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Cover Story
October 29, 2018

Dia Mirza On the #MeToo Movement, Her Efforts Towards Sustainability And Her Portrayal Of Maanayata Dutt

Text by Zaral Shah. Photographed by Vikram Bawa. Styling by Shweta Navandar. Fashion intern: Simran Kabra

She’s a natural in front of the camera — and an absolute delight behind it too. Strolling through the newly minted eateries at Palladium and High Street Phoenix, Dia Mirza talks to Verve about embracing her screen portrayals and her social ventures with equal love and ardour

At the onset of the millennium, she became the face to reckon with when she cruised through the Miss India contest and thereafter the Miss Asia-Pacific pageant — bringing home the title after almost three decades. Dia Mirza’s subsequent career choices earned her a spot in everyone’s hearts. From playing Reena Malhotra in her debut film Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein (2001), to her portrayal of Maanayata Dutt in the biopic Sanju earlier this year, Mirza’s silver-screen outings have been infused with a natural and delightful charm.

For her date with Verve at Palladium she drives in with exemplary promptness. Stepping into the vanity van, she sets into motion a series of synchronised actions which result in stunning frames in the plush locales. Dressed in festive drapes and hues, Mirza looks the camera in the eye with a confidence that is evident on the monitor where we are tracking her movements and the moments. And a few hours later, when the lights, cameras and action break for a quick cup of Joe, I take it as my cue to catch up with the actor, producer, director and humanitarian.

To me, Mirza has always been the artiste who carries herself with the utmost grace and panache. And for as long as I can remember, I also recall Mirza being an active and passionate advocate for green living. In a candid chat with Verve — one that touches upon her environmentally conscious efforts, what science, technology and social media are doing for the world, her recent screen outings and how she defines true beauty — we discover what makes Mirza a seamless confluence of glamour and philanthropy.

“I saw Maanayata’s portrayal in the film Sanju as an anchoring part, as the one that brought things together. And from my perspective, what I needed to always remember was that she is not just his wife, but also the mother of his children, and what’s motivating her choices and actions are her children. It’s all rooted in and tied to that fact. It was also really wonderful working with Ranbir (Kapoor), Vicky (Kaushal) and Anushka (Sharma) who I shared scenes with. Raju (Rajkumar Hirani) and I, of course, share a very special bond, and I love the choices that he makes. I think few people can tell stories the way he does, and it’s a gift to be a part of his narratives.”

“I think it can be terrifying to play a real-life person who people have an immediate reference point for. But having said that, I think what matters most is the grammar of the story, the storyteller and the substance of the subject. You could give your best performance in a film that just doesn’t add up and nobody watches it and everything is then pointless, and you can also be mediocre in a truly powerful film and then everybody will talk about the film and you. I say this from experience. I’ve been good in films that unfortunately nobody has seen, and so it’s a hard lesson to learn. But it’s always interesting to create a character, though we’re only able to create and embody parts when they are written effectively and when the film-maker cares about getting into the depth and the expanse of the space that the character will occupy in the story.”

“I’m very excited that Kausar Munir is working on the series (based on the Empire of the Moghul novels by Alex Rutherford), because I think when a woman’s influence comes into a narrative, it adds a lot to it. I’m also very excited to be working with Shabana Azmi again, who I last worked with in Tehzeeb (2003), where she played my mother. Over the years we’ve shared this bond which has influenced and inspired so many choices that I’ve made professionally and personally and I think it’s going to be very exciting working with her again. Mughal history is something that I have always been very fascinated and intrigued by. India is a union of so many shared traditions and cultures, and I think the Mughal Empire contributed and added so much to what we had. Unlike other invaders and conquerors, they didn’t plunder, loot and leave.”

“I’ve personally always believed that beauty is what beauty does. I said that 20 years ago, and I still say that. It’s something that my mother has drilled into my head since I was a child. She said you may have the world’s most beautiful features, but they’re pointless if you don’t have a heart to match. So much of who we are is the energy that we reflect and the way we treat people. You can be very attractive but become immediately unattractive if you don’t have a personality that is warm and kind. And I think the narrative of beauty will only change when we stop defining beauty in the context of physical features — it has to go beyond that.”

“My journey towards a sustainable life started very early. My father was a big believer in the fact that all creativity is born out of interactions with nature. We grew up in a setting where my mother never stored water in plastic bottles, we had the kulhad system and water would be stored in matkas. What’s really interesting is that naturopaths, acupuncturists and other people who work with natural healing recommend that people go back to storing water in earthenware — because it naturally alkalises water. And so when you grow up in such an atmosphere, it doesn’t really occur to you as something unique or incredible. It was only after I moved out of my house and started building a life of my own in Mumbai that I understood the impact of our consumption on the environment, and how consumerism and the waste that it generates are harming the environment. It was then that I, from a very early age, learnt to recognise the merits and strengths of the choices that my parents were making.”

“Being UN Environment’s Goodwill Ambassador for India gives me access to science. Although, I have to admit that in today’s day and age with the internet and all the incredible news and social media platforms that exist, science has become more accessible than ever before. And when science becomes accessible, society makes better choices. It also gives me the opportunity to engage with policy makers because, at the end of the day, society may want to make big changes on the ground but those changes need to be reinforced by policy and law. And the third advantage is that in some ways it’ll possibly help us reach more people who matter and who will make the changes that we need.”

“I think the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have empowered a lot of women to make better choices and find strength in solidarity. Women in the world today recognise that the world needs sisterhoods, women need to support women and there can be nothing more wonderful for this world than women standing up for
each other.”

“My wardrobe essentials are a comfortable pair of jeans, a classic white/black shirt, white kurta/salwar set and definitely comfortable nightwear! The best style advice I’ve received is to never wear anything that makes me feel uncomfortable. At Palladium, I love the Anita Dongre and Ritu Kumar stores. And these are my favourite picks for the festive season as well.”

“After a long day of work, to de-stress I soak my feet in warm water with sea salt, listen to music, read a book, meditate or just spend time with my family. A good spa ritual is always a great way to pamper myself! And there is nothing like a great relaxing massage.”

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