Zaira Wasim seems intelligent beyond years. The 15-year-old student of a missionary school in Srinagar owes her new-found confidence to her recent acting stint in Bollywood. She plays the wrestler daughter of actor Aamir Khan in his upcoming movie ‘Dangal’.
Zaira is back in Srinagar after six months in Mumbai, playing the childhood of Geeta Phogat, the Commonwealth gold medallist wrestler. Phogat is the first woman wrestler from India to have won the gold in the 55 kg freestyle category at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Aamir plays wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat, who trained his two daughters in the sport.
“The experience has been life-changing,” Zaira says. “I was a normal teenager with a lot of anxiety but have been able to overcome that in the past six months,” she tells Hindustan Times.
Daughter of a banker father and a teacher mother, she was selected from among hundreds of girls who auditioned for the role. Zaira was spotted by the casting crew as she had featured in an advertisement for a cell phone. “I got a call for the role in April. It was a big decision for the family as Bollywood is not really looked up to in our society,” she says.
After initial resistance from her family, it was her aunt who supported her decision. “She asked my parents to give me a chance to realise my dreams,” she adds. “Like other Kashmiri parents, mine were concerned about what people would say. But my aunt handled the situation well.”
The decision did have its fallout, though. “A lot was said about me in the social media. But Aamir Khan and the rest of the crew supported me,” she says. “Eventually, I learnt not to pay attention to negativity,” she adds. “I realised you are as good as your thoughts and there was nothing I was ashamed of. I want to tell people that it’s a beautiful role about dignity and empowerment of women,” she adds.
The role required hours of rigorous training in wrestling, body-building and swimming. “I suffered injuries and the one in my shoulder was nasty. But I learnt to bear the pain,” she says. The only thing she regrets is cutting her long hair for the role.
Zaira is all praise for her co-star. “The first day of shooting wasn’t difficult as I had met Khan before. The day I met him first, he never had the air of a star and made me comfortable.”
Having resumed her studies now, the class 10 student says, “I take life as it comes. If another film offer comes my way and doesn’t affect my studies I will take it up.”