Sidharth Malhotra Digital cover HELLO! India January 2023© HelloIndia

#HELLOExclusive: Sidharth Malhotra In The Big League

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Sangeeta Wadhwani

He arrived on Planet Bollywood with all the attributes of a star. Those Punjabi roots, a hunger to make it big, the willingness to put in the hard work…

Shershaah began with him meeting the family of Captain Vikram Batra, sitting hours in makeup and getting personally invested in the story even before the director or producer were on board. For Mission Majnu, where he plays a spy trying to derail an illegal nuclear power system in Pakistan, he brought a lot more experience to the table, working with director Shantanu Bagchi, who was more accustomed to making ad films, with this being his first Hindi feature film.

“I thrive when we work in a collaborative style,” shares Sidharth Malhotra. “It’s a give-and-take situation and neverjust one-sided directives… From my level of experience, I could advise, ‘Let’s try this, or that may be more apt.’ Perhaps I could say that I contributed in some ways.” True passion for a project often has Sidharth bouncing lines off the scriptwriter, chatting with the fight and dance masters on set, enjoying ideation, gaining insights and mastering complicated sequences, all of which are the building blocks of memorable cinema. And sure, when you have a gorgeous co-star and lady love like Kiara Advani, some interesting parallel moments are sure to enrich the work experience.

Welcome to the dream-like journey of one of Bollywood’s most widely adored stars — Sidharth Malhotra.

In a fast-changing content universe, no one can be smug about stardom. By his own admission, content comes first, but the leading man or lady have just as important a role to play. “Times have changed. Content comes first, but you can’t replace a leading man or a leading lady,” says Sid, as he’s fondly called. “All of us have our own style and come with our own charisma. Cinema needs that star power. It’s something that the camera picks up. That ‘X’ factor is the reason I was chosen for Student of the Year from among all the contenders.”

Sidharth also feels that with the wide range of content choices available today and the ‘cinema in the palm of your hand’ syndrome with OTT apps on smartphones, “the speed of content consumption has changed. Gone are the days when blockbuster movies used to run in theatres for months. Now, they only last a week or two weeks at best.”

Naturally, the economics of inflated star earnings are bound to change, as well. While actors have often hogged as much as 80 percent of a film’s budget, today, the Hindi film industry sees successful films from the South, where the monies go into original story ideas, great scripts, strong production values and a far more realistic pay cheque for the star cast. It’s clear that a fresh dietnof ideas alone can save cinema, and

Sidharth concurs.“At every level, you have to keep reinventing, and only the boldest creatorswill survive. This ecosystem constantly motivates me to try new approaches and attempt different genres. If you see my posters, trailers, or movies, you’ll find a good range of stories, each distinct in its own way.

“All of us have our own style, our own charisma. Cinema needs that star power. It’s something that the camera picks up. That ‘X’ factor is the reason I got SOTY” So one has to constantly grow and experiment to be remembered for good content.”

Fortunately for Sidharth, the trade data looks pretty favourable, with a tally of 22 films ranked as successful to moderately successful at the box office, since his launch with SOTY in 2012. And as 2023 kicks off, Sidharth has more than one reason to smile.

Although one does see the digitisation of everything— even audition videos are now uploaded and shared as links to prospective producers (a process described by Alia Bhatt when comparing her ‘struggles’ to her mother’s days) — it’s obvious that star kids have the advantage of having their auditions viewed with certainty by the Bollywood establishment. But Sidharth had no godfathers picking up the tab to launch him.

“My grandfather was in the Indian Army, my father was in the Merchant Navy, and I was from Delhi. I came to Bombay at the age of 22 with no connect to the film industry. For a couple of years, I assisted on My Name Is Khan. I did what most newcomers do— make the rounds, live in shared accommodation,go for auditions...”

“I don’t think one should give undue weightage to luck, though being at the right place at the right time is always helpful. It’s got a lot to do with your chosen line of action and always boils down to hard work. Actors have to be in a state of constant ‘struggle’ — if I may say so — that never ends!”

A dramatic chapter opened for Sidharth when auditions were announced for a film, where no aspiring talent was told who the director was.

“That audition happened over a period of five days. We had to act out scenes with Hindi dialogues, mime songs, enact angry or lighter, romantic scenes…That’s how we found out, right at the end, that it was Mr Karan Johar himself directing Student of the Year!”

To his great joy, Sidharth landed a plum role as one of the three leads in the movie, which was declared one of the highest grossers of 2012. There were many ‘firsts’ with SOTY: it was Johar’s only directorial venture not starring Shah Rukh Khan; critics praised the performances of the fresh-faced, dewy-eyed newcomers; the music was well appreciated... And for Sidharth, a whole portal of possibilities finally opened, as he was also nominated for ‘Best Male Debut’ along with co-star Varun Dhawan, at various award shows. All of this was a mere step on the ladder, which led to his near-iconic success with Shershaah.

Shershaah may have had a long-winding road to fruition, besides being an OTT release, but the herculean effort paid off richly. It was declared the ‘Most Watched Indian Film’ on Amazon Prime on August 31, 2021. It then led the 67th Filmfare Awards with 19 nominations, finally bagging seven. And just before 2022 wound up, the actor found himself at Vijay Diwas celebrations, as part of the ‘aftershocks’ of him being identified with Captain Vikram Batra.

Shershaah was truly an unforgettable experience,” Sidharth is quick to admit, also recalling the gruelling conditions in which they shot, “at almost 14,000ft above sea level, dealing with less oxygen and fiercely cold winds for 45 days.”

“It started with me meeting Captain Vikram Batra’s family to get deeper insights into him. Then I experimented with makeup to resemble him, after which I met producer Shabbir Boxwala. There was a long journey before it reached Dharma Productions, which eventually co-produced the movie, and then we got director Vishnuvardhan on board. I was the only common factor in all the years that Shershaah was coming together!”

At the Vijay Diwas event, Sidharth enjoyed precious interactions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Droupadi Murmu. “I kept telling all the dignitaries about my grandfather and father’s connect with the Indian Army and Merchant Navy, and that they were proud I did a good job at least as a ‘pretend’ army officer who was a national hero!” he laughs.

Along with the success of Shershaah came rumours of sparks flying between Sidharth and his co-star Kiara Advani, who became globally identified with the hit ballad ‘Raatan Lambiyan’. If speculation about their hush-hush upcoming nuptials are to be believed, Sidharth’s now all set to play real-life husband to his beloved. But as private as ever, the coy actor is clever with his words when quizzed about it.

“We’ve only done one film together, which fortunately had both of us being loved by audiences.But the real credit goes to Vikram Batra and his true-life equation with Dimple. We felt assured of doing justice to that relationship because our parts were written so well. So much so that we became so relatable and loved!” Kiara, fortunately, has been the more vocal of the two about their relationship, nearly arm-twisted on Koffee With Karan to declare that she and Sidharth were “more than close friends”. Though they continue to play ostrich lovers, their fans are happy to see a true love story reaching the altar, possibly in the month of St. Valentine!

In fact, in a tangential question on what makes for successful relationships in today’s times saturated with work pressures and temptations, Sidharth shares: “Trust is the most important aspect of a relationship, especially when couples don’t get to spend much timewith each other.”

In early December, one saw the OTT release of Thank God, which had Sidharth portraying a morally grey as-it-gets real estate wheeler-dealer. While the movie brought in average business of roughly Rs 18 crore, the concept and storytelling — what with a KBCstyle game to determine whether one is destined for heaven or hell — was fresh, funny and rather poignant towards the end.

Thank God was about making people step back from their normal patterns and examine themselves more closely from a karmic perspective,” Sidharth says. “There’s a social responsibility to make films that may have an evolutionary impact and could lead to a better society. That was the message Thank God had for me.”

“I played a flawed character, like most of us are. In our culture, we believe in the philosophy of what goes around, comes around. Even years from now, if a film like this can change an individual’s thought process, it means we did our work right.”

Beyond going from single to wedded, Sidharth has new releases that may push his personal envelope as an actor and human being. Mission Majnu takes him back to the Indo-Pak situation, rewinding to the story of a spy from the 70s, (a true character) who helped derail the illegal nuclear programme Pakistan was trying to launch at the time.

“It’s based on true incidents, but isn’t a biopic. If we disclose every detail of a spy operation, it would defeat the purpose. The story is based on what we know from media clippings and the political scenario from the 70s, when RAW agents derailed Pakistan from becoming a nuclear power illegally.”

“There’s definitely a physicality, a look, that comes with acting in a retro film. For my styling, I looked to Mr Bachchan as a 70s’ style icon. We went all out! My long collars, bell bottoms and stripes were all inspired from his movies from that era.”

As part of his prep, Sid also sat with the writers and directors to understand just how to project a spy — who even had to learn the Punjabi-Urdu native to Rawalpindi and take up tailoring!

“I realised a spy’s life is really not so different from an actor’s. A spy just doesn’t get second and third takes. A spy cannot just switch off. For a spy, a bad take can be life threatening. There were times I had to pretend to be a plumber, and on other occasions, I was a tailor. I actually signed up for a tailoring workshop to understand what it takes to be a darzi, stitching clothes in the 70s’ style. All the prep definitely gave a new shade to my repertoire of work.” Sidharth also looks forward to the release of Yodha — “a fictitious story based on a hijacking” — as well as the release of his first OTT series, Indian Police Force, being directed by Rohit Shetty. So 2023 “packs quite a punch!” he winks.

Photos: Rahul Jhangiani; Creative Direction: Avantikka Kilachand; Fashion Editor: Sonam Poladia; Junior Stylist: Anushree Sardesai; Assisted By: Misha Rawal; Makeup: Hair Garage By Natasha; Hair: Ali Rizvi; Location Courtesy: 38 Manhattan; Penthouse, The St. Regis Mumbai

This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in HELLO! India’s January 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!