Dia Mirza: I waited 23 years for a role like Usma in Dhak Dhak

The actor's latest film, Dhak Dhak, on women empowerment, is another feather in her activist cap
Dia Mirza: I waited 23 years for a role like Usma in Dhak Dhak

A full-time activist and part-time actor is how Dia Mirza describes herself after 23 years in the film industry. But her objective in both roles is similar—to start a conversation. To that end, her latest film, Dhak Dhak, is about four women from different walks of life and age groups, who embark on an empowering road trip on motorbikes, changing their perspective on life as they knew it.

The October 13 release also stars veteran actor Ratna Pathak Shah, Fatima Sana Sheikh and Sanjana Sanghi. “It has only taken Indian cinema 110 years to tell a story like this. Ratna never imagined she would be on the poster of a film at the age of 64, and that too riding a bike. Full credit to producers Taapsee Pannu and Pranjal Khandhdiya for believing in the film,” Dia says.

The 41-year-old actor plays Usma Sheikh—a homemaker, who owns a mechanic shop in Old Delhi. Her journey is one of grit, and reclaiming what is rightfully hers. From learning to ride a bike to portraying a relatable character, Dia calls it the “most wholesome role” in her career of over two decades. “Usma trained as a mechanic under her father, yet he never entrusted her with the job. She has to hand over her legacy to her husband. This is typical of the patriarchal society that undermines the ability of its women. I liked Usma’s arc, and her humanity was endearing. Her grace and childlike energy gave me a broad spectrum to explore a canvas of emotions and experiences. I waited 23 years for a part and film like this,” she says, adding, “Motorcycling is seen as masculine. I spent most of my life being afraid of riding one, but when I rode it, I was in complete control within minutes.”

Usma’s trajectory is not very different from Dia's. Both trace a path of realisation of what truly matters. For Usma, it is her agency, for Dia, it is her activism. An advocate of environmental protection, the actor had extended support to the Narmada Bachao Andolan in 2006. Four years later, she adopted two cheetah cubs at the Prince of Wales zoological park in Lucknow. In 2017, she was appointed the brand ambassador for the Wildlife Trust of India as well as the UN Environment’s Goodwill Ambassador for India.

The shift in the outlook is reflected also in her filmography. The former beauty queen broke into the Hindi film industry with Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein (2001), for which she won multiple awards. It was followed by a mix of lead and supporting roles in films such as Dus, Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. and Sanju among others. But, of late she has been seeking parts and stories that can bring change, the actor confesses.

Earlier this year, Dia appeared in two thought-provoking productions—Bheed, which talked about the lockdown-induced migrant exodus, and Made in Heaven 2, where her segment addressed polygamy in Islam. Another important film to her credit is Thappad (2020), which revolved around domestic violence. “Being an artiste is something I have the greatest value for because it empowers my purpose as an activist. It matters that people are willing to listen to me, and I am raring to go because nothing brings me more joy than telling stories that can start a dialogue,” says the actor, who will be next seen in the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Dunki, on border migration, which is slated for a December release.

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