Zaira Wasim, all of 17, is a livewire, or so it seems when she walks into a room full of 30-somethings, with her mother in tow. She’s talkative but in a controlled way, funny but rather subtle about it. She is also aware that the media turnout today is just for her, but in a non-starry way. In our brief conversation with Raj Arjun and Meher Vij, who played Zaira’s father and mother in Secret Superstar, respectively, we get the sense that not only is Zaira supremely talented, but also blissfully unaware of what she’s been blessed with.
When we finally sat down for a quick chat with the National Award winner, who by now is happily sipping her glass of thick chocolate milkshake, we realise exactly what Meher and Raj meant.
“I don’t think I am a great actor, when people compliment me. I thank them, of course, but I honestly don’t know how to deal with it,” says Zaira, turning her gaze towards the window that opens out to the Arabian Sea, as if consciously trying to avoid eye contact. A little-known fact about Zaira — that Raj and Meher let us in on — she is a great mimicry artist. From Mickey Mouse to Angry Birds, she can mimic any character, and that’s how she kept herself and the entire unit entertained in-between shots.
But we saw a different side of her, a more reserved one. Zaira, a tad bit overwhelmed by the response, is just waiting for the madness to get over so she can reinvest herself in another role.
Two superhit films into the industry, both under the benevolent umbrella of Aamir Khan, we probe how it has been like working under the mentorship of the perfectionist, and Zaira quickly interrupts, “Aamir is not my mentor, he is my friend. I don’t think I have learnt anything from him. But if I feel like seeking his advice on anything, I definitely go up to him.”
While both Mehek and the director Advait Chandan insist that Aamir is an institution in himself, and what a great deal they’ve learned just through their reading sessions, Zaira’s feisty response is what sets her apart.
Interestingly, it also signifies her method as an actor. Like a sponge, she observes and absorbs everything around her, until the cameras start rolling. And once they do, she is the character, and not Zaira anymore.