YOUNG Zaira Wasim made a dream debut with record-breaking film Dangal. The wrestling drama became the highest grossing Bollywood film in history and turned the teenager into a global star.

The award-winning actress has teamed up with Aamir Khan again for her second film Secret Superstar, which releases this week and is expected to be another major success. Instead of being part of an ensemble cast, the teenage sensation plays the lead role in the hotly anticipated musical of a youngster dreaming of becoming a singer. Eastern Eye caught up with Zaira to talk about her amazing Dangal adventure, Secret Superstar, girl power, fame, future hopes and more.

How do you look back on the whole Dangal experience?

I cannot watch Dangal like a film. Watching Dangal is like a playback of my memories, which I will cherish for the rest of my life.  I had a great time working on Dangal. Since it was my first film, it was a new experience and I really enjoyed it. It brings back great memories. I get very emotional when I talk about it. It was a lot of fun and I got to learn so many things.

What was the most memorable part of the Dangal journey?

(Laughs) It’s a little funny, but I missed my hair a lot. I had always been in love with my long hair and never thought I would have to sacrifice it. But as they say to gain something, you have to lose something. So I won’t forget losing my hair for Dangal.

How did you feel when Dangal smashed all box office records?

It’s been amazing. In fact it hasn’t stopped even today. Every day it keeps breaking more records. We knew Dangal would be loved by people, but never expected it to do so well. It’s an overwhelming feeling and so good for the whole crew. We had put in so much effort to make this film, and it’s wonderful that it has received so much love.

What led you towards being cast in Secret Superstar?

It happened all because of destiny. I really don’t know why they chose me and I never expected this to happen. I remember I got Secret Superstar before I even started Dangal. Before we started shooting for my first film, I had already signed two films, which were Aamir Khan Productions.

How did it feel?

It was surreal. I remember being asked to do a screen test. I gave my number and then lost my phone. I thought that even if I had a chance, now there was nothing. But fortunately they called me after a week when I had my phone and asked me to come to the office. It happened so quickly. I went for the audition and the next day I was cast. It felt unreal.

Tell us about Secret Superstar?

I play Insia, who is a 14-year-old girl from Baroda. She is passionate about her one dream, which is singing. She is a brilliant singer and loves playing the guitar. She wants the whole world to know she is the best singer and this is her journey. It’s about how she has to struggle to fulfil her dreams and how her mother helps her turn all those dreams into reality.

How does the Secret Superstar experience compare to Dangal?

It’s a huge contrast and not just what you see on the surface. The first big difference is that in Dangal I was playing a wrestler and here I’m portraying a singer. I had to learn wrestling for Dangal and here I had to learn how to play guitar. In Secret Superstar music plays a very important role in the film. I couldn’t sing so took a lot of time studying the act of singing on screen. I had to make it look real. I had to make sure I wasn’t under or over playing it. Also Dangal was a physical challenge and Secret Superstar was very emotionally demanding for me as an actor.

Did you feel more pressure as you were taking the lead?

I have this pressure on myself all the time. I had the same amount of pressure during Dangal. It’s human nature to have pressure on you when you are doing something that you are not used to and I always have this pressure. I’m sure I’ll have the same amount of pressure in my next project because I want to go out there and give my best. So I’m sure the pressure will always be there.

What is your favourite moment in Secret Superstar?

The best part is the relationship between the mother and daughter. It’s beautiful to see the love they share and have for each other. That’s very beautiful and at the same time it’s so satisfying to see them on screen.

Aamir Khan has been the producer and costar of your two films. What is he like to work with?

It’s so much fun to be around him. There’s this whole notion the perfectionist he is makes him very strict, but it’s completely the opposite. It’s so much fun to have him around. At the same time he is so intimidating. You get inspired when you look at him, the way he works, passion he has and dedication for his work. He would go as far as he can to do his best.

What is the biggest thing you have learned from him?

People call him a perfectionist, but while working with Aamir, I came to realise the passion he has for his work. One thing he told me is that there is no definition of the best; there is always a better or good. So no matter how hard you try you should always strive to be even better.

Which song do you love most in Secret Superstar?

I really love Nachdi Phira because I enjoyed the process of shooting it. I had a great time on set. The whole take and sequence was memorable since it was my first time lipsyncing. The singing, lyrics and composition of this really amazing song are brilliant.

Tell us a memorable behind the scenes story from Secret Superstar?

I had a lot of fun with the crew. I remember when I saw Aamir in this new avatar and was absolutely stunned. Personally and mentally it was a huge jump for me because I never thought I would see him in this avatar. (Laughs) When I saw him the first time I did not know how to react. I had seen him after a really long time with the last time as a father figure to me in Dangal. Now I was seeing a weird man in the strangest avatar for Secret Superstar. I had never seen him look or talk like this. He is so crazy in the film and wears such strange clothes. It was challenging for me because I had never seen him do all this weird stuff before. It was very new for me.

Do you have a secret talent that not many people know about?

It’s not a talent, but I imitate people very well.

What is the plan going forward for you?

I don’t know whether this is the right time to make a comment on this. I don’t want set up a bar for myself as I’m still exploring. I’ve only done two films. For me it has to be a good script and while it’s being narrated I have to sort of get into that space that I need to imagine myself as that character. I have to be able to paint a picture in my head from the narration.

Which leading lady do you admire most?

I really like Priyanka Chopra. The way she carries herself and the way she speaks she is so full of confidence, and at the same time she is so grounded. I really like her.

How do your family and friends feel about your fame?

They treat me the same as they did before Dangal and Secret Superstar. I know they are really proud of me and love my work. They will very subtlety tell me how much they have liked or appreciated my work. In fact I know my mother is always watching my interviews and videos on YouTube, but never tells me how proud she is of my work, but I know it. I get to know it from a lot of other people that every time she’s out she shows my pictures to her friends or our relatives.

What kind of films do you enjoy watching?

I don’t really have a type. I like animated films. I love The Crudes. That was the last animated film I saw, which was way back.

What inspires you?

There are so many things that inspire me. I really like people who are selfless. Selflessness is one thing that inspires me a lot. They inspire me to do good in the world

How do you feel about becoming a symbol of girl power?

I did not realise it until you mentioned it. I feel very fortunate that I got to work in these two films that carry such important messages, but at the same time it defines the sad reality of our society. That women and girls have to go through added struggle to reach that higher step. I hope we can come together and do something about that and promote equality.

Why do you love cinema?

I have only now secretly developed a love for acting. I never used to watch a lot of films and was never a big fan of movies. But now for me cinema holds a very important place in my heart. Acting is not about vanity for me, it’s a feeling. The duration between action and cut is a whole different feeling, which I can’t articulate or put into words. I think it’s an escape from my own reality. It’s amazing.

Why should we go watch Secret Superstar?

The film has so many great aspects. Since I am a teenager, I look at the film from a lot of perspectives. There are so many things that I see the film is carrying. One of the things would be the struggle of teenagers at this age. It’s a very tricky age where a person is trying to contemplate their whole existence. There is this notion that for a teenager the only struggle is relationships or friends, but it is so much more. The irony is a teenager doesn’t know what they are going through. This film shows overcoming those struggles and getting what you want, which is a universal theme all can relate to.