"And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer", so reads a quote from F.Scott Fitzerald’s –The Great Gatsby.
What can one say when a rising superstar writes a long social media post citing her sudden departure from Bollywood — a place which gave a then 16-year-old name, fame, money, a position any teenager in her place would give an arm and leg for. Having Aamir Khan to mentor you and cast you in two iconic films namely ‘Dangal’ and ‘Secret Superstar’ is too good to be true, or not quite??
That brings us back to the question,why would a rising star’s hasty exit from Bollywood become a subject of debate that led to her being incessant trolled.
Can one turn back the clock? Of course you can’t. There have been several Bollywood and Hollywood personalities who quit their careers at their peak in pursuit of happiness, some for spirituality, some for domesticity post marriage. Many couldn’t handle the pressure of stardom, they tried to get back, jaded and redeemed, but it was too late.
Take the case of Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse for example. Britney became a huge star in the 90s heralded as the new age ‘Madonna’ after her ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ single caught the imagination of pop music lovers till her very public breakdown in 2008.
In 2007 and 2008 at the peak of the Hollywood paparazzi era, the media chronicled her journey from dizzying heights to a very public breakdown in 2008. Earlier such behaviour was mocked at and made fun of, since then till now mental health is taken more seriously.
As I sat rationalizing her drastic decision, I am sure it mustn’t have been an easy one. Let's just wrap our heads around this — at 18 you are a public personality, a youth icon, a national award winner to boot and one of the main leads for the forthcoming ‘The Sky Is Pink’, an enviable position, the stuff dreams are made of.
And then in a flicker of a second its all gone.
This is surely not the first time someone has quit Bollywood, Vinod Khanna’s case is a classic example of the 'Monk who sold his Ferrari', people from the film industry do admit that there is a dark underbelly at work with casting couches, nepotism and many compulsions. At 18, especially when one has not seen the vagaries of life and is not thick-skinned, the ideological battle between good or bad rages on, one only sees life in black and white and not in technicolour hues.
The list of artists seemingly buckling under pressure is a long one, especially abroad. UK Star Amy Winehouse, for instance, died of drug overdose and alcohol addiction at the age of 27, ironically her album 'Back To Black' became UK’s best selling album of the 21 st century.
Women worldwide have battled patriarchy and misogyny since times immemorial, whether it was fighting to study at school, struggling for right to vote and in India women in defence have fought for their rights to serve the defence forces in combat roles.
We have come a long way.
It is just not the Muslim women who face gender bias and moral judgements, it is about every woman who’s faced harassment, misogyny at home or at work. There will be bullies, there will be moral judgements, there might even be threats, however isn’t it every woman’s responsibility to stand up to bullies and their tormentators?
Many liberals are arguing that one should respect Zaira Wasim’s freedom of choice, after all, we did give respect to Nusrat Jahan for her sartorial choices be it wearing kumkum and chuda to the Parliament,but what if its not a personal choice and the person has taken a U-turn in life on account of pressure, threats.
A few months ago the fiery Shehla Rashid was seen wearing a hijab at public meetings and had put up posts reasserting her muslim identity on social media, which till now was shielded as one of a left leaning fire brand JNU activist, the one commonality being that both were from Kashmir and both seemed to be under pressure on how an ideal Kashmiri politician/Actor should conduct oneself in public life.
The conservative lobby are rejoicing her decision, a homecoming of sorts to what they call deen, ironically many of them who are patting her on her back for this ‘brave’ step will be the first ones to make a beeline to buy a movie ticket to watch item numbers and scantily dressed women.
This step also reinforces stereotypes about the Muslim community being regressive, which was not the case if one looks back in time at Islam’s humble origins.
Being an Indian Muslim woman, who has been a working woman from the age of 21, I would like to reiterate once again that there is absolutely no conflict between work and your religious belief as long as one carries oneself with grace and dignity.
The real Islam is egalitarian, over fourteen hundred years ago, Islam gave women rights that women in the West have only recently begun to appreciate.It might be interesting to note that over the last twenty years or so, England has given the right to Christian women to own property
An interesting verse from the Quran
Never will I allow the loss of the work of any worker amongst you, male or female; you are of one another.
Islam has honored women the right to compulsory education, right to work, right to choose a spouse, right to seek divorce.
Ironically many people are under the impression that parents force their daughters into marriage, if they do at all, it’s a cultural practise and has no basis whatsoever in Islam.
At this point in time the only rationale we can seek to find is to wish Zaira the very best if she has at all chosen this path at her free will, but 18 is too young to decide what is best for you, she might be on an introspection spree, she might be facing a burn out or stress — let us give her the benefit of doubt, choosing owns own path is freedom of choice so is mine to lament over this decision and opine on it.
(Saira Shah Halim is a social and gender rights activist and an Educator. The views and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Republic TV/ Republic World/ ARG Outlier Media Pvt. Ltd.)