Kashmir’s diminutive Dangal star, the 16-year-old Zaira Wasim, stirred a debate on Monday with a cryptic post that she called an “open confession/apology” after she met chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.
The girl, who played the younger wrestling champ Geeta Phogat in the top-grossing Bollywood movie, posted on Facebook and Twitter that she apologises for offending people by “my recent actions”.
“I hope people remember that I’m a just a 16-year-old girl and I hope you treat me accordingly. I’m sorry for what I did but it was not a deliberate decision and I really hope people can forgive me,” she wrote.
The Jammu and Kashmir government recently released photographs of Zaira with Mehbooba.
“...I understand the sentiments behind it especially considering what had happened over the past 6 months,” Zaira posted.
The Kashmir Valley has recorded unprecedented unrest since the July 8 killing of a militant commander, whose death triggered anti-India protests in which more than 90 people have been killed. People’s anger has also been directed towards Mehbooba, the PDP chief who runs a coalition government with the BJP.
Zaira objected to being called a role model in the Valley.
“I’m not proud of what I’m doing and I want everyone, especially the youth to know that there are real role models...”
Later, she removed her posts and wondered “why this has become such a big issue”.
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah came to Zaira’s defence. He tweeted that a “16 year old should not be forced to apologise for allegedly meeting @mehboobamufti”.
But, at the same time, he criticised the chief minister “for using other people’s success to cover her failures”.
Before Zaira, several IAS officers from the state, including Shah Faisal, who was the first Kashmiri to top the civil services, had objected to being hailed as an icon by media during the months of unrest.
Zaira plays the wrestler-daughter of actor Aamir Khan in Dangal. Based on the Phogat sisters, the movie has broken all previous records at the box office, making more than Rs 300 crore.
Her character as young Geeta has been appreciated by cineastes and critics alike.
Phogat is the first woman wrestler from India to have won gold in the 55kg freestyle category at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Aamir plays wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat, who trained his two daughters.
In an earlier interview to Hindustan Times, Zaira had called her six-month stint in Bollywood a life-changing experience.
“I was a normal teenager with a lot of anxiety but have been able to overcome that in the past six months,” she said.
Daughter of a banker-father and teacher-mother, she was picked from among hundreds of girls who auditioned for the role. Zaira was spotted by the casting crew as she had featured in an advertisement for a cell phone.
“I got a call in April. It was a big decision for the family as Bollywood is not really looked up to in our society,” she said.
It was her aunt who supported her decision. “She asked my parents to give me a chance to realise my dreams. Like other Kashmiri parents, mine were concerned about what people would say. But my aunt handled the situation well.”
The decision did have its fallout.
“A lot was said about me in social media. But Aamir Khan and the rest of the crew supported me,” she said. “I want to tell people that it’s a beautiful role about dignity and empowerment of women.”
The role required hours of rigorous training in wrestling, bodybuilding and swimming. Young Zaira handled all that, with aplomb.
Zaira is also playing an important role in Aamir Khan’s next film, Secret Superstar, which is scheduled to hit the screens in August this year.