Interview Hindi

Zaira Wasim: Aamir Khan is not a mentor, more like a friend

The 17-year-old Secret Superstar quells the constant talk of Khan mentoring her.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Mayur Lookhar

Aamir Khan unearthed a gem in Zaira Wasim. The Kashmiri girl floored the nation with her stellar act as young Geeta Phogat in Dangal (2016). Her maiden role landed her the National award for Best Supporting Actress.

Now Zaira has upped the ante with her second film, Secret Superstar (2017). Though this is not quite a blockbuster, Zaira is the protagonist and has turned in another powerful performance.

At a recent promotional event, Aamir Khan did not hesitate to say that Zaira is the best actress in Hindi cinema today. A big statement, and very flattering, but Zaira doesn’t agree with it.

"I don’t know what to say to that," said the teenager. "All I can say is thank you. I don’t even feel that I am a good actor and he has given such a big compliment. I’m glad, though, that he feels I am good.” 

Be it in Dangal or Secret Superstar, what struck critics about Zaira is her feisty attitude. Has this attitude been imbibed from her background, hailing as she does from troubled Kashmir?

“Maybe not,” she said. “I don't know about the background, but that's not the kind of person I am. Or maybe I am but don't show it. I am not feisty in personal life, but what I show on screen is very...  ah... while it is real, it is also something I try to portray. I don’t know what my method is, but one thing that I know is that I can't get into the skin of the character. But I try to portray an image.”

Two films so far, both Aamir Khan productions, and it becomes easy to label the superstar as Zaira's mentor, but the 17-year-old does not agree. “Aamir Khan is not a mentor, he is like a friend," she said. "He is like a family member.”

Zaira's early success has raised expectations and perhaps from hereon she will be compared with top actresses in the country. But the thought of bigger competition does not faze her.

“My biggest competition is with myself,” Zaira said, speaking like a seasoned pro. “My last project is not going to stay with me for the rest of my life. I need to do better. If I have to choose a script, then it is something I have to enjoy. I need to be convinced about it, and I will give of my best."

Asked if she is reading any scripts now, the girl replied, “I am not forcing myself now. I am just going with the flow for now. This is not the right time for me to make a decision and set a bar for myself. One thing I know is that it needs to be a great script. I need to be convinced by it."

Dangal was a great story of personal triumph, but Secret Superstar, apart from being the story of a girl, her dream, and the mother-daughter relationship, also subtly touches upon social issues, domestic abuse and regressive thinking. But given current sensitivities when it comes to religious communities, were there any considerations that the script might hurt sentiments?

“If it [the script] does not hurt me, it shouldn’t hurt anyone else. That’s my belief," responded the young actress. "I am very careful with sentiments. I am a very sensitive person and very considerate about what others feel. While we entertain, we have to make sure we don’t hurt sentiments. Even if we are trying to put out a message, we can’t dictate terms. Even if 'they' are wrong, you need to tell them in a certain manner so that while they are being entertained, the message is sent across in a subtle way.”

Zaira Wasim isn’t fond of any particular Hindi film actress but she does like Alia Bhatt, calling her a great actress.

Finally, from Dangal to Secret Superstar, Aamir Khan went from the sublime to the ridiculous, playing Shakti Kumaarr, a forlorn, lecherous, blabbering music director whose sense of style leaves a lot to be desired. Did this avatar come as a shock?

“A huge shock,” said Zaira without a moment's hesitation. “A huge jump mentally. As an actor it became difficult. I didn’t know how to react because he becomes the characters he plays. You don’t know if it’s actually him or the character. I couldn’t stop laughing while working with him.”