Kashmir’s acclaimed actress Zaira Wasim’s decision to quit Bollywood might be the talk of the town at present, but her friends and family don’t seem to be much surprised. Though the Dangal girl lately cited faith as the major reason for relinquishing film industry, she had already conveyed a growing sense of unease and disillusion to some close quarters back home.
“What I can tell you is that her decision was on the cards,” a close friend of Zaira said on condition of anonymity. “She wasn’t finding solace and purpose in what she was doing. She only made the same clear through her social media post.”
Zaira first burst onto the scene in 2015, when superstar Aamir Khan’s wife Kiran Rao reportedly selected her for the award-winning reel role of a Dangal girl. But the life-changing offer and opportunity would also come with its own baggage for someone, born and brought during curfews and clampdowns in Srinagar.
The then 15-year-old had to plead her parents to allow working in the blockbuster movie. Even as her parents rebuked and told her she was craving for an illusion, the teenager stood unrelenting.
As somebody who had proven her acting mettle with her school plays, Zaira wanted her “religious” family to give her one chance.
She was then in Class 10, studying in St Paul’s International Academy, the school situated parallel to Kashmir’s power street called Gupkar, when following an audition with 19,000 girls, she was chosen for the role. Zaira was among the two girls selected to play child versions of champion wrestlers, Geeta and Babita. Before being cast in Dangal, she had worked in two ad films.
But back home, however, her family, especially her parents, stood firm. “They were perhaps thinking how people would react, if they came to know about their daughter’s acting decision,” Zaira’s cousin said. “One can’t blame them given the prevailing situation in Kashmir. They feared social boycott.”
Eventually, Zaira’s average middle-class family, with common aspirations, had to sacrifice the societal concern for their daughter’s happiness, when her aunt convinced them to let her work in films.
Soon with her reel sibling Suhani Bhatnagar, Zaira trained to be Geeta Phogat. She trained for the six-months in Mumbai, with her father by her side.
The quintessential Kashmiri girl was shortly seen frequenting a popular food joint in Srinagar, where some young socialites would present her as a ‘new role model’. Her film with Aamir Khan was being paraded as her feat.
“But at that time, she had no idea about how the film industry and its harsh reality,” said a journalist, who profiled her for a magazine in 2016. “Zaira was this dreamy girl coming from the religious family background, from a politically-sensitive area. It was baggage in itself. Coming from a defiant zone and craving for the showbiz was perhaps the clear mismatch. But all she wanted at that young age was to make everyone proud of her.”
The painstaking wrestler’s role didn’t come easy to her. She had to brave the first shock of her life when she had to trim her hair. “She was young and felt tormented by the rigorous demands of the role,” says Shazia, who introduces herself as Zaira’s schoolmate. “She was a confident girl in the school, who would take challenges upfront. But now, all of us realised that she was walking into a different territory, with different demands.”
Even as her film was yet to hit the theatres, she became the subject of online trolling and bullying. She even received life-threatening texts in her inbox. The online abuse was so severe that it gave her panic attacks. For the downtown girl, the harsh world had unleashed itself at a very early age.
“She initially tried to handle trolls and online abusers with her positivity, but with time, it set her thinking,” her schoolmate said. “We all knew her as an aimless girl, who wanted to create her own direction and destiny by flowing with life — until, sadly, it left her soul-burned.”
Amid ruthless campaign, the state government led by Mehbooba Mufti tried to project her as a youth icon. In her latest social media post, Zaira said that attempts were made to make her an icon, which, she said, she “never set out to do”. But then, her photo with the former chief minister was highly talked about and badly trolled. Even her social media post on her aeroplane harassment episode earned her a lot of online abuse and critical media coverage. Her friends and cousins now say it was too much for a teenager to handle.
But despite that, she was shining on the silver screen with her critically-acclaimed performances. In an ensued period of silence, especially after her film Secret Superstar, she was only growing disillusioned with pomp and show of the industry. This is the time when she most likely ‘found her purpose’.
On 30 June, she finally made it official through her social post, saying that she’s leaving films for faith.
“For those who knew Zaira, her decision didn’t come as surprise,” said Shazia, her schoolmate. “She was trying to create her niche in the industry which at the end of the day even compels someone like Parveen Babi to commit suicide. It’s good that Zaira understood the muck early in her life and moved on with her faith.”
No wonder then, her decision was hailed by someone like Tanushree Dutta, who last year blew the lid over Bollywood’s underbelly and started the Indian version of Harvey Weinstein #MeToo movement.
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Updated Date: Jul 02, 2019 11:08:55 IST