The recipient of numerous accolades and the National Award for the Best Supporting Actress, Zaira Wasim, who played the younger Geeta Phogat in Dangal, has decided to quit her three-year Bollywood career, saying “it damaged her relationship with Allah”.
Actress Zaira Wasim has made a rather controversial departure from Bollywood. In a lengthy social-media post on Sunday, Zaira, while announcing her decision to quit acting said, “Five years ago, I made a decision that changed my life forever. As I stepped my foot in Bollywood, it opened doors of 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 ideas of success and failure, which I had just started to explore and understand.”
In the post, she goes on to hold Bollywood and the entertainment world responsible for leading her on the illusory, self-destructive path away from her religious beliefs.
The ‘resignation letter’ has evoked mixed responses from the film fraternity.
“She is obviously a confused kid who couldn’t handle all the stardom that came her way at such a young age. Being part of a conservative Kashmiri Muslim family, she was constantly under scrutiny and criticism, all of which took a toll on her self-esteem,” says an actor who worked with Zaira.
Zaira’s co-star compares her predicament to that of Jack Gleeson, who played King Joffery in Game of Thrones. The young actor had quit acting after his character was killed off in the series. He admitted to being severely affected by the demands of show business at such a young age.
Zaira began her short-lived, three-year, three-movie career in Bollywood as Aamir Khan’s spirited daughter in Dangal. The role fetched her immense popularity and recognition. A year later, she was back with Aamir in Secret Superstar. However, with the bouquets came the brickbats, especially from conservative Kashmiri community. In 2016, she was savagely trolled for being ‘un-Islamic’ in her choice of career. In 2017, the-then Minister of Sports Vijay Goel posted a picture of Zaira, complimenting her for breaking free of a patriarchal system. Zaira had responded by asking the minister to refrain from using her example.
Zaira has now decided to quit after completing her third film The Sky Is Pink, which is directed by Shonali Bose. She enacts the real-life casualty of pulmonary fibrosis Aisha Choudhary.
A statement following her decision to quit from the team of The Sky Is Pink says, “Zaira is an exceptional artiste and we are lucky to have had her play Aisha Chaudhury in our film. This is a purely personal decision, which she has taken after much thought and we will be supportive of her in every way.”
Zaira Wasim wrote on Facebook
“This field indeed brought a lot of love, support, and applause my way, but what it also did was to lead me to a path of ignorance, as I silently and unconsciously transitioned out of imaan (faith). While I continued to work in an environment that consistently interfered with my imaan, my relationship with my religion was threatened. I kept procrastinating... I continued to put myself in a vulnerable position where it was always so easy to succumb to the environment that damaged my peace, imaan and my relationship with Allah (God) (sic).”
Mukesh Chabbra, Casting Director, The man who discovered Zaira Wasim
I don’t think there’s any political pressure at play here. This is her personal choice. She’s an amazing actor and has a mind of her own. And I totally respect her decision. Whatever one wants to do in life and if he or she thinks this works for them, then they should go with that. Who are we to judge?
I’d first auditioned her for Fitoor but she was not right for that part, but then Dangal came along and I called her to audition for that. Of course, we’re going to miss her because as a casting director, I know it’s difficult to find such a great talent. In fact, after Dangal, I was flooded with calls asking for someone like Zaira for their films. I’m going to miss her and now I have to start looking for more Zaira Wasims for the industry.
Renuka Shahane, Actress
I think all of us go through a very personal journey here in the industry. How we evolve, experience life and use that to shape our future is something so personal and unique to each individual that it’s a matter of this uniqueness that leads you to make certain choices. In the acting profession especially, there’s so much required of you besides acting, and you’re constantly under the media gaze.
As for her saying that this line of work is interfering with faith and religion, everyone has a way of connecting to their faith and religion; no one can comment on it. It’s her personal journey and she’s taken her decision about what she wants to do with her life. She’s been honest and spoken about it, and it’s not for us to comment on it.
Tannishtha Chatterjee, Actress
I feel most people take acting as a very external device to achieve things. For me, acting, like any other performing art, is a very spiritual journey and therapeutic because it releases and teaches you empathy and much about yourself.
If you take any profession as just a profession, it will provide you standardised way of doing things. But if you push those boundaries is when you will find inner happiness.
I am not a religious person. I believe in God as unity and the Universe as energy. I see religion as a political thought, not an individual thought. So I don’t know how religion would interfere with the profession as I am non-religious.
—As told to Uma Ramasubramanian and Nirtika Pandita