by Devansh Patel
Basically what is seen as a 'Social Service' is something that strays from the ordinary, something that is spontaneous and creative, yet what one person sees as serving the needy may be seen as ridiculous by another, and don't ask 'Why'. Social Services really is a matter of personal taste, and the more geared to the object of your affection the gesture is, the more likely you will hit the right side of the line. There are no hard and fast rules for getting it right, however considering the following by Dia will at least steer you in the right direction: “Your life has deeper purpose than what you understand. There are two ways of living life. Either you just live day to day and let it unfold and discover it as it does or you believe that your existence has a deeper meaning than what appears to be and you make that meaning out of everything you do.” Meet the very gifted and compassionate, Dia Mirza, who meets me just outside her Pali Hill apartment after this happened. Her maid opens the door and tells me, “Memsaab ghar pe nahin hain, woh bahar gaye hain”. With eyes wide open, I say, “Haan lekin unhone mujhe bulaya hain. Kab aayengi woh?” The maid replies, “Pata nahin.” The balloon above my head pops up thinking 'This has never happened to me before. Pretty amateurish from Dia.' The lift door shuts and the ultra slim glowing face wearing a yellow tee meets my eye with a professional welcome and greets me with a handshake that is firm. Phew! Now that's timing girl. For those of us who are interested in the life and art of Miss Mirza, and how they manage to co-exist, there are many stand out moments which you can witness the moment you enter her bright living room. That face has a generous upper lip and the dusky brown eyes. Her screen persona is seventies Bollywood, when young women came across as more mature and experienced than the more girlish females who populate post-nineties studio movies. To become two such different people in the millenium year in such a short space of time is almost sinister. And then Dia in flesh is so different again from her two latest turns. With the fan wafting around a smell of freshly prepared tea, it is surprising to find her sounding so normal and sensible and real on a hot Tuesday afternoon, and with lots to chat about, the proactive, professional and profound actress gets the temperature soaring in this intimidating, self-contained and poised interview she gives in this summer special. UK's Harrow Observer columnist and Bollywood Hungama's London correspondent Devansh Patel gets all spiritual, philosophical, social and artistic with Dia, for after the interview got over, she showed me one of the most beautiful paintings I'd ever seen – A pregnant angel looking up towards the sky seeing numerous shooting stars. It was Dia's unnamed creation. Though she did tell me, “If you find a good name for this painting, please feel free to let me know.” I found one already - 'Starlet'
Who made the greatest impression on you growing up, as a mentor?
There are several influences. Of course, the first and the most important influences in any child's upbringing are the parents and what they do. I grew up hearing stories of my mothers childhood. There were these slum children around her where she lived and her sisters would tell me stories about the dirty little babies my mother would be carrying in her arms calling her a mad woman. I'd be like: 'That's so wonderful'. So you grow up hearing stories about what your parents have done and how effortlessly and selflessly they've done it and never made an issue out of it. Sunny Pillai, my dad's very good friend always said, “Your life has deeper purpose than what you understand. There are two ways of living life. Either you just live day to day and let it unfold and discover it as it does or you believe that your existence has a deeper meaning than what appears to be and you make that meaning out of everything you do.” I think I absorbed that part better. I feel that human beings have a greater purpose on this planet.
You're right. But the same human beings do crib about many things.
I really am amazed with some people of my generation who crib about the bad internet connections. I mean, aren't they just happy with the invention in the first place? You are sitting on an aircraft and complaining about the turbulence. There are so many wonderful things we are surrounded by in our everyday life that we should be filled with wonderment about it, respect and appreciate it.
You strongly support CPAA. Would you then adopt a caner patient?
I have. I may not have taken one into my home but I adopt anything between two and four patients every year. I get feedback on their recovery and of course, this adoption is primarily monetary where we pay all the medical bills of this child. The kids are still with their parents and happy. I'd love to bring a child home but unless the child is an orphan, it doesn't make sense.
Has your experience with CPAA, CRY, Spastic Society of India, LIONS, Shiksha and many more made you more empathetic towards the society we are living in?
Actually, it makes me very frustrated and very angry because in India and the world over, there is a lot of unhappiness which is related to health issues like the basic sanitary issues. There is always a sense of empathy and it happens when you don't know things too closely. In fact, you feel anger and frustration when you see things on closer quarters because you are helpless. Spending time with these kids or being able to monetarily take care of them doesn't make a real difference. It might make a small difference but it's almost like a drop in the ocean as it brings you closer to the vastness of the problem. I mean, how many more people are suffering out there and it just makes you more and more unsecured. That's the real truth.
A celebrity, a socialite, a multi-tasker and with looks people don't want to blink an eye for. Why don't you start your own talk show which is social in nature. More like an Oprah Winfrey one?
Oh, I love Oprah. I have this huge and an incredible amount of respect for her. Simply because she is one of the single most committed people on this planet. The kind of compassion that woman has, the kind of heart she has and the kind of effort she puts into everything she does is incomparable. I don't know whether I would be able to find the kind of backing and support that she has found. But you never know, twenty years from now, you might just see me host one of such shows. It'll take me a good twenty years to garner the strength I need in the first place.
Seeing you talk, it feels as if you're going to weep in a second. You getting emotional?
I am a very emotional person and if I do start my own show, I'd probably start crying from question one.
Were you a prodigy as a speaker?
I don't know. I was very very shy when I was young. As I grew older, I became confident of myself. I think being a prodigy as a speaker, it's got a lot to do with the kind of school you go to and the kind of influence the teachers have on you. I read a lot and I was encouraged to speak because I made a lot of sense back then. Ever since I was twelve years old, I've always been told that I sound years ahead my age. I reckon it's a gift.
Do you look back sometimes and think that you've given a lot back as a citizen of the world more than just being an actress?
I've given nothing. It's nothing in comparison to what I should be doing or what I would like to do. Of course, I can sit here and recount all the times I've helped people and feel really good about it but there is so much more to do. On an individual level, I will do whatever little I can. I am not over the moon for what I've been doing socially. I am happy to be in a position where I can give.
Anything I'm missing?
Yes. I have just recently been made a part of the advisory board of the Coca Cola Foundation of India which is set up to primarily take care of various areas in providing drinking water to rural India, to little railway stations, etc. There are also some very good people who are on board who've done remarkable work to support many of the causes like this one. I am looking forward to work for the foundation because you need somebody or something to guide your motivation and culminate it into something. I know I'm going to help. And I always help whenever people call me. But now I'm at a stage where I know I want to do certain things and I need to find the right avenues to take that forward. I think this board will help me do that.
What makes a busy woman like you juggle the time?
There's always time. For good things there is always time.
Do organisations call you up to support causes or is it your decision to provide them with a helping hand?
Fortunately, because we are actors, there are lot of people who approach us. But that approachability only happens when they know for sure that you will come forward. There are lots of actors in the industry, they don't call everyone. There are some actors whom they call because as an organisation they see them doing a certain amount of work. They see you work in one organisation and call you for another. It's like a chain reaction. A lot of the work I do is because these people have come to me.
Anything in particular you dream of doing to support a cause?
I love children and one of the greatest and the most innocent victims of our society today are children. Whether it is lack of education, malnutrition, diseases, etc. There are several problems children face in India. I want to be in a place one day where I can take care of many of them.
Do you look up to Angelina Jolie then?
Not just Angelina Jolie. There are people like Bono, Brad Pitt. Actually, we Indian actors have really done nothing in comparison to what celebrities the world over do. And I'm talking about them spending millions of dollars a year on charitable causes. I really disagree when people say – Our actors don't make as much. Fine, we may not make as much money as them but there are quite a few who are on par with few of the actors abroad. But it all boils down to one thing that it's a personal choice. You don't have to do social work just because you're a celebrity. But when God has given you so much money, power and leadership, you should be able to use it for the well being of all. If I was making as much money as them, I swear, I'd be doing a lot more than what I'm doing now.
The last time I met you was at IIFA Yorshire where you were seen supporting the Bollywood cricket team. Have you been following the IPL with the same spirit? Anyone worth supporting?
Last year, I was very disappointed with the Deccan Chargers. I thought they were one of the strongest team. Now to see them hit the nail on the head is exciting. They are on top of the league table this year and my full support to them. Deccan Chargers is the team I am looking at very closely.
Did you ever have to make that mistake in order to find what you do best in acting?
That's the only way you find what you do best in anything in life. The only and the best way to learn is to burn your fingers. When you get a little wiser, a little mature, you learn more. When I started out I was naïve. I was this regular kid from Hyderabad with no exposure to films and suddenly you see your life change overnight. My coming into the industry was made such a big deal and I don't think I was ever given that break or that chance to absorb or understand what actually is happening in the industry. A lot of choices I made in the interim of couple of years were completely haywire considering the kind of films I'm doing now. But I guess I had to make those choices in order to grow up on them and understand cinema the way I do today.
Is it harder to be centred when you're well known?
No. I guess a lot of people say it is. I was eighteen and was trying very hard. There was a sense of disillusionment and I didn't feel centred at all. There was a lot that could affect me and I could've swayed but I think it shook me up a lot. And then when my films bombed, I came back to ground zero. I've tasted the mud and realised that this is the job I respect, I have to give a lot to and nothing comes easy in life.
You aren't controversy's favourite child. Touchwood. But what's the balance between being confidently assertive and overly aggressive?
I think it's very important to be confidently assertive. I have nothing to hide and my life is an open book.. I am what I am. I've never been ashamed or embarrassed to admit if I've done something wrong. Not because as a public figure I owe people an explanation or where everybody needs to know everything about me. No. But if you ask me a breaking question, I'll give you a forthright answer. I will assert my right.
Any difficult aspects of your success, now that you've tasted the mud?
I think it can make you a bit precarious. I am a very given person. I do not hesitate to trust people and give in very easily. But sometimes you do that and you get smacked on your face. Honestly, with all the lessons I've learnt and have gone through, I don't think there is anything about myself or my life that has changed drastically, except for may be, a few friends who I've lost along the way to this mad world and a little bit of, not enough time for my extended family. These are small prices you pay for your success.
Talk us through Johnny Mastana.
I have great respect for Sujit Sircar. I was actually jumping in joy when I got a call from UTV saying that Sujit wanted to meet me regarding the film. It's actually Mr Bachchan's journey and how every character who comes in his journey becomes an integral part of it. I play a girl called Manya in Johnny Mastana. It's a very beautifully scripted film and Mohanan is the DOP of the film. The films canvas, the way it looks, is like a poetry in motion. The film is in post production stage and it's a romantic drama.
Any film you're looking forward to once the strike gets over?
Arshad Warsi productions 'Kaun Bola'. It's my first romantic comedy drama. Arshad has written the film too. The entire film is shot in Newcastle, UK. It's a very beautifully layered part. For the first time in my career I felt that Kaun Bola gave me the platform to go all out and show people what I'm all about. We had a blast because I had Boman Irani with me whom I call 'Pops' since Lage Raho Munnabhai. He is a sweetheart and my daddy. Sandhya Mridul too is a mad house and you know what Arshad is capable of doing. Kaun Bola is a Studio 18 film.
So is Kaun Bola too special for you?
Yes, and I'll tell you why. I've never seen a shooting star in my life. I always wonder – Why have I never seen one. We were doing this last schedule of the film in Goa. I was sitting on the beach after pack up and was looking up towards the sky. Suddenly I witnessed two shooting stars one after the other and got really kicked about it because the films production is called 'Shooting Star Production'. It may sound child like but it's the truth.
You're a very good painter too, we heard.
Kind of yes. I use a medium called 'Gouch', a french name. Unfortunately in Mumbai, oil paintings don't dry properly because of the humidity level in the air. A lot of artisits in Mumbai either use acrylic or water. I use Gouch because it gives you the result of oil and water. It's a magic paint. I have painted a beautiful painting which I'll show you once the interview is over.