Zaira Wasim’s Bollywood exit: Botox for our collective brain

Why, secular or communal, we are all so entranced by a teenager’s filmi angst.

 |  5-minute read |   02-07-2019
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So, Zaira Wasim, Bollywood actor of three films in toto, announced her intention to ‘disassociate’ from the world of Bollywood as it was apparently interfering with her faith. Her announcement caused a greater furore than any of her roles – social media was more flooded than a Mumbai road, with multiple factions taking up multiple opinions on Zaira.

zaira_070219095709.jpgThe lady always finds herself in a fight. (Photo: Still from Dangal/YouTube)

How dare she bring her religion into this, huffed one side, what does that make the Three Khans then? Why shouldn’t she, you jerks, puffed the other, she has every right to cite whatever she feels and just because you’re a Savarna-born-to-the-3-BHK-bhakt-male doesn’t mean you can decide for her! What gives you the right to argue, hissed a third lot, given that when it comes to anyone citing Hinduism for anything, you jeer within a NaMo, sorry, nano-second!

And so, it raged on the entire day.

Zaira Wasim inundated the internet and was prime-time material too. It seemed that no one, from famous writers to infamous publicity-seekers, academics, activists and arsonists, no-one could get enough of Zaira and her decision to quit.

But why?

After all, it’s not like Amitabh Bachchan had decided to exit Bollywood. This was someone who’s worked in three movies, was not particularly extraordinary in any and is reportedly just 18 – which gives her plenty of time to choose orthodoxy, then rebel against it, then go back, then rebel again, as many times as she pleases.

Why then were we getting so worked up?

Simple. Zaira is an adolescent. And her teenage angst helped us all feel young and angsty again. In a sense, the Zaira Wasim episode provided Botox to our brains. It both refreshed us – and froze us exactly where we were.

botox_070219101257.jpgBotox. It refreshes and freezes you as well. (Photo: Reuters|)

Here’s why — the drama contained every delectable ‘keyword’ the Indian media operates on: Muslim. Bollywood. Kashmir. Teenager. Woman. And of course, lingering somewhere in the backdrop, like a teasing wisp of chiffon on a Yash Chopra mountain — Sex. It will be hidden. But it’s there. And we will find it. We always do.

In this case, here’s how.

For the Indian grown-up — and no one can be more grown-up than the Indian liberal, that fine repository of learning, wisdom and sanctimonious grace — the Muslim is always and eternally a non-grown up. An adolescent, who is deeply lovable while apparently being wild, unpredictable, prone to tantrums and sulks, needing lots of love and hugs. Indian non-Muslims are not the only ones to view ‘Muslims’ in this way. Psychologist Carl Jung, writing in 1920, noted of ‘Arab culture’ in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, “…The emotional nature of these unreflective people who are so much closer to life than we are exerts a strong suggestive influence upon those historical layers in ourselves which we have just overcome and left behind — or which we think we have overcome.”

That, in a nutshell, explains the way Muslims are viewed in India.

And why, every time we talk of Muslims, we bring up an imagined past — Akbar (if you’re liberal), Aurungzeb (if you’re not), Ghalib, Khusrau and Anarkali (if you’re a sensualist), Ghori, Ghazni and Babur (if you're a bit harder). But whatever your public-private predilections may be, what’s for sure is that you will treat ‘the Muslim’ as an anomaly, a museum piece, a shahi tukda, a fragment from a costume drama, whom we must greet with flowery adaabs, who represent great kebabs, around whom we will pussy-foot — or scream, say Jai Shri Ram

muslim-collage_070219102223.jpgHow to make a Muslim: Kohl+Veil+harem+Henna (Photo: Twitter)

There is a continuing infantilizing of the Muslim in all this – and a continual superiority of the non-Muslim. We are mature. We are grown-ups. We are of scientific temperament and able to handle change, thought Pandit Nehru and his bhakts — they are not. And thus, they enclosed the Muslim in a cage of medieval customs and archaic laws, while ensuring Hindus would receive the fresh air, sunlight and open roads of the new.

This was one of the cruelest tricks that could have been played in the name of 'secularism'.

nehru_070219104317.jpgWe are of scientific temperament, thought Pandit Nehru and his bhakts — they are not. (Photo: Twitter)

A trick which kept the most child-like – the poorest, the most wretched, the most vulnerable – Muslims backward and deprived. A trick which ensured a few elites, ‘more grown-up’ than the apparently sulking, rampaging, ravenously eating, multiply-marrying others, were groomed into ironed-sherwani-and-rose-buttoned-adults. A trick which ensured non-Muslims would forever feel superior about their advancements – either by waving the Muslim’s lack of development in their face like a rag, or rushing to protect the same with patronizing tenderness.

What an idea, sir ji.

And this is why the Zaira Wasim issue became such an issue after all.

For, once again, in the virtual yelling and the studio shouts, we non-Muslims could reassure ourselves both ways. We are modern and willing to change. We are also secular enough to ensure others can’t.

The problem — or perhaps, the gift – in all this is that we non-Muslims have locked ourselves up in an intellectual adolescence too. The more liberal we are, the more mentally arrested we seem to be. The less able to see reality, in its harshness and its cruelty and its lack of opportunity to those we’ve captured in an imagined identity, as playthings and prisoners simultaneously.

burqa_070219102409.jpgAnything but an equal citizen. (Photo: Reuters)

This is the sinister part of our secularism.

Its cruelty which amuses us, whether left or right.

And the intellectual stultification it has wrought upon us too. Where we love episodes like Zaira Wasim’s — Botox for our collective brain.

Goodbye, Zaira Wasim. You are actually far more gifted than I thought. You kept us entertained till the very end.

Also Read: Zaira Wasim, as a young professional, why bring religion into your work? Is that what you want to teach your fans?

Writer

Srijana Mitra Das Srijana Mitra Das @srijanapiya17

Opinion Editor, India Today Group Digital.

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