Zaira Wasim, 18, is a gifted actress. At a time when film-goers were expecting more first-rate performances from her, the Kashmir-born teenager surprised everybody by dissociating herself from films.
The now-former actress wrote in a Facebook post that while “I continued to work in an environment that consistently interfered with my 'imaan' (faith), my relationship with my religion was threatened." She also advised everybody that ' no amount of success, fame, authority or wealth is worth trading or losing your peace or the light of your 'imaan' for."
Wasim’s lengthy statement found supporters as well as critics on social media. Also, there were those who insisted that she has every right to walk down that path in life she believes is appropriate for her.
Few mentioned that Zaira’s decision to leave films is a loss for the industry. Viewers had seen her talent in full flow in Nitesh Tiwari’s biographical sports drama, Dangal, which was loved by the critics and masses alike and became the highest-grossing Hindi film ever.
She played the protagonist in Advait Chandan’s musical drama Secret Superstar, another critically acclaimed film that became the highest-grossing Hindi film featuring a female lead. What a start, some would say. And, rightly so, since Zaira seemed destined to go places – with a little bit of luck.
Shonali Bose’s The Sky is Pink, her upcoming film, will hit the marquee in October. In the film, Zaira has played the character of Aisha Chaudhury, a motivational speaker and author from real life who suffered from pulmonary fibrosis and passed away at 19. Such is the idea driving the script that the film should have emotional depth and subtlety. It will also be the last film with Zaira in the star cast.
After the Facebook post, some critics hurriedly dismissed her as a two-film wonder. What they overlooked is that Zaira is an 18-year-old who had taken her first few steps in the industry. Besides, what about the quality of her performances? In both films, she came across as a spontaneous natural who was distinctly comfortable in front of the camera.
In Dangal, she is the younger version of Geeta Phogat, the freestyle wrestler from the small Haryana village of Balali, who won a gold medal for India in the 2010 Commonwealth Games. As the daughter of amateur wrestler and also her coach, Mahavir Singh Phogat, (played by Aamir Khan), Zaira is fabulous in each and every sequence she appears in.
In one sequence, she describes why she and her younger sister Babita beat up two unruly boys. In another, she is flabbergasted when her father treats the two sisters to golgappas for the one last time, saying that wrestlers are not allowed to have oily, spicy food.
In another sequence, she is desperate not to have her hair cut short, which is what her father wants. In another, she takes on a boy in a mud-wrestling bout for the first time. Zaira’s facial expressions and body language resulted in many scene-stealing moments. With Dangal, a new star was born.
As a girl who hides her face and sings her way to super-stardom on YouTube, Zaira is no less good in Secret Superstar. The camera focuses on her when she, a school-going girl, tells her mother why she must leave her abusive husband. When she tries to explain to her father why she has flunked a surprise test, her face reveals a mix of anxiety and fear. When she revels in the attention her classmate in love with her showers on her, one can hear what she is thinking.
We don’t know anything about her performance in The Sky is Pink yet. One suspects she will be good, considering the character she has played. Three films old, she has left the industry at a time when a significant section of Bollywood is focusing on content-driven films with unusual ideas, thus increasing the need for good actors manifold.
Film-lovers must be hoping that Zaira Wasim will return to the industry someday. An abundance of talent is a rarity and keeping it unused, a tragedy. Should she realize that, she might change her mind.