Sixteen-year-old Indian actress Zaira Wasim so impressed Bollywood star Aamir Khan that he picked her to star with him in back-to-back films - last year's box-office smash hit Dangal, a drama centred on the sport of wrestling, and the upcoming Secret Superstar.
Speaking on Wednesday (Aug 2) in a video conference with Singapore media from Mumbai to launch the trailer for Secret Superstar, Khan said that Wasim shone in screen tests.
"I thought she was perfect for Dangal, but we were doing screen tests for Secret Superstar at the same time and it was quite clear she fit both roles," said Khan, 52, who is best known for hit movies such as 3 Idiots (2009) and Lagaan (2001).
Secret Superstar, which is slated as a Deepavali release on Oct 19, is the story of a young girl from a conservative family who aspires to be a singer. She films herself performing songs while wearing a burqa to shield her identity, and uploads them on YouTube, as she steadily gains fame. Khan stars in the film as a singer called Shakti with blond, highlighted hair, who sports tight outfits. The role is described as an "extended cameo".
Dangal is based on the true story of wrestling coach Mahavir Singh Phogat (played by Khan) who raises his two daughters (played by Wasim and Suhani Bhatnagar as young girls) from the village to become champion wrestlers. According to media reports, it has become the highest-grossing Indian film globally, with more than US$300 million in takings.
Like Dangal, Secret Superstar "speaks about the empowerment of the girl child - it's a topic that's close to our hearts", said Khan.
He and his wife, Kiran Rao, produced both films.
Joining him in the video conference was Wasim, Rao and Secret Superstar director Advait Chandan, who is making his feature film debut.
Chandan, who also wrote Secret Superstar, wanted Wasim for his film, so he even asked Khan to cast someone else as the young Geeta in Dangal.
To which Khan said in jest: "So of course I suggested to him that he should do a 'dangal' (wrestling competition) with Nitesh Tiwari, the director of Dangal, to figure out which film she should be in."
On a serious note, he added "it meant that Advait had to wait for eight months for the shooting of Dangal to be over" before he could shoot Secret Superstar.
During the filming of the new movie, Wasim said she had to "trick people into thinking I'm singing, which is something I don't really know how to do".
While Khan is frequently associated with films that have a larger social message, he was quick to point out that he is not above doing typical, mass-market Bollywood films.
He said that in choosing projects, he moves "instinctively towards material that excites (him)". "Sometimes the material has something important to say, or ask, or question but sometimes it's just a fun film, such as the film I'm currently shooting, called Thugs Of Hindostan, which is an action-adventure film with a lot of entertainment.
"If people want a lesson in sociology they can probably go to a college," he quipped. "When they come into a cinema hall they want to be entertained and that's my fundamental responsibility."