had studied in the first two years. I joined Mumbai University via a distance course just before the lockdown happened. I am studying literature.
There was a never a plan to become an actor. Are you pursuing it as a serious profession now?
Yes, acting is what I want to do now. I plan to study simultaneously and finish my course.
The film received a lot of acclaim but there was a certain section of the audience which felt that the issue was romanticised. There was a bit of controversy too closer to the release of the film.
There are videos on YouTube with the title ‘Shikara Diaries’. That should give people a glimpse of the intention behind making the film. I think Vinod sir would also talk about the journey of the film in an elaborate manner someday. The intention was not to show any hate. The idea was never to ruin things anymore. Vinod sir wanted to make a film that spoke about love and acceptance while depicting what Kashmiri Pandits had to go through.
As is the case with any film directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, ‘Shikara’ boasted of a stellar soundtrack. Which was your favourite song from the album?
‘Mar Jaayein Hum’ was the first song I heard when I came to Mumbai. ‘Teri Aarzoo Mein’ is my most favourite song from the album. In a way, I have lived these songs. Even today, when I hear these songs, I get goosebumps.
The film enjoyed good viewership on satellite and on digital but when it released, the box-office performance was quite underwhelming. Did that bother you?
When I was shooting for the film, I was not thinking about things like how it would do at the box-office. When it released, I was happy about the appreciation that came my way. Our performances were received well and that made us feel very happy. Yes, the fact that the film did not do very well at the box office hurt. I always tell everybody that this film deserved way more love than it received. The process of working on the film changed me as a person. I am quite sure that this film will find a bigger audience with time.