She wanted to be like Kareena Kapoor, and “could not wait to act in a movie”. In her last year of college, she “got offers from casting directors who would scout for faces in campuses and on Facebook”. But her “well-to-do” Mumbai-based Kashmiri Muslim family would not allow her to take up any film job unless it was offered by Yash Chopra’s YRF (Yash Raj Films). That was in 2012.
Two years on, Murcyleen Peerzada, a 23-year-old Kashmiri woman based in Mumbai, does not idolise Kareena. She now dreams of “being like Yasmin Mogahed”, an Egypt-born American preacher known for her talks and articles on Islam.
There are other changes in Peerzada’s life. She has given up her “Westernised, flamboyant” lifestyle. From a “crazy shopaholic” who would lap up the “most expensive dresses and jeans”, she now wears an all-black burqa. Speaking to The Indian Express over phone, she says, “During my last trip to Dubai, I bought a lot of burqas; earlier, I’d shop for Western clothes.”
Her social media profile pictures have gone from her posing in glamorous tops to one in which she is draped in a hijab. All covered up, Peerzada is now an orator with the Mumbai-based, Zakir Naik-headed Islamic Research Foundation, and gives public talks on Islam in the city. Her last talk was at a ladies-only conference in Srinagar.
What caused the sudden, drastic transformation in Peerzada’s aspirations and lifestyle? The Islamic preacher, though, says the change was anything but drastic. It began, she says, with Bollywood. Her father, Feroze Peerzada, a wealthy businessman who “had known Yash Chopra for the last three decades, since the days he wanted to be an actor” introduced her to the late Yash Chopra & Bollywood to Zakir Naik & hijab: such a short journey filmmaker in 2012. He offered her the job of an assistant director on the movie Ek Tha Tiger.
“That, I took, as a stepping stone to becoming an actor. I was fascinated with acting.” Then, she was signed up for YRF’s Shuddh Desi Romance as a costume assistant director. But since the director Maneesh Sharma likes to take up newcomers for his movies, he asked her to do a screen test. “When I faced the camera, I suddenly felt exposed, emotionally and physically, even though I was wearing a salwar kameez. I felt vulnerable and uncomfortable. I just got up, and said, ‘I don’t want to do this,’” she says.
After some introspection, she realised that “actors are always so exposed” and texted Yash Chopra’s son, filmmaker Aditya Chopra, that she has changed her mind about acting. “I didn’t even want to be an assistant director any more. It’s too hectic a job. What’s the point if you don’t want to be an actor any more?” she says. She then decided to become a costume stylist and began working with designer Manish Malhotra. Then, in October 2012, Yash Chopra passed continued…