Just like ‘canon’, but with an ‘S’,” Kriti Sanon says of her unusual surname, breaking into a smile. Easygoing and confident, but a tad reserved, it’s easy to believe the Delhi girl was, as she admits “actually very shy as a kid”. Sanon recalls dragging her mother to birthday parties and hiding behind her chunni when guests came home.
A studious child, the actress says she was interested in dance as far back as she can remember. Madhuri Dixit’s Ankhiyaan Milaoon from Raja (1995) was her favourite song and relatives routinely requested for performances. She was duly enrolled into a five-year professional course at Kathak Kendra in Mandi House. “It was a drag back then; I hated it,” Sanon recalls. “Thrice a week, I had to travel for an hour after school. But in hindsight, I’m thankful that mom forced me into it. Somewhere, it helped form a base and get the rhythm right, also helping tremendously in posture and understanding beats.”
Ticket to Bollywood
Sanon has come to Bollywood with more than just dance moves. Unusual for a filmi hopeful, she has an engineering degree in electronics and communications. Even when she chanced into modelling as an engineering student, she still sailed through with 87 per cent. “In class 8, I’d break down before an exam. But engineering taught me to deal with pressure,” she recalls. It’s also a skill that left her well-equipped to deal with Mumbai’s filmi badlands.
After winning a fresh-face contest in her second year of college, she dashed to Mumbai to claim her prize, a portfolio shot by showbiz photographer Dabboo Ratnani. He remembers her as being “really pretty, photogenic, and confident”. It landed her another gig: her first ramp show in Delhi, which prompted Manish Malhotra to ask, “What are you doing here, in Delhi? You should be in movies!”
Sanon decided to move to Mumbai, despite her parents’ apprehensions. “My mom was always keen that I follow my dreams, so she gave me the go ahead. Dad was more protective and scared,” Sanon says. She promised them that she’d give her GMAT and get a good score. “Those scores are valid for five years,” she says laughing, “but at the back of my head, I knew I wasn’t going to use them.”
North to south: Delhi actress Kriti Sanon debuted with Mahesh Babu in 1: Nenokkadine
She debuted with the Telugu film 1: Nenokkadine, alongside Mahesh Babu in 2014. Ever the multi-tasker, she netted her GMAT on a two-month sabbatical after the shoot, but Bollywood was already warming up to her. She was signed on for Heropanti (2014) ten minutes after her audition. The film tanked, but by then, she’d bagged possibly the biggest platform for an unknown face: 2015’s most anticipated film, Dilwale. Meanwhile, she’s event-hopping, shooting for glossies and indulging in her first love – dance – at stage shows.
To anyone watching (and indeed to Bollywood’s many strugglers), Sanon’s story may look like an endless round of good luck. It isn’t. Standing tall, even for someone who’s five-feet-eight-inches, has been a challenge. “I wasn’t the most confident kid in school and college. Even my family is shocked that I chose this profession,” she says. “You have to face fears head on. The more you do, the more you think, the better you get.”
Sanon’s next is opposite fellow engineer Sushant Singh Rajput in Dinesh Vijan’s directorial debut. “Sushant and I did an impromptu scene reading at Dinesh’s office. There was incredible energy and he said, ‘let’s do it!’. I think the three of us together have something magical.”
Sanon admits she’s a sucker for spunky roles (like those in Jab We Met, Band Bajaa Baraat and Queen) but she’s also keen to do out-and-out action thrillers. “I’m all for a Mr & Mrs Smith.” Could it be the film that will finally establish her connection with audiences? For someone this tall, fame may finally be within reach.