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Exclusive | Dia Mirza on fighting rough patches, no work and rebelling against sexism in Bollywood: ‘Was told to alter myself physically’

At 41, Dia Mirza says she is in the best phase of her career.

Dia Mirza will be next seen in Bheed and Dhak Dhak. (Photo: PR Handout)
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Much of what Dia Mirza is today can be traced to her childhood. She grew up loving outdoors, being fascinated with nature and nurturing a deep sense of love for performing arts. Acting was never on her cards, neither was giving up after setbacks.

On her 41st birthday, Dia Mirza talks to indianexpress.com about growing up in Hyderabad, how people thought she had quit acting when she turned producer in 2011, fighting the ageist stereotype of female actors operating on shelf life and dealing with comments where she was asked to undergo the knife.

“I have worked very hard in forging my own part and being true to what it is that resonates with me and discovering that if you stick to the course and don’t give up, work will find you,” she shares.

 

Edited excerpts:

How does this birthday feel?

It feels special to be surrounded by my kids. I feel more empowered, I feel I know myself better, I have found myself in a happy place where I can pursue my purpose, do only that what gives me true joy. What a privilege it is.

How were birthdays like when you were younger?

When I was very young, while my parents were married to each other, birthdays would be an exciting time because they would make it very memorable. They were both very artistic, so they would write puppet shows, handcraft puppets, put up an entire show. They would take a lot of pride in doing this, which was so unique to my birthday. When I became older, it was about dancing with friends–we would have the paper dance–and having a great time. As I grew older, it became about just taking a break, finding time for myself, focusing on my health.

Growing up in Hyderabad, acting dreams would’ve been far-fetched? Did you grow up surrounded with movies?

I grew up in a very healthy mix of art and culture, where nature was a big part. I would plant trees, go rock climbing and spend time outdoors. Both my father, my biological and my stepfather, loved the outdoors. They always took me out. My mother loves nature, she is a gardener, she taught me a lot about nurturing life, teaching me about the wisdom nature has.

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Her father was an astronomer, and her mother (my naani) was a huge film lover. She was a homemaker but would go to the cinema halls every Friday for the late night show. My mother developed love for cinema through her. I proactively pursued life in theatre, I did a lot of school plays and flourished on stage. I would dance in front of the mirror, entertain relatives at wedding but I never consciously thought I would be an actor because it was not something anybody did around us.

 

How would you summarise the last 20 years for you?

The one thing I discovered is that I don’t know how to be a part of competition. It has always eluded me; I have never felt comfortable being in a competitive space. I have worked very hard in forging my own part and being true to what it is that resonates with me and discovering that if you stick to course and don’t give up, work will find you. I have gone through very rough patches where I had no work, where I was struggling to make sense of what was happening around me. But I just ensured I stay true to growing as a person, working on myself and my craft. When opportunities came along, I could fulfil them with sincerity and honesty.

Sanju came at a time when I really needed a lease of life, I needed to be a part of a film that was successful and watched. That in turn would help me do so much of the other work I do. Subsequently the work that followed, Kaafir or Thappad, the film that I am doing now , it has all added meaning and value to my life. I am really grateful that I can work at my time and pace, that I don’t feel obligated or compelled to do more just because you are scared.

Scared of?

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As women especially we are so conditioned to feel fear. There is this concept of shelf life, which comes not just from an ageist point of view but also patriarchy. That instills so much fear in women in a professional space. In my mid-20s, I decided to just embrace that fear. Who decides this? I am not going to limit my pursuit of growth by people’s idea of how long I have to grow. I am doing my best work now.

What was your most testing professional stage?

When I was about 30-32, I had decided to become a producer, I had done Love Breakups Zindagi, which was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I subsequently produced Bobby Jasoos with Vidya Balan in the lead. At the time, people didn’t recognise the idea of a young female artiste turning producer because very few people were doing it at the time. The strange common assumption was that I am not interested in acting anymore. That led to just complete disappearance of opportunities. It was really hard to break out of that cycle of thought and say ‘Hey I am working’ and find work and go out and seek opportunities.

An advice you are glad you didn’t take?

To alter myself physically.

You were told that?!

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Oh of course. I was asked to plump my lips, to do all kinds of things and I am so glad I did not. I am so happy I did that episode for Call My Agent because this character exactly espoused what I feel.

First published on: 09-12-2022 at 08:44 IST
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