Zarina Wahab is back in Mollywood in Olipporu.
After playing some of the most memorable roles of a mother in reel life, in Hindi and Malayalam cinema, Zarina Wahab recently underwent, in real life, the true test of motherhood. Her son Suraj Pancholi was imprisoned for alleged involvement in the suicide of actor and girl friend Jiah Khan. The 24 days when her son was in prison were the toughest days in her life.
Zarina herself has shown remarkable patience in dealing with the trauma and in professionally remaining relevant in the industry, which she entered as a teenager doing small character roles initially. Her big break came in 1976 with Basu Chaterjee’s Chit Chor, followed by another hit, Gharaonda, the very next year. Simultaneously she acted in several Malayalam films such as the critically acclaimed Madanolsavam, Chamaram and Palangal, making a distinctive mark as an actor. From films she careened into television, doing the odd Hindi and Malayalam flick. After a hiatus Zarina came back, in Malayalam, in 2009, with Calendar followed by Adaminte Makan Abu and Aaru Sundarimaarude Katha (ASK).
“Malayalam film industry is my life. I have never said no to any film from here, in fact I make it a point to accept all offers,” says Zarina adding that coming from Andhra Pradesh she would love to do films in Telugu “but they don’t want me.” The response she received after her debut film, Madanolsavam with Kamal Hassan, left her surprised.
She recalls working with eminent director Bharathan. “Bharathan sir would never get irritated. He was so sweet that if you sat next to him for an hour you could get diabetes,” she says breaking into laughter.
On her recent films in Malayalam, Zarina had big hopes about ASK.
Her next release is Olipporu with Fahadh Faasil, where she plays his mother. On the wrong side of 50, Zarina looks youthful and svelte. Her debut role in Madanolsavam required her to wear jeans. Years later she is still carrying off the attire and the young look with élan. Her positive attitude has stood her in good stead, and helped her through the rough times in an industry that can be lonesome.
“Industry relationships are only professional. Once in a while my group of 12 from Pune Film Institute meet at Kanwaljit Singh’s place. Each age has its own charm,” says Zarina whose contemporaries are Deepti Naval, Rameshwari, the late Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi.
Currently Zarina has made a place for herself in television, acting in nearly four serials. “There is too much competition in the industry nowadays. For a small role there is a queue of 300 candidates. Television is a good medium. Those who don’t get a chance in films make it to the small screen. It has space for all the newcomers, even for technicians.”
What she enjoys about television is the freedom that it affords and the instant recognition. “But you get tagged. People begin addressing you by the name of the character!”
Zarina agrees that she has been typecast as a natural, goody character and has never done a negative role. She is open to the challenge. “If I get a negative role to do I would have to work hard. For that I will have to do what I am not. At this stage I don’t have to make a career. I am open to anything,” she says with the maturity of a seasoned actor.
Meanwhile the spate of recent family problems has left her stronger. “Aditya, my husband, is a gem of a person, a good father. Suraj has become quieter after the incident. I continue the way life comes.”
To the younger generation Zarina speaks like a mother. She says: “Don’t embrace your profession so much that you can’t handle the disappointments. Always keep an option open. If you don’t get the rickshaw, take the bus or walk, but hang on.” Something that she has done remarkably well in an industry that has nurtured her.