MUMBAI “Dangal” star Zaira Wasim’s decision to quit her career on grounds that it was interfering in her faith propelled her to the centre of intense debate on Monday with politicians, industry insiders and others speaking out, some backing her and others criticising her for giving “fodder to bigots”.
The Kashmir-born teen, who touched a surprising chord across the country and was trending on social media, announced her “disassociation” from the field of acting in a now-viral Facebook post on Sunday and reiterated it on Monday.
“This to clarify that none of my social media accounts were or are hacked and are being handled by me personally. Kindly refrain from believing or sharing claims that state otherwise. Thanks,” she wrote on Twitter in response to some comments that her account was hacked.
Zaira’s decision to quit after just three films led to reactions from various quarters, with National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah, Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala and Shiv Sena’s Priyanka Chaturvedi and actors Raveena Tandon, Anupam Kher and writer Taslima Nasreen among those weighing in with their views.
Abdullah said no one had the right to question Zaira’s decision.
“Who are any of us to question @Zairawasimmm’s choices? It’s her life to do with as she pleases. All I will do is wish her well & hope that what ever she does makes her happy,” he said on Twitter.
Surjewala said while he respects Zaira’s decision to quit films and her creative liberty, faith has nothing to do with artistic expression.
“Such remarks give fodder to bigots on either side of the divide to misconceive & mislead,” he said on Twitter.
“Phoneys suddenly lecturing on #ZairaWaseem & #NusratJahan. I have Hindu & Jain friends right here in SoBo who renounced cushy careers for their gurus & faith. You can choose whether religion determines your career or love life. Unless minors, let others decide for themselves,” tweeted his party colleague Milind Deora.
He also made a reference to newly married and newly elected Trinamool Congress MP Nusrat Jahan who has been criticised by hardline Muslim clerics for wearing ‘sindoor’ and the ‘mangalsutra’ and refuses to toe their line.
In a detailed post on her Facebook page on Sunday, the 18-year-old actor said she had completed five years in the profession and wanted to confess that she was not “truly happy with this identity”.
Zaira said in her post, which she later shared on other social media platforms, that she felt like she had struggled to become someone else for a very long time.
“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)… my relationship with my religion was threatened,” she said.
The actor, who was in her early teens when she appeared in “Dangal”, went on to play the title role in Aamir Khan’s “Secret Superstar”.
The upcoming “The Sky is Pink”, which also stars Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Farhan Akhtar, could be her last outing in the movie world. The film completed shooting in March.
Producers of the film, Roy Kapur Films, called her decision “purely personal”, saying she had taken it after much thought and they will be supportive of her in every way.
Writer Taslima Nasreen said people are arguing Zaira’s right to choose when women don’t have any agency and are brainwashed by a “misogynistic patriarchal society”.
Taking a different tack from Congress leaders, Shiv Sena’s Chaturvedi said in a series of posts that while everyone had the right to practise their faith, it “should not be used to sound intolerant to career choices, which it clearly isn’t”.
“This actually does a huge disservice to her religion & reinforces the narrative about Islam being intolerant.
“Hindi cinema has seen many success stories of people from the same faith, does her reason imply that all these stalwarts didn’t know their religion? Some equate her decision to that of Vinod Khanna, did he say his religion says that his choice of career blocks his faith?”, she said.
Actor Raveena Tandon did not take Zaira’s name but criticised her “regressive views”.
“Doesn’t matter if two film olds are ungrateful to the industry that have given them all. Just wish they’d exit gracefully and keep their regressive views to themselves,” she said.
Veteran actor Anupam Kher said while he respected Zaira’s decision to choose, he thought the 18-year-old quitting films is a “tragedy”.
“The fact that she has gone all out to say that ‘I am doing it for religion’ or something like that, there is a certain amount of tilt that has gone into it. But she is most welcome to take her decision,” Kher told reporters in New Delhi.
TV actor Iqbal Khan said Zaira’s decision should not be viewed through the religious prism.
Stand-up comedian Abijit Ganguly pointed out the irony in Zaira’s decision to quit films because of religion.
“I was thinking Zaira Wasim should see this beautiful movie highlighting how no religion or family pressure should stop a child from doing what makes them creatively happy. What was the name of that movie. Arre Haan, ‘Secret Superstar’. Oh wait, who was in that movie again?” he said.
Filmmaker Onir said while he respected Zaira’s decision, he wished it did not come along with a lecture on “good way of life”.
Soon after the release of “Dangal” in 2016, Zaira came under attack for sporting short hair in her role as the younger version champion wrestler Geeta Phogat.