Ritika Singh recently shot into the limelight with her performance in the Bollywood film ‘Saala Khadoos.’ The 23-year-old’s depiction of a boxer was widely appreciated by the Indian film community, and it even earned her a special mention at the recently concluded 63rd National awards.
A seamless sense of transition from real to reel life was influenced by Ritika's previous profession as a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter. Fighting in India’s only structured MMA outfit, the Super Fight League (SFL), she was selected by co-star R Madhavan over 100 other athletes.
Early days as a national-level kickboxer
A decade of the infamous ‘fighter poker face’ had to be replaced with a crude and verbally explosive personality. Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, Ritika said, “My main goal for taking up acting as a profession was to show that sport or MMA teaches you life skills that can be applied to any profession in the world.”
Having begun karate at the fledgling age of three, her inclinations towards contact sports broke stereotypes from the word go. By transitioning to national level kickboxing, she developed skills originating from various martial arts, eventually leading her to MMA.
She added, “I began fighting to stay fit and experience everything equally, hence I took up kickboxing. From there I just stuck at it and eventually Raj Kundra Sir saw my potential and asked me to join the Super Fight League (SFL).”
At just 17 years of age Ritika was the youngest fighter in the league, but that didn’t deter her from securing a knockout victory against an experienced opponent. Her victory against top Egyptian fighter Aya Saber announced the Indian’s arrival on the world MMA scene.
However, a devastating knee injury after her four match professional career saw Ritika take a temporary sabbatical from the sport. It was around this time that Sala Khadoos makers Rajkumar Hirani and Madhavan decided to actively look out for a pro-athlete.
Ritika added, “I can say with full confidence that if it wasn’t for SFL I wouldn’t have got the necessary exposure to act in this film. It was a blessing in disguise for me, because I would be out of MMA for a while. During the selections I fought around 100 bouts, in a more expressive manner. The most difficult (part) was to get rid of the poker face that you create as a fighter over the years. I had to be more expressive, which I learned over time.”
Aim is to shed the ‘glam’ image associated with Bollywood actresses: Ritika
Ever since the film’s critical success, Ritika has been the talk of the town for her de-glam image. Her main goal is to shed stereotypes attached to being a professional actress. She said, “Whenever I go to any particular event, people are shocked that I’m a fighter. To be a fighter I have to look a certain way and to be an actress I have to look a certain way. I have to change that; I’ve joined acting to do meaningful cinema and to show that there is much more than glamour that actresses can offer.”
The film’s Tamil version Irudhu Suttru was a super-hit, with droves of fans filling the cinema halls. Many of Ritika’s fans from Tamil Nadu have requested her to return to fighting in the region, which she has gladly accepted.
Trained by her father Mohan Singh, Ritika won several national MMA titles and spoke about the current fighting scenario. She said, “It is improving at a very slow rate, there are infrastructural issues, but they are pushing towards a better tomorrow. If you see so many women’s boxers, judokas are getting heavily into combat sports. Administrative problems are still an issue, but I can say that it is only getting better.”
Talking about the major difference in both professions, Ritika pointed out the emphasis on looks in the film industry. She said, “Nowadays I always have to look good, you never know when someone tells you that they want a picture or something. As an actor you must carry yourself in a certain way, that is one major change. However, MMA teaches you the discipline that’s required to transition into anything.”
Ritika added, “Sport has taught me never to be jealous of someone, or insecure if somebody is doing well. It’s taught me teamwork, and the value of patience. Even If I lose, I know that I’ve actually not lost.”
She is now actively looking out for non sports-based film, in an attempt to broaden her portfolio. With the sheer number of Bollywood bio-pics on actors, Ritika’s rise in Bollywood is highlighting the fact that the line between sport and films in India is blurring.