Whether it is in the world of beauty, environmental activism or being a producer-actor or a UN ambassador – actor Dia Mirza wears many hats. In an exclusive interview with YS Weekender, she speaks about her various roles in the real world.
It is rare to find a Bollywood actor and former beauty queen who works for a social cause beyond a certain alignment with his or her public image. But when we spoke to the young actor, who was in Bengaluru to step into her new role as mentor for the Femina Miss India 2019 contest, we discover that Dia Mirza believes in leading a life of beauty, style and substance.
Ever since Dia won the Miss Asia Pacific title in 2000, she has made a consistent effort to be part of various causes across the world. She has lent her voice and glamorous image to draw attention to issues like climate change and to the work that is being done among cancer, HIV patients and the Spastics Society, the Wildlife Trust of India, the Swachch Bharat Mission, and much more.
Appointed as the United Nations Environment’s Goodwill Ambassador for India in 2017, Dia is also an environment activist, and a producer of films and web series.
“Environmentalism has been a very important part of my foundation -- and the fact that I went to a J Krishnamurti school where the system of education was based on a fundamental understanding that nature and environment play an integral part in our well-being and development as human beings made all the difference to me,” explains Dia, as she speaks about the reasons that led to her entry into the world of activism.
“I grew up in a home that was seriously conscious of the kind of impact that our consumption had on the environment,” she reiterates. Her work started with environmental and wildlife conservation organisations around 2005. “With every passing year, I understand how imperative it is for more people to understand the impact of their consumption on the environment. I use my voice to reach as many people I can on the relevance of conservation.”
When she began working in films, the opportunities to make a difference by aligning herself with various NGOs cropped up. “While working with these organisations I understood that health security was most crucial to empowering the lives of women and children. Environmental degradation is causing serious harm to human health. Climate change affects women and children the most,” she says.
The actor who featured in films like “Rehnaa Hai Tere Dil Mein”, “Lage Raho Munnabhai”, “Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd.”, “Shootout at Lokhandwala”, “Krazzy 4” and most recently the biopic “Sanju” (where she played Sanjay Dutt’s wife), finds that she enjoys being both an actor and a producer.
Her production house, Born Free Entertainment, which she co-owns with her husband Sahil Sangha, has been working on a web series called “Mind the Malhotras” based on the hugely popular Israeli comedy “La Famiglia”. They will soon be starting work on two other web series, besides working on scripts for films for advertising and public service campaigns.
“One of the things we did last year, which I am very proud of, was to produce a ‘Wildlife Anthem’ for India which was written by Prasoon Joshi, composed by Clinton Cerejo, sung by Vishal Dadlani, Benny Dayal, Shreya Ghoshal and Sunidhi Chauhan. It is these non-commercial projects that make me feel a sense of great pride, because these are the projects that fuel my passion,” she adds.
Many actors are making the smooth transition to OTT and web-based media platforms and Dia sees great potential there. “As an actor, and as a producer, web series excite me tremendously because there is great potential – to not just tell the kind of stories we really want to tell, but to tell these stories with absolute freedom and devoid of the pressure of box office,” she explains.
She will also be starring in a historical soon, a project that she is very excited about. “I am a part of two compelling stories that have very a strong character arc and substantial roles written for the women in them. As a woman and an artiste, I see that these as exciting times for all of us.”
However, as a producer she finds that the box office dictates mandates that are sometimes impossible to fulfil at a creative level. “They compel producers to make choices that they are not happy to make.”
Dia is also mentoring contestants of northern and southern Indian states at the Femina Miss India 2019. “I think the most exciting thing about mentoring these contestants has been engaging with girls who come from all parts of the country and from rural backgrounds. It has been very inspiring to discover their strengths, their aspirations and their individuality.”
As a mentor, Dia gets the opportunity to share her strengths, and tell new contestants that they will have fears and hurdles along the way. “I have also had my share!” she says. “I tell them how I confronted and overcame these problems. I also emphasise the importance of individuality and shaping your own identity by meeting opportunity with preparedness.”
Looking back, Dia says that a lot has changed in the world of beauty contests since she won her Miss India title, almost 20 years ago. “For one, the format of the platform has changed completely. Back in our time, we would go through a much more informal selection process that did not actually give us access to interacting with or engaging with mentors or receiving any kind of grooming at a state level.”
She is currently reading scripts for films. “The kind of roles I hope to do are exactly the ones that I am doing for the web series right now. They are strongly defined characters and the storytelling is not only entertaining and engaging but also socially relevant. I totally believe that cinema has the power to make positive social transformations,” she says.