Actress Zareen Khan has been quite vocal about her battle with obesity and the subsequent body-shaming. But it is only now, six years into her career, that she's been able to come to terms with the weight-obsessed nature of the film industry.
In a telephonic interview with the Huffington Post, the actress said that despite losing all the kilos she gained specifically for her role in the Salman Khan-starrer Veer (2010), filmmakers still looked at her with skepticism and she lost out on roles because of the 'big image' that Veer had given her.
She said, "The media wrote me off because of my weight in countless articles. I couldn't believe it. Directors and producers wouldn't approach me because of the way I was written off and the image that was created. My weight was decoded as if it was a national issue, surpassing even the initial Katrina Kaif lookalike comparisons."
In 2011, she said, another actress gained weight for a biopic that became a hit, but wasn't bullied the way she was. "And I'm like, whoa, those are like some serious double standards. Just because she's an established heroine, her hard work is more than mine?" Zareen lamented, without taking names.
And then, a bitter truth hit her.
"I have come to understand that — no matter how nice you are as a person — unless you are pretty to look at and in great physical shape, nobody wants to talk to you. They'll talk to you based on your appearance. The personality that one talks about is secondary. It is sad but it just how it is in the superficial world that we live in. Fat is considered ugly in our country."
So was it the pressure from the industry that drove her to lose it all or a personal quest to get fitter? "I think there were a lot of things that pushed me towards this change. When I started shedding kilos, I started feeling good from within. I liked the transformation. I could get into clothes I only dreamt of. It was great."
However, Zareen wasn't prepared for the prejudice that Bollywood would inflict on her. "It was just very surprising. Despite my workout regime, which I did with my trainer Abbas Ali (known for training Shahid Kapoor), I was called names. And this time, I was shocked, disturbed, confused. You can physically become thin but the image people have of you in their heads takes a lot more time to change," she says, adding, "In fact, I faced more fat-shaming after losing a considerable amount of weight then I did when I was over 100 kilos."
She believes that it was the chartbuster 'Character Dheela' from Salman Khan-starrer Ready that made people sit back and notice that the 'fat girl' from Veer had become 'gorgeous'. "It took an item number and getting into a bikini (for Housefull 2) for Bollywood to accept me and believe I wasn't fat anymore. And then with Hate Story 3 everyone shut up."
Ironically, the lyrics of 'Character Dheela' go, "Kamar patli ho jitnibhi, Mazaautnanasheela hai. Chalega job hi hai aankhon ka rang kala ya neela hai (The slimmer the waist, the higher the toxication, no matter what the colour of the eyes)
She adds that earlier she used to get bothered about fitting in but now has learnt not to take people seriously.
"I took a step back and figured that it is okay if people don't like me. That is alright. Not everyone is supposed to like you. You cannot be somebody you're not. Which is why the younger Instagram generation worries me. It's like there's no innocence left. They're not even living their childhood. There is so much pressure on them. The motivation to lose weight should be simple -- do it if it makes you happy, not because someone is making you feel inferior about your body. Nobody should be allowed to dominate you."
With Hate Story and the new music video with Ali Fazal (a cover of Kishore Kumar's 'Pyaar Manga Hai') she seems to be getting into a territory where titillation seems to be the name of the game. Is she worried again of being labelled again? "I am more than happy if people call me a sex-bomb because these are the same people who called me fat at one point."
Zareen will be next seen in Aksar 2 and in Sai Kabir's Divine Lovers with Irrfan Khan, a film Kangana Ranaut was supposed to be in. "I didn't know she was doing it until much later. If you replace someone like Kangana, that instantly puts a lot of pressure!" she signs off.
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