This ‘Indian Peter Dinklage’ is Overcoming the Stigma of Dwarfism in Bollywood
About a kilometer off the highway, around a bend and smack facing the road in Bumthan village in Kashmir Valley, India, is an ordinary daily needs shop with all your Indian household essentials: ginger-garlic paste, one-ounce packets of Pantene shampoo, and assorted green, blue and red bags of Lays chips.
What’s extraordinary about it is the Kashmiri Muslim man who runs the shop has an uncanny resemblance to the popular Hollywood actor, Peter Dinklage (known most recently for his role as Tyron Lannister in HBO’s Game of Thrones).
“Do you want to meet this man?” my Kashmiri friend asks me as we’re walking to the car after a short visit to his cousin’s house across the street.
Tariq Mir, 31, hopped off his post in front of his shop and approached me with a giant grin and outstretched hand to introduce himself. “They call me Tyron now,” he says, and keeps grinning. “People love to take selfies with me now.”
He had just returned from a 15-day film shoot in Mumbai with famed Bollywood actor, Salman Khan, who promised him more roles in more movies after this one, Bharat, releases in August 2019.
It was only last year that local audiences to Tariq’s stage plays and TV serials laughed at him and his troop of little people, or “dwarves” as they are sometimes called in India. The acting was meant to be funny, to show the little people as circus-like comedy, but that bothered Tariq (a little, he said).
His big break came last summer when Bollywood director, Imtiaz Ali, also a Muslim in the Hindu-dominated industry, tweeted a selfie with Tariq at a film festival nearby his village. It immediately went viral.
Now Tariq sees it as his mission to change the stigma around dwarfism in Indian theater and cinema, inspired by his doppelganger, Dinklage.
“I was fortunate enough that my face resembled Tyron, but my friends are not,” he said. “If they go to villages, people poke and make fun of them. But now because of me they’re hopeful that dwarves will become part of mainstream Bollywood.”
Little people have historically rarely been seen in Indian cinema, appearing only for shock value or laughs. But that’s starting to change. In December, a Bollywood film called Zero will release about a short man’s quest to date a beautiful superstar.
Tariq became interested in acting as a child when he was mercilessly bullied. People called him “tortoise”, kicked him, dragged him, laughed at him and chased him shouting “dwarf, dwarf, dwarf!” he recalls. As a result, he spent a lot of his childhood inside of his house.
“I thought that maybe it was a sin to be what I am, that I had done something wrong,” Tariq said. “Only later I realized that Allah made me this way.”
His family was supportive and urged him to stay social. With that encouragement, acting became a hobby.
In school, in 2003, he won his first award for acting in a play. After that, drama club became his respite and pushed him to join dwarf acting troops and festivals in Srinagar, Jammu, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. Most of his experience to date has been in Kashmiri TV serials.
Switching to Hindi and English are his biggest challenges (The Kashmiri language is very distinct from Hindi and sounds more like Arabic) so he’s hired a personal assistant from his village to help him learn lines and travel with him as needed. In between acting, he mans his shop.
Spend an afternoon in his shop and you’ll see that he’s become a local celebrity. People who might have taunted him before, now greet him with a wave. Even the Jammu and Kashmir state government is proud. They funded a video advertisement of Tariq in Kashmir dressed up as Tyron from Game of Thrones, hoping to boost him and the state to international acclaim.
It seems to be working so far. Peter Dinklage himself publicly acknowledged he has an Indian look-a-like. Maybe Tariq will travel to the US and meet him.
“That would be my dream,” Tariq said.