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Zaira Wasim renounced working in movies a while ago, but trolls need to understand that it is her choice, and that the shooting for the upcoming ‘The Sky is Pink’ was probably wrapped up before that!
A new movie, The Sky is Pink, will be released on 11th October 2019, and has Zaira Wasim in a pivotal role along with Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar.
There were reports that Zaira will not be taking part in the promotions of the movie, since she quit the Bollywood film industry some time ago, but social media trolls have again called her out a couple of days ago after spotting her in the trailer of the movie, which was released on the 10th of September.
The trolls completely disregard the probability that the shooting of the movie has been completed before Zaira Wasim announced her retirement from films. The Sky is Pink has also been declared to be her last film.
But then, trolls have never taken into account anything logical, so it’s not very surprising, right?
When Zaira Wasim barged into the Indian celluloid in 2016 with the role of Geeta Phogat in Dangal, everyone thought a new star was born. And they were right. She lived up to the tremendous expectations by playing the role of an aspiring singer in the 2017 musical drama Secret Superstar. The recipient of numerous accolades, including a Filmfare award and a National award for her performances, she has declared some time ago on her social media account that she was quitting the Bollywood film industry because it “interfered with her faith”.
And since then all hell has break loose. People on social media are on a rampage, dissecting her statement and giving their verdict.
This whole Zaira Wasim episode has brought to the forefront India’s inherent Islamophobia once again. Interestingly both the right-wing and the liberal section of the media have reacted in a more or less similar way.
Broadly speaking, the following reactions have emanated from
this whole fiasco-
It is true that in a country like India steeped with misogyny, where patriarchy is institutionalised through every pore of the society, it is very difficult to recognize free will.
The concept of consent is always in an ambiguous shell. Either coercion or the inherent patriarchal conditioning has forced her to take up this ultimate step. While the possibilities of all these cannot be denounced completely, we must refrain from falling into the trap of questioning women’s free will.
This is the trope which patriarchy thrives on- it always tries to annul women’s freedom of choice. Thus, as feminists we have no other options but to believe the woman in question, believe her completely. When a woman has finally been able to pronounce her choice clearly, the least we can do is to trust her. Also she has time and again declared that there was no compulsion for her to take this decision.
Some criticisms also shuddered at the deep rooted patriarchal conditioning which made someone think it is necessary to sacrifice as basic as something their choice of work. Can we not see it in another light? Can we not shudder to think what it takes for a teenage girl to continue a work which her mind and conscience completely detests? How utterly painful and suffocating it is?
Instead we should shudder at the conditioning, which makes someone believe it is necessary to compromise something as fundamental as their belief and ideology for a thing which they do not like? Can we not applaud her that finally she has been able to come out of a work which was not of her choice? That finally a girl has been able to make her own choice.
Interestingly, this issue has led to the convergence of views expressed by both the liberal minded people and the extremists on the social media.
The people having extreme line of thinking have been attacking Zaira Wasim or her ‘regressive’ thinking, and indirectly indicating to her ‘regressive’ religion. And the liberals have a sort of patronising tone in their voice. They are maintaining that it is her freedom of choice and we should respect it, ‘but’- and then comes the contradicting part.
Some are of the opinion that when your religion makes you doubt your art, question the religion not the art.
Some are saying that this choice of hers has made it difficult for many other girls fighting religious rigidity to pursue their dream, that they have been robbed of their agency, and as a public figure she should be held responsible.
While some others are saying that another bright girl has bitten the dust and compromised her dream, toeing the lines of religion.
Ultimately both lines of thought have attacked her for a choice she has made. Guess here is a three-fold minority identity to her making her such an easy target-
There is a general tendency to think that women who are from the film industry are easily accessible, they are not revered. Women who are from the other walks of life, their occupation is looked up to, they are not judged for every breath they take.
This is exactly the reason why out of all candidates taking part in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections only Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan were being targeted– simply because they were female and film stars. With terror-accused, rape-accused, murder- accused, proven dishonest men and women sitting in the parliament, people had qualms only about the profession of these two women, and they were being belittled just because of that. Thus, this three fold minority identity has made it even more difficult for Zaira Wasim.
For a person coming from a minority religious background, she/he has to constantly prove their secularism to gain their position in the liberal fold of the intellectuals. You cannot be accepted if you proclaim your religious identity and belief openly, if you are a Muslim you have to be a secular, liberal Muslim; lest there will be no one to uphold your rights.
Talking about ‘agency’, some are of the opinion that this will cause a major hindrance for hundreds of other girls who are probably trying to overcome the religious shackles. Zaira Wasim is being (falsely in my opinion) accused of revoking their agency. Given a second thought, does it not feel that what she has done is going to give hundreds of girl their right to agency? That she has stood up for her belief, will it not encourage others to tread the path for their belief?
Agency is not practiced only in accepting something; agency is present in denouncing something too. She has practiced her agency to shun a path which was not of her choice. Agency means to have the freedom of accepting and rejecting. To be able to make one’s own choice? And she has made her own choice. It takes a whole lot of guts to be able to leave all the glitter and glamour and tread the path of ideology. She has made a bold exercise of her agency and will hopefully inspire all girls out there to do the same.
If scope and exercise of agency were the only concerns then we all would be worried when most female actors choose not to work after childbirth. We did not. Their retirement or erratic works does not offend us because of the glorification of motherhood. We would write columns asking for accountability of those actors who make their affinity with their majoritarian religion clear. Rather, they are been revered as ‘nationalist’, and Zaira Wasim is tagged a ‘regressive’. Thus, agency is not the question, identity is.
And this is where Zaira Wasim emerges victorious. She revoked the whole argument about choices and the freedom to make one. It takes a great deal of courage to make a choice purely based on conscientious beliefs. She has done it and has paved the way for hundreds of women out there to exercise their agency according to their belief.
Then comes the question of sacrificing ‘art’, not being able to tread a liberal profession. Do we have that authority to proclaim exactly what is art and what is not?
Is there no art in the profession of a farmer where he grows apples in an orchard?
The teacher who builds young minds?
The human rights activist who fight for indigenous people?
The researcher who finds cures for diseases?
The cricketer with an indomitable spirit?
The homemaker who weaves relationships together turning a house into a home?
The most disturbing part of this whole discourse is the tone underlying the arguments. It seems as if we are all on a pedestal, judging Zaira Wasim and her choices. The tone is of consideration, not acceptance. The arguments reek of majoritarian entitlement, belittling a woman who has made her affinity with her religion clear.
There is art in each and every profession on this earth, and working in the film industry is as regular as working in an IT firm. At the end of the day, it is a profession – that’s it. It is not overtly liberal than the others. Not more ‘artistic’ than others. And people change their minds. Most of us are confused in our adolescence finding out our true calling. Changing of profession is as natural as changing your hairstyle.
Therefore, what we need to be saying to Zaira is:
“When there is a conflict between your belief and your art, always choose belief my child. There is nothing more valuable in this world than our belief and ideology. Everything can be sacrificed for the sake of belief, but for nothing can belief be sacrificed. And there is no gradation of belief. It cannot be that political belief is acceptable, religious belief is not. We are no one to determine a belief hierarchy, where religious values are at the bottom level. It is terrible to live with a conflicted mind where there is a constant opposition between my actions and conscience. Heal yourself Zaira Wasim, and emerge victorious.”
Kudos to you girl!
Image source: a still from the trailer of The Sky is Pink
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Currently pursuing MPhil in Women's Studies from Jadavpur University. Passed master's in Bengali
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