The Wind In Her Hair: Actress Fatima Sana Shaikh On Travel & Life

Join actress Fatima Sana Shaikh on a unique ride—an introspective conversation where we explore the power of travel, its liberating embrace, and the self-discovery it unlocks
A still from "Dhak Dhak" (2023)
A still from "Dhak Dhak" (2023)

The rhythmic whir of bicycle wheels against cobblestones echoes through history, its melody intertwined with the nascent song of women's liberation. In the 19th century, when Victorian corsets constricted bodies and minds, the bicycle's invention emerged as a revolutionary symbol of freedom. No longer confined to horse-drawn carriages and chaperoned walks, women found themselves propelled forward by their pedal power.

This historical resonance finds a contemporary echo in the 2023 Hindi film "Dhak Dhak." Four women embark on a motorcycle adventure to Khardung La, Ladakh, on a journey of self-discovery. Hailing from diverse backgrounds, they connect over shared experiences. As they navigate challenges, they unearth their true selves and strengths. They share laughter, savour moments of joy, confront setbacks, rise resiliently, and move towards their collective dream.

Among them is Shashi Kumar Yadav, aka "Sky," a character Fatima Sana Shaikh plays. Passionate about bikes and travel photography, Sky, a YouTuber, seeks a fresh start after an online scandal. She wants to cover the Barcelona auto expo but must prove herself first. While searching for a story, she encounters Mahi (Ratna Pathak Shah), who dreams of embarking on a bike trip to the world's highest motorable roads. Recognising Sky as the key to realising her dream, Mahi persuades her to join the adventure.

"I haven't faced anything similar to Sky's journey. I travel not to escape problems but to explore, learn, meet people, and find new experiences," said Shaikh, speaking to OT about her role in the film.

Shaikh plays the role of "Sky," a YouTuber
Shaikh plays the role of "Sky," a YouTuber

Like bikes helped women break free from social constraints, conquering Khardung La empowered Shaikh to define freedom and agency on her terms. Riding on one of the world's highest motorable roads was a unique and transformative experience for her.

"While I had learned to ride from my father, I had never ventured into the mountains on a bike. The experience made me realise how insignificant I am in the face of their overwhelming beauty," said Shaikh.

"Motorcycling can be liberating, especially in the context of societal expectations around women and certain activities. But I've always lived on my terms. Riding just became a way to embrace further the freedom I already enjoyed," she added.

Breaking Boundaries

Shaikh said movies like "Dhak Dhak" showcase women's issues and sensitise everyone, including men, to the unique challenges women face.

"When films explore diverse characters, their journeys, problems, and struggles, they create a personal arc that resonates universally, irrespective of gender," said Shaikh. "It's about tapping into reality, presenting the truth, and allowing people to connect with genuine experiences. The universality of these emotions makes it a powerful tool to break stereotypes and foster understanding."

Storytelling plays a crucial role in inspiring women to explore the world independently. When society looks at women's challenges, even in something as simple as riding, it becomes apparent that societal norms and perceptions can be limiting.

"For instance, when riding in Mumbai, I encountered unnecessary attention and condescension, experiences that are unfortunately not uncommon for women," said Shaikh.

However, according to her, films like "Dangal" (2016), "Dhak Dhak," and others demonstrate that it is indeed possible for women to lead a life that defies societal expectations. "It's about taking that step, facing challenges head-on, and creating a path for future generations. It's a collective effort, with each generation making strides to break down barriers and normalise the idea that women can explore the world on their own terms. Our progress today is a foundation for a more inclusive and accepting future."

Journeying Beyond The Ordinary

Every wanderer is unique, like puzzle pieces, each different from the rest. The same stands true for Shaikh, who categorises herself as an "extremely spontaneous traveller."

"I prefer to stay at a friend's place or an Airbnb rather than a hotel when I travel. And my choice of stay is always centred on food. For instance, I like to explore cafes, and if a location has several cafes with good coffee, that's where I will book my stay," said Shaikh.

The actor's cherished travel memories include getting invited to people's homes for a meal. "There is something extraordinary about the stories unfolding around the dinner table. When you share a meal, you're not just talking about what's on the plate; you're discussing life and experiences and creating connections. It's a beautiful way to get to know someone and understand the cultural nuances of a place."

Shaikh finds picking one favourite travel memory challenging because all her travels "have been filled with memorable moments."

"One specific memory stands out from my time in Dharamshala, a Himalayan haven I consider my safe space. On a trek, I encountered a group of women labourers. They opened up about their life experiences and the hardships they faced. It dawned on me that these were resilient women, adept at managing households and undertaking physically demanding tasks. Despite the differences in our lives, we connected on a deeper level. It was a powerful reminder of the universality of human experiences. "

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