By Priya Ranjan Sahu
In 2016, when Aamir Khan’s blockbuster Dangal, based on the lives of wrestler Mahabir Singh Phogat and his wrestler daughters – Geeta Phogat and Babita Phogat – was released, Zaira Wasim, a sweet Kashmiri teenager, catapulted to limelight with her impressive performance as the younger Geeta. Wasim bagged the National Film Awards as the best supporting actor for her performance.
Two years later, she again came up with a superlative performance with a starring role in the much acclaimed Secret Superstar and won the Filmfare’s best actress (critic) award. This year she has wrapped up work in upcoming film, The Sky Is Pink, which also stars Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar.
It was certain that her career was on an upward trajectory.
But she has surprised one and all by unexpectedly announcing that she would quit Bollywood. “Five years ago, I made a decision that changed my life and today I’m making another one that’ll change my life again and this time for the better Insha’Allah!,” the 18-year-old said on Twitter on Sunday, while attaching the link to her longer Instagram post with it. She also posted a detailed write-up of over 1,900 words on her Facebook page on the same day explaining the reasons behind her decision.
It is sad considering that she is counted among the most talented fresh faces in Bollywood. But worse was the response to her decision from people in social media.
Social media was flooded with thousands of posts trolling her for linking her decision to quit Bollywood with ‘religion’ in her post. A large number of trolls were full of abuses– against her, Islam, Muslims and Kashmiris. They are not worth mentioning here.
But some of the tweets by prominent people may be reproduced to show how they look at things.
“Doesn’t matter if two film olds are ungrateful to the industry that have (has) given them all. Just wish they’d exit gracefully and keep their regressive views to themselves” – this is Raveena Tandon, a former actress and mother of two daughters.
Perennially in search for a homeland for herself, writer Taslima Nasrin does not forget to take a dig at the young actor. “Oh My Goosebumps! Bollywood’s talented actress Zaria (Zarina) Wasim now wants to quit acting because she things her acting career almost destroyed her faith in Allah. What a moronic decision. So many Muslim community (ies) are forced to go under the darkness of the burqa,” she tweeted.
This is the true face of ‘radicalisation’, ‘Islam’, ‘Muslims’ and ‘Kashmiri’, the collective trolls claimed about Wasim’s decision.
Tragically, Wasim was trolled with equal vigour by Rightists, who used the opportunity to demonise Muslims and Kashmiris, as well as many supposed liberals, who found her linking the decision to quit Bollywood with religion regressive and assumed she was being coerced into submission by the fanatics in Islam.
Why are people so charged up about an Instagram post by a young girl? Why are they getting so judgemental? And how do they assume that her Muslim identity has somehow played a role in her decision? Recently the bigots of either side of spectrum trolled newly elected Trinamool MP, Nusrat Zahan, after she went to Parliament wearing a saree, a mangalsutra around her neck and sindoor on forehead following her marriage to a Kolkata based businessman.
And what is in Wasim’s post? “As I stepped my foot in Bollywood, it opened doors for massive popularity for me. I started to become the prime candidate of public attention. I was projected as the gospel of the idea of success and was often identified as a role model for the youth. However, that’s never something that I set out to do or become, especially with regards to my idea of success or failure, which I had just started to explore and understand,” she writes.
Wasim adds that as she was not quite happy after completing five years in the film industry, felt like she had to struggle to become someone else and simply did not belong there. “This field (filmdom) brought a lot of love, support and applaud my way, but what it also did me was to lead me to a path of ignorance, as I silently and unconsciously transitioned out of my imaan (faith in God). While I continued to work in an environment that consistently interfered with my imaan, my relationship with my religion was threatened,” she said.
A careful reading of the whole post may reflect Wasim to be a very sensitive girl, who has gone through a lot of emotional upheavals. Last year, she had recounted about her struggle with depression.
Like any other young girls of her age, Wasim may be on the process of soul searching and her decision may be a part of it. As she writes in her longer post in Facebook: “I was constantly battling with my soul to reconcile my thoughts and instinct to fix a static picture of my imaan and I failed miserably, not just once but a hundred times.”
Her decision to quit at a time everything seemingly going good for her may look odd for others or seem to be a wrong step, but for her, for the time being, it may have looked the most appropriate decision. She might well reverse the decision later if she thought it fit.
But detractors chose to selectively pick out Islam from her whole post to troll Wasim. Yes, her Facebook post is full of references to Quran. And what’s wrong with that? After all, she is a Muslim and one should not expect her to quote from the Vedas. We should be happy that at least the girl is quite well versed in the Holy book of the religion she belongs to and seem to have a better understanding of it than the fanatics. She talks about mercy and peace and disapproves violent behaviour. “May Allah cleanse our hearts from hypocrisy, arrogance and ignorance and rectify our intentions and grant us sincerity in speech and in our deeds. Ameen,” she concludes.
That Wasim is not dim-witted is for sure. She is quite aware of her surroundings. Her Twitter page reflects about her concerns about child rights, children’s death in Bihar hospital, malnutrition and farmers’ crisis. Last year, one of her posts titled “End of humanity is here” attached a news link to a story about a 67-year-old Madrasa teacher raping a nine-year-old girl.
But the judgemental folks assume that she is ‘regressive’ or took the step of quitting Bollywood due to pressure from some religious groups. Maybe, her perspective “religion” or “imaan” is quite different from that of those judging her at the moment. Just like my concept of religion may be radically different from the radicals who are asking people what to eat, what to wear, what to chant, how to behave and live.
Religion is a personal matter and varies from person to person. Likewise, a decision is also driven by some choices and compulsions of a particular individual depending on his or her surroundings.
There have been many instances of people have quit their flourishing careers in the past to opt for something materially less lucrative – like joining a religious/spiritual order, getting married and having children or just sitting at home. Vinod Khanna quit Bollywood when he was at the top to join Osho’s order and his action was hailed as a spiritual pursuit. Last year, when the whole family of a Surat based super rich diamond merchant, including his young daughter, decided to become Jain monks, it was considered as a supreme sacrifice.
If those decisions cannot be questioned as regressive, there is no need to question Wasim either. She should be left alone to pursue whatever she wants to in life.