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Zaira’s dangal

Targeted by trolls, the young actor seems to have found her real-life fighter’s instinct.

By: |
January 24, 2017 12:04:11 am

Life couldn’t have been more dramatic recently for 16-year-old Zaira Wasim, the Kashmiri actor who played wrestling champion Geeta Phogat in Aamir Khan’s blockbuster Dangal. In the biopic, playing daughter to Aamir’s coach-father, Zaira essayed the several sharp twists in Geeta’s life, from her early reluctance to wrestle, to losing her first dangal or bout, gathering her nerve and achieving momentous wins, including becoming the first woman wrestler to win gold for India at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

In real life, Geeta faced constant mocking, sly patronising and ugly brow-beating by men; Zaira has tasted this in real life too. Following Dangal’s success, Zaira met Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. The meeting seemed courteous; the reactions weren’t. Zaira was attacked online and trolled. Politics in Kashmir is heavy with history and perennially fraught, but here, an irony showed through: Voices claiming to represent freedom of choice attacked a young woman for exercising her freedom. Kashmir has suffered deep, tragic traumas.

But it it is also true that Zaira has the right to make her own choices, politically and otherwise. Under pressure from the conservative elements trolling her, Zaira cracked, writing an emotional “apology”, stating she was no role model and that she’d “unintentionally hurt people”, whose sentiments she understood, given “what had happened over the last 6 months”. She sought “forgiveness”, pleading to be treated like a 16-year-old girl.

But the trolls laughed too fast. Zaira deleted her emotional post shortly thereafter and following reel-life father Aamir Khan’s supportive open letter, she seems to have gathered heart. This showed when Vijay Goel, Union sports minister, attempted to mansplain her with a patronising post showing a woman in a hijab and a cage — Goel congratulated Zaira for breaking out of the latter. But Zaira shot back, saying hijab-wearers weren’t victims, and that Goel was mistakenly clubbing her in an imagined league of the oppressed. As Goel hurriedly backed off, Zaira seemed to have found her feet in a real-life dangal, learning to fight back.

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First published on: 24-01-2017 at 12:04:11 am
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