Zaira Wasim on life after Dangal: 'It's a beautiful feeling, but it also makes me nervous'
Its easy to deduce after meeting Zaira Wasim that a National Award and a film that had box office collections in excess of Rs 1,700 crore have yet to spoil her. Fame, money and Bollywood could be a lethal concoction for a teenage girl but Zaira — who now plays the lead in the Aamir Khan-produced Secret Superstar — has her head firmly on her shoulders. So what did she do with the prize money of Rs 50,000, which she won for her National Award? The question almost shakes her. “Oh God! I had completely forgotten about it. The money is still lying in my account and I did not do anything with it.” So now that she has been reminded about it, does she intend to do anything with it in future? “Well, all my money goes on food and I don’t spend on anything else. In fact, all the money that I got for Dangal was spent on food.”
She had a short role in her debut film (Dangal) but it got her noticed. The logical conclusion being that a part of her time is also spent in giving autographs and getting selfies clicked. “It's very overwhelming. Every time I go for some public event, people come to me and want to know about my life and they treat me as one of their own. It’s a beautiful feeling but at the same time it also makes me nervous. I am a very shy kind of person and always had social anxieties, although I have overcome it a little,” reveals Zaira.
Had Advait Chandan (Secret Superstar director) had his way, this would have been Zaira's debut. In fact, he tried to discourage her from signing Dangal. Advait even tried convincing Nitesh Tiwari, director of Dangal, to select another girl. He would spent hours going through audition tapes of other girls, pick a suitable candidate and then sent both Aamir and Nitesh the tapes. It was only after Aamir interfered in the matter that Zaira was retained in Dangal. Zaira has more to add to the whole story. “It was not the intent of course. Advait tried to bribe me with all possible junk food and also said that to be part of his film, I won’t have to get my hair trimmed. He also tried to cajole me by saying that SS has me in a bigger role. But it was all a joke as my priority at that time was of course, Dangal.”
Zaira doe shave her priorities sorted — the 92 percent she scored in her Class 10 board exams offer testimony of that. So what would she consider as the turning point in her life – scoring 92 percent or signing Dangal? “I don’t think that I have yet reached a situation which could be dubbed a turning point in my life. Even if it has come, I have yet to realise it. I have been very lucky and would consider myself as a blessed child. I still have to say thanks to the almighty for all good things that have happened to me. I need time to sit back and relax and go through what’s happening in my life.”
How Aamir Khan discovered Zaira is also a case of pure serendipity. “I was doing a play on female foeticide titled Meri Awaaz Suno at my school. I was playing the role of the unborn foetus asking her parents all sorts of questions. Thankfully, the play was received well and it was then my principal realised that I could act too. Around the same time a casting director from Mukesh Chhabra’s office who was in Kashmir looking for a girl, visited our school. When he met our principal, I was recommended,” reveals Zaira.
When the most celebrated actor of the country picks up someone for two films, chances are that he or she might develop some attitude. So did something similar happen to her? “Well the kind of person I am, if I take up anything, I ensure that it’s done in a perfect manner. You might say that I suffer from OCD. Anything I pick up, I try to do it with utmost sincerity and passion. I am lucky that Aamir sir gave me a second opportunity, so I have (that) pressure and responsibility.”
Secret Superstar also talks about emancipation through the digital medium. SS talks about a girl who dreams of becoming a singer and the platform she gets is bestowed by social media. It could be a no-brainer that for girls her age, social media consumes a major part of the day. So is Zaira a social media junkie? “Not really and I can survive without it. I am not much into WhatsApp, Facebook or Snapchat but I do spend some time on Pinterest looking for memes and jokes. 9gag is my all time favourite.”
Well, Zaira’s journey has just begun and if both her films are any indication she is well on her way to breaking the myth that child actors don’t make popular adult stars.