Singing her own tunes

Singing her own tunes
You need extraordinary luck to get a break with Aamir Khan Productions, a little more so if the chance is as an actor. But you need humongous luck to do an encore — which is what young Zaira Wasim from Srinagar has managed to do!

After playing the childhood version of Olympian Geeta Phogat in Aamir Khan’s all-time blockbuster Dangal last year, Zaira recently portrayed the protagonist in Secret Superstar, Aamir’s latest production. She is playing a teenager who aspires to be a star singer and faces implicit encouragement from her mother and explicit hostility from her conservative Muslim father.

Managing it all

Zaira, despite her Dangal fame, still resides in hometown Srinagar and studies (11th standard, Arts) in St. Paul’s. She has achieved fame not just for her earlier film but also for the trolling and death threats she invited on Twitter when she met the chief minister and put up a post with their joint picture.

However, she apologised and deleted the tweets and is cool about it today. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” she trills in her sweet voice.
This conviction extends to whether she thinks her forthcoming film will be liked as well as to reactions in her town and among her extended family and friends to her doing the two roles. “I have never come across anyone who stood in front of me and said, ‘You are doing something wrong by doing films!’” she chirps.

Her school was also generally encouraging. “It was only when I was shooting for Dangal that they said that I had to pass my 10th standard Board exams, or they would not be able to keep me in school. Then Kiran ma’am (Aamir Khan’s wife Kiran Rao, co-producer of Dangal) came and spoke to them,” she explains.

How have her friends in school reacted? “For them, I am Zaira, their classmate, still. They still tease me! I wish I was treated specially after doing two films,” she laughs.

Fun journey

Zaira considers herself “lucky and blessed that I was hanging around with almost the same crew” in both her films, besides “Aamir-sir”. “For Secret Superstar, 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,” she says.

Asked about life pre-Dangal, Zaira says that unlike in the film, she comes from a family where the girl-child is even more pampered than the boys and says that her father is so supportive that he is the exact opposite of the dad shown in the film.

“I never wanted to be an actor, and was never a movie freak,” says Zaira, who is still keeping her future career options open. “I was a very shy girl in school, but when I played an unborn foetus in a school play on foeticide, I was spotted by a team-member of casting director Mukesh Chhabra-sir and got two ads first, and then auditioned for Dangal.”

The challenging part was learning to play a guitar and how to play a singer as Aamir was very particular that she should look believable. “At one point, my director Advait Chandan wanted me not to do Dangal since I had the main role here,” she reveals. “But there was no question of that as I had already begun shooting for it. Then, the Secret Superstar teaser was launched just before Dangal released, as the shooting had already begun.”

And after Aamir Khan played her doting but strict father in Dangal, how was her experience working with him as an eccentric composer here? Zaira starts laughing at the memory. “He was so weird! He wore weird jewellery, tacky clothes, and said the funniest things. He was so funny that while doing almost every scene, I would burst out laughing! It was a completely different experience.” But today, Aamir is more than a co-star to her. “He’s both a father-figure and a friend. He is like family and I know that whenever I want any advice or guidance, he is just a call away!”

So, is she doing any film today? No, she is not. But is she getting offers that she will think about? “I am reading scripts,” she nods her head.

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