Rishabh Sawhney in 'Fighter'© Yash Raj Films

Rishabh Sawhney On Playing The Bad Guy In ‘Fighter’ And More

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Ananya Shankar

Amidst all the fervour surrounding the highly awaited, multi-starrer film Fighter, audiences flocked to the theatres to watch their favourites in action. However, all eyes were trained on the newcomer — Rishabh Sawhney — whose brilliant portrayal of the antagonist caught everyone by surprise.

With a menacing gaze and a fiery disposition, Rishabh’s character, Azhar Akhtar, is defined by his thirst for revenge. Yet, behind the bloodshot eye and cold personality lies an actor who’s quite the opposite. “There are no similarities between us. I’m a very chill guy. I like to have fun, joke around… and there was nothing fun or jolly about Azhar!” Rishabh says with a hearty laugh. “I don’t get angry easily whereas anger is what drove him.”

Entertainment India - January 2024©GettyImages

A civil engineer hailing from New Delhi, it was never in his career plan to step into the film world. A serendipitous turn of events during his college years, marked by a significant physical transformation, led a friend, also entrenched in the industry, to suggest Rishabh try his luck in showbiz. And so he did, moving to the city of dreams. Little did he know that it would birth a different kind of struggle altogether…

But no success story is complete without its share of twists and turns and so, Rishabh begins to share his own journey, exclusively with HELLO!...

HELLO!: Rishabh, congratulations on your big Bollywood debut! Tell us about your early days, the grind to become an actor…

Rishabh Sawhney: “I started doing theatre and that’s when people spotted me and started offering modelling jobs. I was happy because it meant getting camera exposure, making money and connections. Soon, I got an audition for a web series, The Empire [Disney+ Hotstar], and got locked in for it! The casting director also asked me to assist him till the show started because he felt that would help me with my acting. I did, but then the lockdown happened and the show got pushed by a year. I continued my casting job because it really was helping me as an actor and my boss and I had an understanding that I could go for auditions when I had to. And finally, in April of 2022, I got an audition from Mukesh Chhabra Casting Company. They did not tell me it’s for Fighter, but only that it’s the negative lead in the film. I auditioned and months later, in June, I got another call from them, requesting variations of the same scene. I did that and days after, Siddharth Anand sir wanted to meet me. That is how it all started.”

H!: In preparation for the role of Azhar Akhtar in Fighter, you’ve previously mentioned immersing yourself in videos of war-torn regions during interviews. What aspect of the character did you find most challenging to portray and what was it like to play the villain in your first film?

RS: “The most challenging part was not having any regard for human life. Azhar did not care about anyone, everyone was dispensable for him. But honestly, I could not have asked for a better debut. I got to do a lot of things in this film. I had four-five months before the shoot so I could rigorously prepare for the character in a way where I could be convincing on screen; get into the character’s skin. My whole mindset changed by the time we started to shoot. I was in a dark space where I felt that Azhar would have been, and that was very interesting. Getting to do action scenes, to work opposite Hrithik Roshan, was phenomenal.”

H!: Take us behind the scenes of working with the likes of Hrithik Roshan on your first film!

RS: “My character was pretty intense, so I made a conscious effort to avoid any activities that might distract me. I wanted to remain fully in that zone. But other than that, it was great working with Hrithik sir. He’s one of the most professional people I’ve worked with, an inspiration for me because of his fitness, the body of work he’s done in the past. And on set, he ensured everything felt comfortable and enjoyable. His stardom and persona is big but he’s very humble. And I like it when people give me respect and talk to me nicely. That is what I admire the most. And Siddharth [Anand] sir too — he’s my favourite person because he’s so cool!”

Entertainment India - January 2024©GettyImages

H!: What was it like to see yourself on the big screen for the first time? Could you share some of your family and friends’ reactions as well?

RS: “It was pretty overwhelming. I always wanted to see that. I’ve done a lot of modelling work before and in those shoots, I’m always looking pretty and nice. For this one, I was bloody and looked very scary. So that was different. But when I saw myself on screen at the premiere, I thought, ‘Finally!’ I was super excited. My whole family was crying; my mom, dad, sister — they were really proud. All of my friends too. They’ve been closest to me through this journey.

We’ve been friends from college and there have been a lot of difficult times for me personally… they have been with me through it all. Even when I started to act, they were supportive and never doubted me. They believed that I could do it. So when it came out, “Come what may, even if I’m shooting in a location where there are no gyms, I’ll do a bodyweight workout for about 40 minutes. But I make sure that I’m doing some sort of exercise every day because that keeps me sane, it’s ingrained in me” they were all super proud and showing me off… It was a nice feeling.”

H!: Who’s your biggest source of support and inspiration in life?

RS: “My mom and dad. They are rock stars. If I am here today, it’s only because of them.

H!: Your toned physique didn’t go unnoticed by your fans! How do you balance maintaining your physical health and mental well-being amidst the demands of your career?

RS: “For me, working out is like an anchor. Come what may, even if I’m shooting in a location where there are no gyms, I’ll do a bodyweight workout for about 40 minutes. But I make sure that I’m doing some sort of exercise every day because that keeps me sane, it’s ingrained in me. I’m perpetually on a diet and I’ve been working out for the last eight to 10 years. I used to compete in bodybuilding competitions before I started out. For this film [Fighter] I gained 10 kgs, because with this sort of a role, you have to be really specific. I eat a certain amount of calories every day. Even if I’m not preparing for something, I still follow that, so if I get a role, I can transform quickly. For my mental health, I do a lot of meditation and chanting. That’s the first thing I do when I wake up.”

H!: What does a weekend look like in the life of Rishabh Sawhney?

RS: “Chilling with my friends, going out. I don’t drink alcohol, so we either go to a club or play PlayStation at a friend’s place. I also read a lot of books. I recommend one called Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey’s autobiography. I do a lot of outdoor activities and play sports as well — cricket, tennis, squash.”

H!: Reflecting on your journey, what is one piece of advice you would give to your younger self ?

RS: “You know, I was thinking about this yesterday. I would just say, don’t take too much stress because things are actually very small when you look at it five or six years down the line.”

H!: What’s next on your plate?

RS: “I’m in talks for some projects, though I can’t speak about them right now. I would love to do a comedy series or film too, that is something I’m really interested in. I think I’ll pull that off nicely. I’m also looking at other avenues, like business opportunities.”

This interview has been adapted from a story published in the HELLO! India’s May issue. Get your hands on a copy right here!