The Kashmir based National Award-winning actor Zaira Wasim will be seen in Shonali Bose's 'The Sky is Pink' along with Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar. The reality is, it may be the last time that the mercurial actor will be seen on the silver screen. In a long Facebook post, the 18-year-old actor announced her 'disassociation' from the field of acting. In a complicated lengthy post on Facebook, she has tried to explain or rather clarify that acting in Bollywood interfered with her faith and religion. It has been three years since young Zaira Wasim featured in Aamir Khan's 'Dangal' - a film which received accolades in India and abroad for its honest portrayal of women empowerment through games and sports from the real-life story of Mahabir Singh Phogat and his medal-winning daughters.
The explanation given by Zaira Wasim has reverberated the old fundamentalist stereotype. In 2016, Zaira Wasim faced internet trolls from fellow Kashmiri fundamentalists for becoming ‘un-Islamic’ as she entered the world of acting with ‘Dangal’. In fact, she received death threats later as erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti hailed her as a 'Kashmiri role model'. The situation was such that Zaira Wasim issued an apology in the social media platforms. An incident in January 2017 also highlighted the un-comfort zone of Zaira Wasim as she requested Indian Sports Minister Vijay Goel not to connect her with any message that promotes independent women free from hijab. There was controversy regarding her mother's tweet, which was deleted later. The tweet allegedly criticised the Indian government with regard to their stance against the Kashmiri terrorists.
The most worrying aspect of Zaira Wasim's decision is the backdrop of her decision. No doubt, she is 18 and has every right to choose her career. But linking acting and Islam is a dangerous proposition which suggests either Zaira herself recognizes the Islamic fundamentalist theory that acting is un-Islamic for Muslim women or her decision is influenced by peer pressure. Ironically, in both the films where she acted, Zaira has played the role of empowered girls. In fact, in Secret Superstar, her role was itself a great motivation for girls coming from conservative Muslim families. And make no mistake, Zaira Wasim has not been a product of nepotism, rather her acting skills have been recognised by stalwarts from the film fraternity. The way she has tried to redefine success in the Facebook post, speaks volumes of her helplessness. It is not clear which 'battle' she felt tired throughout. Not to be mentioned, it isn't the easiest task for an 18-year-old girl to constantly duel against the Islamic fundamentalists.
Talking about Indian films, especially Bollywood, the biggest stars have been from the Muslim community. From Dilip Kumar to Shah Rukh Khan, Wahida Rahman, Nargis to Katrina Kaif - religion has never been a roadblock to mass entertainment. The mass fan following of the stars truly implies the secular fabric of the people of India. Not only films, be it sports, games and any other domain, but the representation of Muslim men and women has been common and mainstream in India. But the very instance of Zaira Wasim, where personal faith overpowers creativity, truly questions the Kashmiri line of thinking. For more than half a century, the Kashmiris are fighting against Jihadi stereotypes. Obviously, the stereotypes are sponsored by Pakistan backed politicians in the valley. It comes as no surprise that Zaira didn't get support from the Muftis and Abdullahs. And sadly, Zaira, rather brainwashed in Kashmiri narrative, decides to blame herself based on some supposed guilt. It is not only a sad day for Indian film fraternity and young, aspiring, talented Kashmiris as well.
As New India is hopeful of changes, in best interests of the nation as a whole, one can only hope for Zaira Wasim to change her decision. Given a chance, Zaira may give the Indian audience innumerable hits like Alia Bhatt, Katrina Kaif and other actors in the Indian film fraternity. Art and humanity walk in a line and maybe Zaira Wasim can still dream like Insiya Malik of Secret Superstar.