We meet Disha Patani at a five-star hotel on Juhu Beach in Mumbai on a hot summer afternoon. Instantly, one is reminded of the first meeting with her, back then during the promotions of the biopic M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016), in which she starred as Mahendra Singh Dhoni's first girlfriend. Now, in her denim jacket, tee and jeans from the brand she endorses, Disha Patani is still the same small-town girl, down-to-earth and calm, easy-going yet strong.
There is one difference though. As she gets talking about Bharat, her first film with superstar Salman Khan, we notice that she has grown more confident and speaks her mind. She surely has come a long way. Having played good roles in her fairly new career, including in a film with Chinese superstar Jackie Chan (Kung Fu Yoga - 2017) and with Tiger Shroff (Baaghi 2 - 2018), Disha Patani plays a trapeze artist in Salman Khan's Bharat.
Excerpts from International Business Times, India's chat with Disha Patani on Bharat, on her stunts and dancing skills, her forthcoming films, on her rumoured boyfriend - actor Tiger Shroff, and on acting with Salman Khan, and comparisons with Katrina Kaif.
IBT: How did you get the film Bharat? What did you think of a chance to work with a big star like Salman Khan?
Disha Patani: I got a call from Ali Sir (director Ali Abbas Zafar) who asked me if I'd be interested in doing the role. He showed me a few references of what he wanted to shoot and he told me about my character. I loved it and I said yes. My reaction to getting a chance to work with Salman Khan was an instant 'yes'.
How was it to shoot with Salman Khan?
It was not intimidating. I was excited mostly. It was a good opportunity to work with Salman Khan and I don't know if I'll ever get it again. There is an age gap but the fact that he's shown in the film in a younger age (the part where Disha appears) is very exciting. He's such a nice person, very kind and very grounded. It was an experience to work with him in just my third film in Bollywood, and I learnt a lot. I'm very grateful.
Your song with Salman Khan in Bharat, Slow Motion, is a hit with over 73 million views on YouTube. Were there any spontaneous changes in the dance steps?
Always! Because you have to dance according to him (Salman). That's how it is. You have to see what he is doing and go according to that. Because he has this charm. He makes everything his own and that's what we call 'Salman Khan dancing' or 'Salman Khan style'. So, you have to change the steps on the spot. Of course, there was the choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant and we had to follow her. She has really made the song beautiful.
It feels really good that the Slow Motion song has done well. I am a huge fan of massy songs and item numbers. I'm a girl who has grown up on Bollywood songs. This is my first song that is messy, and it's with Salman Sir. I'm very, very happy that people have accepted it. I have had to work really hard on my body to look good in the song. I also thank the stylist Ashley Rebello and Ali Sir for making me look good in the yellow saree.
Your chemistry with Salman Khan is being compared with Katrina Kaif's, who plays the lead in the film.
I don't understand comparisons. Maybe the fans like the Slow Motion song... Ali Sir had told me that I have a special appearance in the film. Anyway, I was happy to be a part of a film with such a great cast - you have Katrina Ma'am, Salman Sir, Jackie Shroff, Tabu, Sunil Grover! It's a great opportunity and I don't feel any competition. We're from the same industry and we should always help each other grow. It's always great learning to work with these people.
What was your training for playing a trapeze artist in Bharat?
Actually, the reason Ali Sir called me for this role in Bharat was that he saw me on Instagram doing flips and all, and they needed a girl who could do all that. So, after saying yes to Bharat, I had to train properly for two months. That's the time that I had before the shoot started. It was very vigorous.
How scary was it to train for it? Tell us about your experience.
It was scary, because generally when you're training for yourself, it's not like you have to learn something in a day or a week. Then, you have a lot of time and you are not stressed. But here, I was really stressed. Because I'd said yes, oh yeah, I can do it - but I knew I had to really train for it. And I remember a week before the film began, I broke my knee. Because I was doing a front flip and I landed right but I did something that gave me a major jerk on my knees.
The problem was that I was doing everything together - I was training in gymnastics under Nadeem Akhtar (front flip, backflip, salto, handspring), I was going to the gym, I was doing dance rehearsals for three-four hours every day. My body was going through a lot of pain and I think that was the point where my body broke.
So, I was on bed rest for one week before I could start the Bharat shoot. Once the shoot began, I had to start shooting from the gymnastics part in the film, going towards the dance part. It was very tough and very painful. But we did it and now I feel it was all worth it.
Was it difficult to get the circus lingo right?
A little bit because that's not how we usually speak. The people in a circus speak a little differently, they are more bindaas and straightforward. It was fun rather than challenging.
How excited are you for Bharat and your first Eid release?
I'm very excited. But I've been so occupied shooting for Malang (directed by Mohit Suri and co-starring Aditya Roy Kapur). I get one day off and I go to eat some good food. We've been shooting at night, so it's from 6 pm to 6 am. I pack up in the morning and take two hours to come back home, and I can't even sleep because my dogs are barking. (Laughs) So, my life has been like proper chaos and I'm not getting a chance to think about the release of Bharat! But I am happy and excited about everything about it.
In your last few films, your character has died. We hope not this time...
(Laughs) You have to find out. It's a thing. I don't wanna die in my films but people make me die. I hope I don't die in Bharat.
What was your experience shooting with Tiger Shroff's dad Jackie Shroff in Bharat?
Jackie Shroff is the busiest person on the planet. He's one guy who has not taken a day off in his life, even at this age. I remember him shooting for Bharat. We used to pack up at 7 pm and start at 4 am. After the pack up, he'll go for the dubbing of some animation film and dub until 4 in the morning, and then come directly on the sets of Bharat. He doesn't sleep!
What does Tiger Shroff have to say about Bharat? Did you like his film Student of the Year 2?
He loved it. Tiger really liked my look in Bharat. Yes, I loved Student of the Year 2. I really like entertaining films. I don't really like serious stuff because when you're working and you get only one day and you're watching a movie, you just wanna relax and be happy. I loved SOTY 2, the songs, everyone in the film.
How has your journey been in the movies?
It's been very good. I am loving it. I remember all my films. With each actor, co-star and director, you learn something. You have to keep it and apply for the next film. I try to do that. Everyone has taught me something in life that I've been taking. That's how life is - you keep improving and bettering yourself.
Any plans of doing films in south India after your Telugu film? Or in Hollywood?
Yes, my first film was in Telugu (Puri Jagannadh's Loafer - 2015). I'd love to do more films down south and I have some offers. The language doesn't matter. It's about the story, and they are really professional and really good with their work. I really respect them for that. No, I'm not doing a film in Hollywood.
What's your normal day like?
I wake up and go for either gymnastics or my MMA (mixed martial arts) class. Sometimes I dance in the morning before these classes. If I don't have a meeting in the day, I come back home and have lunch. Then I go to the gym, then I dance and come back home and sleep. That's distressing for me.
Bharat releases on Eid, June 5, 2019. The film stars Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Disha Patani, Tabu, Jackie Shroff, Sunil Grover, Aasif Sheikh, Sonali Kulkarni and Nora Fatehi, among others.