It’s often said that the life has a plan for everybody and no matter what you do, that plan will take its course! That plan turned professional kick boxer Ritika Singh in an actress. The national level boxer who represented India at the 2009 Asian Indoor Games played the lead in the Rajkumar Hirani produced, R Madhavan starrer 2016 movie Saala Khadoos, which had boxing as the central theme. Who knew that Ritika’s boxing career would land her in a role in a Bollywood movie! In an interview with Nation Next, Ritika Singh speaks about her first released movie Saala Khadoos, the respect she has for ace filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani, dynamic actor R Madhavan and her future plans.
You belong to a boxing background and fortunately your first film ‘Saala Khadoos’ was about boxing. You worked with talented people like R Madhavan and Rajkumar Hirani just in your first film. Do you feel lucky?
Absolutely! It’s still unbelievable for me. I never wanted to be an actor and it happened by chance. Once, we were doing a look test for the film for the poster shoot. I was at Rajuji’s place in front of a mirror and a lady was straightening my hair as I have naturally curly hair. Rajuji, his wife and Madhavan sir were there and talking to each other and Rajuji’s son was taking my pictures for making a video. And I thought, ‘Just two hours ago, I was at my place when my mother sent me to fetch milk and now I’m sitting here!’ Nobody can be luckier than me. From a fighter to an actor in Rajkumar Hirani’s production, it was just destiny!
Did you feel burdened by the expectations as it was Rajkumar Hirani’s production?
There’s was a lot of pressure considering the fact that I was playing the lead role in the film and Maddy sir was the co-actor. When we were shooting for the film, I was the only one with no experience of acting whatsoever. Maddy sir had an experience of 52 films, Nassar sir had an experience of over 500 films and Mumtaz Sorcar who played my sister in the film had an experience of 26 films. I’m person who loves to learn new things. I knew nothing and I kept learning.
You’re very candid in your demeanor. You blasted the Boxing Federation in the past and even went on the record to say that boxers generally do sexual favors for the coaches. Now, you’re in an industry which is perceived to be very diplomatically correct. Don’t you feel that being so outspoken can go against you in the film industry?
I did not say exactly that! The media turned it around. I said that exploitations and harassments happen everywhere but at certain places they are highlighted even more. Many people say that film industry bahut galat hain! When I got into it, people told my father, ‘Kahaan bhej diya! Achchi fighter hain, bigad jayegi!’ It happens everywhere but people don’t talk about it. I spoke about politics and favours. If you’re the coach and I’m the student, the students keep enquiring if the coach wants water or other things. Students don’t realise that they are not servants; they are there to learn.
You were fantastic in Saala Khadoos. You played the role of a tomboyish girl in the movie. How’re you in real life?
I’m actually like a boy! My natural tomboyish trait helped me in the movie. The kind of clothes they gave me in the movie, the surroundings in the movie helped me to behave in that way even more. I used to sit in the fish market all day so I became that person who doesn’t care about how she looks. In the movie, I look like a female who I want to punch! I don’t look so bad even when I’m sleeping! But that character, my surroundings and my clothes just made me that and I never cared about anything and went for it.
You come from a boxing background and the basic premise of the film was boxing. Did it help you in any way?
It helped me a lot but in some cases it also went against me. During our fights, we fighters get beaten up a lot but we never reveal our pain because if you do, the referee might tell you to stop. As I fighter, I never show that I’m hurt or tired; I’m always ready. That’s the way I’ll show my confidence. Whereas in films, you as an actor have to show the emotions; you have to show that you’re tired. I had a head guard and a gum shield on during some scenes in the film, so I had only my eyes to express things and it was very difficult.
Boxers generally have a never say die attitude. Do you think that this never say die attitude and your outspoken behavior will help you and give you an edge to take your Bollywood dreams further?
I have had this attitude since I was a child. I have been doing martial arts since I was three years old. When I lose in a fight, I become a different person. I become lonely, switch my phone off and don’t talk to anybody. I just don’t like it. The worst part about my life is that I’m a kickboxing and a karate champion. All my fights have been exceptional. I have had 5 seconds round and in one kick I have knocked people out! These fights are not on the internet. The fights which I have lost unfortunately were broadcasted on the TV! I lost and got bashed up by people in those fights! I can’t cope up with that because I know I have the potential and people are watching the wrong side of me. It just irritates me. But yeah, I have that never say die attitude and I think it’ll help me and I’ll never give up.
Saala Khadoos was a movie about boxing. In the future there are possibilities that you will land up in more glamorous role of sorts…
That’s what I want to do! I want to do and experience something different. I want to test myself and see what I can do.
So, no boxing henceforth?
It’s my dream to bring light to the sport. Deepika Padukone is not playing badminton any more but if she does in one of the tournaments today, the whole of the world will watch the match that day! The sport can be glorified this way and can to brought to people’s attention. Some day, if I’m offered a big fight, I’ll take the fight because I want people to see it and encourage the sports scenario.
Who’s your favourite boxer?
My favourite fighter is Rhonda Rousey because she has a killer instinct and a never say die attitude. I don’t want to be a fighter like her because as a fighter she’s really arrogant and I can’t be that. I want to be the person she is. I want to have her confidence and do whatever I believe in.
Were there any nervous moments while filming Saala Khadoos?
As a person I’m very sweet, respectful and calm. I don’t have an anger and Saala Khadoos made me realise that if I get that anger and aggression in me, there’s no fight that I’ll lose in the world! On the first day of the shoot I had to shout, get angry and throw punches on Madhavan sir. I was very nervous. Madhavan sir calmed me down and told me to punch him and make the shot real. I got really pumped up and the moment Sudha ma’am said action, I punched and broke a piece of his tooth!
(This interview was taken just after the release of Saala Khadoos in January 2016)