Safeena of Gully Boy, the outspoken rebel consummately played by Alia Bhatt, is a character you take with you home. Director Zoya Akhtar made sure if the viewers take away the quiet angst of the male protagonist Gully Boy, they also cheer the ambitious Safeena, for her gusty charm, who doesn't give up on challenging stereotypes. Safeena is a more likely representative of changing mindset that seeks to discover love and freedom on her own terms. Zaira Wasim disappoints on that count.
More closer, real-life comparison would be with Nusrat Jahan, the Trinamool Congress MP. Both Muslims. Both actresses. One doesn’t mind taking a plunge from the world of glamour into the murky world of politics. The other thought she has been led astray, led away from her ‘Imaan,' by joining Bollywood.
Nusrat chose an inter-faith wedlock, proudly displays her new found Hindu status by wearing sindur, but without having to change her name or compromise with her Imaan or faith. And in the interviews she comes out as a woman proudly enjoying the respect and comfort in the Hindu family she has been married into. Her imaan or faith doesn't stop her or withhold her from taking a decision she took defying norms and taboo. She seems prepared to take on the orthodox, delusional clergy out to make an issue out of her interfaith marriage.
In a way, both Nusrat and Zaira took a defining leap of faith. Nusrat’s leap holds promise of an underlying shift from a patriarchal mindset that still has zero tolerance for women of substance. Zaira’s leap is rooted in orthodoxy, shorn of any ambivalence. She is very clear that she lost all the barkat..because all this while she had been leading a delusional life that took her away from her religion, from the noble teachings of the Quran. She even has a word of advice for co-religionists or all those who choose to listen to her – no amount of success, fame, authority or wealth is worth trading or losing your peace or the light of your ‘imaan’ for.
Zaira’s long open letter reeks of a certain pressure that is being brought to bear upon her about which she is loath to discuss. It also reflects her muddled state of mind about her relationship with the film industry – ‘fit for the industry but does not belong here’. May be. Only she knows best. It’s her life. Only she has the right to take a decision about that. But if religion did not drive her to Bollywood in the first place, why should it be the cause to drive her away from there? Be that as it may, why did she choose to state that in public? She would have equally surprised all and sundry had she stated five years ago that it was her religion that drove her to Bollywood.
But nothing of that sort happened then, though angry voices kept emerging from the Kashmir Valley questioning Zaira’s entry into mainstream Mumbaiya cinema. But she resisted all that to star in a 2016 blockbuster like Dangal, where she played a young female wrestler under the tutelage of her wrestler father, Amir Khan. The story was inspired by a real-life story. If Zaira plays the young protagonist, it was Fatima Sana Sheikh who played the grown-up character who wrestles with her father in a home-grown mud ring in one of the celebrated scenes of the film.
Does Zaira’s religion inform her now that Bollywood, acting, the world of showbiz is all a ‘fake world’ that uproots you from your religion? Are Zoya Akhtar, Aamir Khan or Kausar Munir lesser coreligionists than Zaira? Are they not true representatives of the faith they were born into? Or have they all been led astray by the world of make-belief and now that they have been misguided they will be condemned to hellfire?
Poet, script writer and lyricist Kausar Munir’s song Sexy Balliye comes flooding to my mind in one big torrent. Yes, the song is from Secret Superstar. This song has two versions and filmed on both Aamir Khan and Zaira Wasim separately. Zaira’s version has been tweaked in keeping with the character of the film.
The Sexy balliye lyrics filmed on Aamir Khan goes like this –
हाय तेरी बोली बोलूंगी, तेरी बानी गाऊंगी
तेरे इश्क दा चोला पहनके मैं तो
रंग रंग जाऊंगी
हाय हाय हाय
तेरा भंगड़ा डालूंगी
तेरा गिद्धा पाऊंगी
तेरे इश्क दा चूड़ा पहनके मैं तो
रंग रंग जाऊंगी..
नचदी फिरां, मैं नचदीं फिरां
नचदी फिरां मैं बन ठन के
मैं सेक्सी बलिये,
हो हो मैं सैक्सी बलिये – २
Kausar tweaks the song for the secret superstar played by Zaira who slyly records for YouTube because she feared the consequences that would befall her if her conservative father would come to know of it. Her maiden recording for YouTube becomes a runaway hit as she is hailed a Secret Superstar.
In the film her mother stands by her, taking up cudgels against her father, choosing not to go with her husband to a foreign land and staying back to nurture and push her daughter’s singing talents. So, Kausar Munir, of the Suno na sangemarmar fame, tweaks the song thus:
तेरी ही बोली बोलूंगी मैं
तेरी ही बानी गाऊंगी मैं
तेरे इशक दा चोला पहन के
तेरे इशक दा चूड़ा पहन के
मैं तुझमें ही सज जाऊंगी
मैं नचदी फिंरा,
बन-ठन बलिये हो
मैं नचदी फिरां
छम छम छलिये, हो...
Note, how the words sexy balliye disappear in the version sung by Zaira Wasim, that only seems apt since she plays a school girl in the film. Instead, the song lends itself a sufiana touch in the version filmed on Zaira. Kausar Munir has a thousand and one reasons to earn respect and fame in being who she is, a poet, writer, lyricist, and does not have to seek recourse in her religion to justify or demean what she is doing and how the world sees her. Her work also manifests the things she stands for in life, informed, I am sure, by her own faith which allows her to grow, stand up on her feet, being in the competition and racing ahead of rivals sometimes and yet stand her ground.
You look up to Nusrat, Zoya, Kausar, Fatima and Safeena because they don’t fight shy of doing what they like doing. Theirs is a no-holds barred attitude that questions orthodoxy. Zaira Wasim allows herself to be dictated by it, almost sucked into it.
Zaira was right when she stated in her letter she doesn’t’ want to be a role model. She just does not stand up to those standards.
(Prabhat Shunglu is a journalist, author and a YouTuber. He is Founder-Editor of YouTube channel The NewsBaaz)