Zayn Marie Khan, daughter of filmmaker Mansoor Khan and niece of actor Aamir Khan, opted for an action-packed debut in Shirish Kunder directorial Mrs. Serial Killer. The newbie plays the character of Anushka in the Netflix film that also stars Jacqueline Fernandez, Manoj Bajpayee and Mohit Raina.
In an exclusive interaction with indianexpress.com, Zayn got candid about her preparation for the stunts, things she learned as an assistant director prior to her debut and the advice that Aamir Khan gave her at home.
Here are excerpts from the interaction:
Q. Unlike other star kids who prefer a glamorous debut, your debut in Mrs. Serial Killer involves a lot of action. Why did you not pick something hardcore Bollywood as your first acting project?
It’s more about what comes to you. When you’re an actor, you audition for everything in the hope to get a role. Only once people like you, are you able to make a choice. I had auditioned for many things, then Shirish’s film came to me. I read the script and the character stuck out because she was absolutely crazy and insane. I think my first thought was just that if I play this character, my teenage-self who used to love rock music would die. It wasn’t like I chose it over something else. It’s what seemed to be fitting.
Q. How did you prepare to get into the skin of Anushka?
It was about one-and-a half months of the hardest work that I’ve ever done in my life. As soon as I read the script, I knew that if the character is a Taekwondo black belt, I had to work hard to make that look believable. I did not know martial arts. As soon as I got a call from Shirish saying that I was on and that I had been liked, I started training from the next day. It was two hours of martial arts and two hours of going to the gym to make sure that once the shoot started, I was absolutely prepared. That was, of course, the physical aspect. Then when it came to the lines and the character portrayal, I was really lucky because my cousin Imran helped me out. He sat with me and went through some of the lines with me. I practiced a couple of scenes with him in his study. He played Jacqueline and I played Anushka. We enacted the scenes a few times. He gave me ideas and helped me figure out what would look good and how the camera works.
Q. You got to work with some of the biggest stars from films and web. What did you learn from them?
When Jacqueline approached every scene, her energy was always extremely positive and high. I thought that her work ethic and approach were so beautiful. Just before the film released, I had sent her a message saying that one of the biggest takeaways from this film is the way you approach your work. With Manoj, I just watched him. In the middle of the scenes that I was doing, whenever the camera was not on me, I was watching him and I continued to act even though it was not my scene. Because in my head, I thought I don’t know how often I’m going to get the chance to work with Manoj Bajpayee.
Q. Farah Khan spoke on how life came a full circle for her with your debut in her production, while she made her debut as a choreographer in your father’s Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. What do you remember of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar?
I heard a lot about Farah from my dad. He always speaks about her with so much love and fondness. We lived in Coonoor, so we grew up away from the film industry. Farah always felt like someone very close to home because my dad always spoke about her. When I came to know that she would be producing my debut, I felt very relieved and excited.
Q. What was your father’s reaction to your performance?
I think it was the first time that my dad has complimented me without me asking him if I was good. He has watched a few of my plays and he’s always given me a lot of critical feedback. I was so relieved that he called me up and told how well I had done, how proud he was of me and he thought that it was a mature performance. All of these things were fantastic to hear because usually, he’s my biggest critic.
Q. You have also been an assistant director. How important is it to observe things from behind the camera before facing it?
Incredibly, because a film set is such an alien environment. It’s a little world all on its own. You have to understand things like camera angles and there are so many technical aspects of it that otherwise, you would not be able to get or incorporate into your work. If it’s a 35mm lens, what does that mean for you as an actor and how much are you going to move your body. Luckily, I happened to be on the sets of Kapoor & Sons. I was given the clapperboard so I was right up there, next to the camera watching all these absolutely stunning actors perform. It was an acting masterclass.
Q. Do you feel any pressure of being a star kid?
I think I did before. I wouldn’t call my dad a star. He’s a filmmaker and a dreamer. I think as the streaming of my film approached and while we were shooting for it, the pressure disappeared. It was so exciting and it was hard work. Honestly, my favourite thing in the world is to get into a character and to see how to make it work. Whatever is meant to happen after this will happen. All you can do is work.
Q. Aamir Khan is Bollywood’s Mr Perfectionist. Did he teach you anything about the craft at home?
One thing that he always says is that there are two kinds of actors — if you have to thread a needle, one will keep thinking how I’m looking while I’m threading this needle and the other who just threads the needle. I think that really stuck with me. Instead of getting caught up in what you’re doing, if you just do it, that is performance, that is acting. He never sat me down to teach acting. His work ethic is very strong. He has worked his way very very hard for very long. That’s something that I genuinely have picked up from him and my dad. I believe in putting your head down and working as hard as you can. Then you start picking work as best as you can and that is when people will begin to notice and appreciate you.
Q. How do you intend to plan your career now?
I think from here on the only thing to continue doing is to pick work that you believe in and just keep working. I think I’m in this business for the long run so I will just keep working until the day I die. There’s no game plan as such.
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