MUMBAI—Young Zaira Wasim from Srinagar is in quite an enviable position. Still residing and studying there (Std. XI in Arts – Humanities – at St. Paul’s), she has recently played the childhood of Olympian Gold medalist Geeta Phogat in Aamir Khan’s all-time blockbuster “Dangal” that is still running in parts of the world. Wasim is now portraying the protagonist in Khan’s newest production, “Secret Superstar,” which Khan has declared as a “bigger film” than “Dangal.” She plays a teenager who aspires to be a star singer and faces hurdles and hostility from her conservative Muslim father.
Wasim has achieved fame not just for her earlier film but also for the trolling she invited on Twitter (along with death threats!) because she met Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and tweeted this news with a picture. However, while she apologized and deleted the tweets, she is quite comfortable about it today. “Everyone is entitled to their opinions,” she trills in her sweet voice. “But I have long learned that others cannot shape my decisions. I have come to terms with the fact that opinions do not always reflect realities.”
We meet a comfortably plumpish girl at Aamir Khan’s office in Bandra for a rapid-fire interview. Her mother patiently sits in the outer room, casually listening to and occasionally reacting (with a smile) to the conversation among waiting media persons.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: Your mother is as encouraging as your on-screen mother in “Secret Superstar.” How similar is the scenario in your family otherwise?
A: It is completely different from what is shown within the film. Our family is the kind where girls are pampered much more than boys. My father, unlike the one, showed in the film, is very loving, affectionate and supportive, and while in the film I have a younger brother, in real life I have an older one.
Q: In “Dangal” too you had Aamir Khan as an affectionate but strict and ambitious father. How difficult was it to face a hostile father in your film?
A: It was a bit of a challenge. But for me, the actual challenge was in the way Aamir-sir and director Advait Chandan-sir wanted me to look believable in everything I did in the film. I had no lip-sync song in “Dangal, ” but here it was all about my singing. So I had to rehearse that. Aamir-sir was very particular that I should look real while playing guitar so I actually learned as much as I could before we began shooting.
Q: What is your equation with Aamir, now that both your films so far have been with him? Is he also more like a father or a friend?
A: Ummm…a bit of both actually! But I know that he is now like family and always available for me, for guidance or anything else, at the end of a phone.
Q: How are things back home that you are doing films? The reactions from your school, your community of relatives and friends?
A: My school was supportive, except that when “Dangal” was being shot I was preparing for my Board Exams (Std. X) and they told us that I did not pass it would not be possible to keep me in school. Then Kiran ma’am (Kiran Rao, co-producer and Khan’s wife) came and explained things to them. As for my friends, I am still the same Zaira for them, and I get ribbed as before! (Sighs) I wish I were someone special for them now! (Laughs)
And till now, no one among my relatives, neighbors or friends have come and said on my face that I am doing something wrong by working in films.
Q: Since you are still based in Srinagar and are studying, will you be continuing in films as a profession?
A: I do not know yet. They say your parents know what is best for you. There must be a balance.
Q: But you must have received offers.
A: Yes, I am reading scripts.
Q: So how would you compare the experiences of working on these two films?
A: This time around, it was like working with friends. Both journeys were fun. I am indeed lucky that I am a part of two wonderful scripts, with powerful and important messages. (Now, now, that seems rehearsed, a set answer for a question where it could be included!)
Q: The directors were different – Nitesh Tiwari was two films old, and Advait is a newcomer. Was there any significant difference?
A: No, there wasn’t. They are both very nice but very particular.
Q: As we never met you during “Dangal,” we do not know much about you before that period?
A: I never wanted to be an actress and was never a movie freak. I was a very shy girl in school, but when I played an unborn fetus in a school play on feticide, I was spotted by a team-member of casting director Mukesh Chhabra-sir and was offered two ads first and then auditioned for “Dangal.”
Q: Is it not true that Advait wanted you to opt out of “Dangal” as you were playing the protagonist here?
A: Yes, I was cast for “Secret Superstar,” but there was no question of leaving “Dangal” as I had already begun shooting for it and it was a commitment. Nitesh-sir was equally insistent, and so was Aamir-sir. But my “Secret Superstar” teaser was launched just before “Dangal” released as the shooting for the second film had already begun.
Q: Don’t you think that you and the other child artiste were neglected in the promotions of “Dangal” as you too had important roles.
A: I don’t think so. We got enough credit.
Q: Aamir has a very funky character in “Secret Superstar.”
A: (Laughs) He was so weird! He wore weird jewelry and tacky clothes and said the funniest things. He was so funny that while doing almost every scene, whenever he said something, I would burst out laughing and we had to stop!