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Interview Hindi

So important to recognize how lucky we are to have the comfort of our home, says Dia Mirza

The actress-producer and social activist shares her experiences during the countrywide lockdown owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sonal Pandya

Before the 21-day nationwide lockdown began on 25 March, Dia Mirza was seen in Anubhav Sinha’s drama Thappad (2020) where the actress turned in a thoughtful, sensitive performance as a single mother and caring friend and neighbour to Taapsee Pannu’s lead character Amrita.

The shutdown has brought things to a halt for now, but like many in the Indian film industry, the actress-turned-producer is keeping herself busy, coordinating on future projects from home, which she shares with her mother. Dia Mirza is also a United Nations Environment Goodwill Ambassador for India and United Nations Secretary-General's Advocate for Sustainable Development Goals.

Dia Mirza answered questions sent over by Cinestaan on how she is spending her time during the lockdown, while acknowledging her privilege, and taking care of work and home. The actress also spoke of the steps we can take in the future to be more mindful of our surroundings. Excerpts:

How are you coping with and managing in the shutdown?

Staying home is the most comfortable, peaceful situation to be in right now, it’s the safest place to be right now. So it has been gratifying and very productive and settling. I think it’s so important for us to recognize, now more than ever, how lucky we are to have the comfort of our home, to not feel displaced, despite the enormity of the situation, [and] the panic and chaos that surrounds us, to be able to find access to the essentials we need. Just being able to recognize how many people are working night and day so hard to ensure our health, our safety, is very humbling.

We have been coping, coping is not really the word that I should be using because Mom, I and Sumitra, our domestic help, the three of us are having a productive and good time, taking care of each other, doing house chores, cooking, and obviously with the spare time that we have, we are all doing what we need to do outside of the everyday chores, so it has been good.

Did you have to reschedule your life because of the lockdown? Were you scheduled to begin work on any projects?

I think we have all had to, not just reschedule our lives, but restructure them and yes, there is work happening, it continues to happen, there is production coordinations happening, there [are] script readings happening, virtual meetings happening, so work is continuing and one, I guess, again feels very privileged and fortunate to be in the comforts of home, being able to do work despite the lockdown and hopefully all the projects that we are planning and the work that we are putting in place and all the creative work that is happening right now will soon translate into the stories and narratives that we hope they will become.

Have you taken on any new hobbies? How does a typical day go for you now?

Honestly I haven’t had the opportunity to take up any new hobbies, and in a way, I also envy people a little bit who have been able to take up hobbies. Currently, the day feels really packed, there is just so much work to get done between cleaning, cooking, doing all our work on the internet, which is emails and meetings, creative work and writing, following up on other work to managing the society and ensuring the essentials are being delivered to the elderly in the society, making sure that despite the fact that we have no housekeeping, we are keeping the rest of our common areas clean and ensuring everybody is comfortable and safe while maintaining [physical] distancing.

The first six days actually just went in setting protocols, teaching and helping. I think that is maybe the by-product of being on the committee of your cooperative society, but it’s all work. Watering the garden, watering the plants, reading a little bit, squeezing in a movie here and there if there is a little time, a game of Scrabble with mom once in a while, so these are the small pleasures and indulgences that one has been able to create time for so far. Maybe in the coming days, there will be opportunities to pick up a hobby.

How are you keeping in touch with friends and loved ones?

My world is my mother and she is at home, which is great. I feel very fortunate that I have her at my side and she has been cooking such delicious meals. I am so grateful for every single meal that she has been cooking, revisiting old Hyderabadi recipes, and it has been fun eating her Hyderabadi, Andhra and Chettinad vegetarian recipes.

My friends have been in touch through video-conferencing, video calls, we have been using the Zoom app for our meetings as well, even for our creative meetings, for story writing and production work, conferences with friends once in a way late in the evening when everyone is done homeschooling their children or dealing with their daily chores. It has been lovely connecting with family and friends through video-conferencing and calls.

What effect do you see this pandemic having on the industry? Will you be making any changes in your lifestyle in the future because of this experience?

I think the pandemic is going to cause an indelible mindset change in hopefully all industries, including my own. I hope to be able to continue to discover a lifestyle which is one that does not put too much burden or pressure on the environment, has a consumption pattern which considers its impact on the environment.

I hope creatively we can tell more stories that continue to weave in the narrative of nature and our understanding that our lives, consumption patterns, the idea of progress and the idea of achievement are not necessarily consumerist and not necessarily the answer to everybody's problems.

I do really hope with all sincerity that policymakers and governments, big and large-scale industries that have been bereft of that conscience, will through this humbling human experience discover that our identity, progress, ability and opportunities are not separate from nature, that we are all connected, and that we seriously and most definitely need to recognize this about this world, our world that we coexist in.

There have been reports of clearer skies, less congestion and pollution in India’s major cities in the past week itself. What can we learn from this experience and take forward for a cleaner, greener planet?

As someone who has been talking about clean air, the need to conserve the environment, and somebody who has already said that urbanization is not necessarily the solution for progress or that economic progress cannot be separate from ecological conservation, I think this time urban dwellers have had the opportunity to stay indoors and witness how nature is reclaiming spaces, so whether it’s a bird’s song, whether it’s clearer skies and obviously reduced air pollution.

I really hope that all of this forms an opportunity for more people to understand that the idea of progress and growth cannot be separate from conserving, protecting and securing the environment, and if we truly want to be healthy, prosperous and happy, we need to start from securing our health and our health is intrinsically connected to the environment at every level.

We have been hearing this catchline a lot right now, ‘Jaan hai toh jahaan hai’. I hope this encourages better and bigger budgets for environmental protection, health, education, and I hope it encourages policymakers and industries to seriously evaluate what their idea of progress is.

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