By: Mohnish Singh
Dia Mirza won the title of Miss Asia Pacific International in 2000 after being crowned Femina Miss India Asia Pacific 2000. She launched her film career in 2001 with Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein and has since starred in several notable films including Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006) Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. (2007), Sanju (2018), and Thappad (2020). She will next be seen in Anubhav Sinha’s Bheed, co-starring Rajkummar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar.
Eastern Eye catches up with Dia Mirza ahead of the release of Bheed and talks to her in detail about her character, the horrors of the pandemic, her rapport with filmmaker Anubhav Sinha and much more. She also shares how having a deeper purpose to her existence lends itself to her craft.
Bheed, as its trailer shows, revisits the horrors of the pandemic. Tell us something about your character in it.
The trailer clearly indicates that I am a mother who is trying to get to her child and is stuck. There is obviously an urgency and an emergency. A woman who comes from a place of privilege is stuck in the middle of this migrant crisis where people are migrating and are stuck on a highway.
Would you like to share any awful experiences from the time of the pandemic?
So many people lost loved ones, and couldn’t reach in time to even conduct their funerals. From my own personal experience… after I delivered my son – I delivered him in the second wave – I was not allowed to meet him every day. I could only meet him once a week. So, I think, everyone was dealing with their situations and circumstances.
Is Bheed entirely based on what happened during the lockdown?
No, it is purely based on what happened immediately after the lockdown and how it impacted migrants. I think when I read the script, I felt it made me think about a lot of things that I hadn’t thought about before.
There are so many people who are a part of our lives, an invisible part of our lives, who we do not really actively engage with on a daily basis. How many of us remember a carpenter who made the cupboard in our bedroom or the plumber? There are few people who we do remember. For example, there is only one plumber who visits my house. I know where he lives and his family but not everybody knows these things, right? The security guards, the people who work on the roads, and someone who cleans the trash, who are these people? They are just invisible to us because we don’t mingle with them. So, I think Bheed really awakens your mind and makes these invisible people visible. And it reminds you that they are human beings too and they too have a family.
Did you try to bring in any inputs in your character?
I didn’t need to. Anubhav Sinha writes great scripts. But, for me personally, this is his best script to date. He has written it so beautifully. It’s so honest, it’s so powerful, it’s so well-intentioned. He has such clarity. Of course, on set, if we have a moment where we feel like maybe my character will respond differently to this or react differently to this, I would always suggest and he is very open to those suggestions.
What, according to you, makes him a good director?
The best thing about him is that he is very, very clear about his story. Sometimes, in the spur of the moment, you think of something but he won’t let you immediately implement it until he has internalised it because every word is weighed. We think hundred times before we add a pause to a situation because that is how much he thinks through everything. So, while he is very open, he also ensures that he has weighed it out properly before he says a yes.
You have worked with him before, so there must be a great rapport now.
Thankfully, yes. Because I have known him now for years now, we have a decent tuning so we manage to convey and communicate very effectively with each other. Like he doesn’t spend too much time in prep, and he doesn’t over-instruct me. He has always left it very open with me and with the way this film has been shot, it is almost like you are performing a screenplay, like a stage show because all the situations in the film are sequences that involve many layers and the cameras are capturing them simultaneously.
Have you noticed any changes in him over the years?
I have known Anubhav Sinha for 23 years now. I worked with him before his 2.0 version. I want to be a part of every one of his films if I can. I am very upset he is shooting something right now and I am not in it. But jokes apart, when we were shooting Thappad, I told him, ‘I want to be a part of every story you tell because I care for what you stand for and for the way you tell your stories.’ I loved Anek (2022) also. It was such a well-crafted film, so well done. I think there are very few people in our country who make films on social-political themes and who has the audacity to make such films. You need to have the audacity to choose such subjects.
You are a producer also. Do you have any subject in your mind that you want to produce next?
There are lots of dramas, there are lots of stories. I work so closely on environmental and wildlife protection. Especially during the pandemic one of the areas that I focussed on was raising funds for one Rakshaks. We lost so many people who work in forests across India and there are such powerful stories from the world of conservation that I want to tell that are connected to human trafficking, drugs, politics, and all kinds of things. That’s definitely an area in which I would love to tell a story. Also, I am very happy that we won an Oscar for our documentary film because it’s such a sweet simple story about conservation, the connection between animals and humans. It’s been done so delicately and I am so glad that it not only made its way to the Oscars, it won an Oscar. I hope it gives more people the impetus here to tell such stories.
We have seen you in Thappad and now Bheed. Which was the most challenging role for you?
I feel like because my resonance is so strong, I resonated so strongly with both characters. You will be surprised by what I have done in Bheed. It is not what you would expect of me.
What do you have to say about Bheed being entirely shot in black and white?
So when Anubhav Sinha first told me he is making the film black and white, I was stunned. I then thought about it and realised what a powerful way of telling a story. We usually think of history in black and white and this is a part of recent history. Black and white because that period of crisis kind of erased colours from people’s lives. A story is not just what is written or performed. It’s also what you perceive, all the tangible forms of perception such as sound, image, colour, and texture. And just by making it black and white, I feel he elevated the craft and made what he is trying to say even more strong.
Is it a true story or inspired by the pandemic?
You will be able to take so many moments out from the loose footage that you saw, some that reached people, and a lot that didn’t reach people. It’s totally based on reality. Of course, there are certain fictional aspects, certain characters, and the way things happen at that moment. I mean the metaphors and the way he has used them. I can’t wait for you to watch the film. I cannot wait.
What is your preparation process for a role?
I feel I have made sure I live a life that is constantly preparing me. I was very young when I started working in films and what happens is when you are that young and when you start working in films, you lead a very insulated life, you lead a very protected life. You live in a bubble. You have very little contact with real life.
And when did that bubble burst for you?
When I was about 25 – 26 after I lost my father and my films were not doing very well. I was terrified. I was like what is in store for me? I was clueless. I took a step back from films. I took a one-and-a-half or two-year break and asked myself what I really wanted to do.
And while I was doing that, I started working on the ground with real people. I started working with civil society organisations. I started working to help people and I realised what I need to do is I need to live a full life. I have to gain real-life experiences. I have to have a deeper purpose to my existence and then all of that may lend itself to my craft. So now I feel the parts that come to me, the way I approach them is all a result of my real-life experience, you know, what I am seeing on the grounds, what I am understanding about life not just in India but globally.