It’s difficult to decipher where her onscreen persona ends and where her off-screen one begins.
Essentially sans frills, Zarina Wahab has shunned the trappings of celebrityhood.
Her four-decade career is dotted with several critically-acclaimed films like Gopal Krishna, Sawan Ko Aane Do, Sitara, Raees Zada, My Name Is Khan and Malayalam chronicles like Madanolsavam, Chamaram, Palangal and Adaminte Makan Abu.
But her diametrically differing acts in the ’70s classics – Basu Chatterjee’s rustic romance Chitchor and Bhimsain’s urban narrative Gharonda – remain the instant recall for her fans.
If Chitchor was about finding love amidst mistaken identities, Gharonda was a story of commitment against the towering apathy of a metro, where everything can be bought and sold – be it dwelling or dreams.
Not only do these films enjoy a rerun, the music of both continues to enjoy patronage of the changing generations. “Wherever I go, I’m recognised as the Gori tera gaon bada payara and Do deewane shaher mein girl,” beams veteran Zarina, who now has Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Jogira Sara Rara and Amazon’s The Girl coming up.
Apart from an impressive innings on the big and small screen, the steely Zarina has volleyed personal challenges with the same dignity. Dealing with rumours about husband/actor Aditya Pancholi’s involvements, his much-publicised face-offs as also the controversy surrounding son/actor Sooraj Pancholi vis-à-vis the alleged suicide of his late girlfriend, actor Jiah Khan… Zarina has been the fulcrum of her family.
Choosing to see only the positive, believing in herself and tomorrow, Zarina Wahab has not allowed the muck to stain the sanctity of her home…
A racy chat with the actor as she waits to board a flight at the airport.
When you look back at your life what makes you proud?
I came from Andhra Pradesh from a simple background. But I could make a mukaam (position) for myself in the industry. After 40 years, I’m still getting work. That’s a satisfying feeling. Some people get work because of how successful they are. Some get it because of their behaviour. I belong to the latter category. When I’m on a set, I am just like any worker. I’m a workaholic. I can’t stay without work. Thankfully, it’s not that I have to work. Rather, I want to work.
Your film Gharonda was about the dream of owning a home. Do you remember the first house you bought in Mumbai?
O yeah! I lived as a PG in a small room in Bandra. I used to travel by buses and trains. I still want to jump into a bus! I used to pray at the Mount Mary Church for a house in Bandra. And Mother answered my prayers. I remember my first flat vividly - Vaikunth, Flat No. 3 at Mount Mary. After that we bought so many houses but I don’t remember the details as such. Later, I sold that house to buy a bigger one in Bandra.
How much credit do you give to your husband Aditya Pancholi in being able to pursue your career?
My husband has never stopped me from working. Believe me, uss aadmi ne kabhi nahi poocha how much you earn and what do you do with the money. He has given me so much freedom. So why should I complain?
He has no demands either – be it about what I wear and what I choose to do. I’m not the party kind. I’m happy to sleep by 9.30 pm as I wake up at 4.30 am. He understands that and doesn’t expect me to sit up. He’ll say, ‘Zee go and sleep’. He has a golden heart. He’s helped so many people, without letting anyone know.
What has helped you both survive the highs and the lows?
People assume that I must be dukhi. I am not dukhi at all. When Nirmal (Aditya’s real name) and I got married in 1986, people said, ‘Baap re! She has married such a young boy. He will leave her in six months.’ But today we have been together for 34 years.
I’d laid down only one condition– whatever you do outside is your problem. It shouldn’t come home. At home he’s a good husband and a good father. Har aadmi bahar udta hai. Few people accept it. But after a certain age, things change. The children (Sana and Sooraj Pancholi) have grown up.
Because of his temper, people have formed a wrong impression about him. Touchwood he has cooled down now. Gussa pehle jaisa nahin hai. When he was young, he used to get angry often. He also gets involved in other people’s problems.
Once, we were at a party. An actress was being harassed by some guests there. She went up to an actor, also her co-star in many films, and complained. But the actor just smiled and walked away. Nirmal got into a fight with them and said, ‘You’ll have no shame, harassing a woman like that.’ Till date, I cannot forget the face of the actor, who just smiled and walked away.
What according to you is love?
Staying together and sticking through thick and thin is love. You must concentrate on each other’s strengths and overlook the weaknesses. It’s important not to nag. Kahan jaa rahe ho? Kab aaoge? Kya kar rahe ho… I have kept away from the three Ks. I like a good atmosphere at home. Today people get married with such excitement and divorce with equal excitement.
A memory you cherish of your early days with Aditya…
(Smiles) When my children were young, they would sleep with my mother. I liked to go to their room at night to check on them. Aditya would slip his fingers in my bangle and sleep. That way he’d know when I got up to leave. He didn’t like being alone.
What would you like to say about the lawsuit against Sooraj?
Sooraj is innocent. His only fault was that he was in love with her (the late Jiah Khan). Unnecessarily, he’s been dragged in this controversy. To blame someone else to hide your wrongdoings is not right. But my son’s strong and can look after himself. I don’t discuss the issue with him because I don’t want to cause him pain. But as a family we’re together. The matter is in court. I have full faith in God and the court.
What brings you happiness today?
The wellbeing of my loved ones comes foremost. My work is my happiness, my vitamin.
I love travelling, more so by train. Sometimes, I take a train to my hometown Hyderabad. It’s a different feeling altogether.