Until a few years ago, 37-year-old Tariq Ahmad Mir, an actor with dwarfism from Mir Bazar village of south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, had no idea who Peter Dinklage was. He had never heard of the Hollywood actor’s popular onscreen character Tyrion Lannister, leave alone watching Game of Thrones (GoT).
The winter of 2018 changed this for Tariq. Acclaimed Bollywood film director and writer Imtiaz Ali who was visiting the valley to attend a film festival was introduced to Tariq at a separate tourism festival organised by the then state government in Pahalgam. Tariq was performing a humorous skit on the stage to entertain visitors and tourists.
When Ali finally met the performer, he was taken by his striking resemblance to Peter Dinklage’s character Tyrion Lannister. Tariq happened to have the same height and almost identical facial features.
Ali clicked a photo with Tariq for his Instagram with the caption: “With Tyrion Lannister at Pahalgam festival :).” The picture went viral on social media and had more than 17,000 likes and about 250 comments. Soon, the photo was picked by the press, with headlines in organisations stating that Tyrion Lannister’s doppelganger had been found in Kashmir.
That evening, back at his home, Tariq went online to read more about Peter Dinklage and his onscreen avatar Tyrion Lannister in GOT. He was pretty surprised to notice their close resemblance.
Soon, he downloaded all the episodes of the TV show on his mobile phone and in the subsequent months watched all the seasons of the series. He was simply fascinated by Dinkage’s on-screen presence and was in awe of his gripping performance over different seasons of the hit series.
Meeting Salman Khan
A month later, Tariq was shocked to receive a call from a casting director in Mumbai who offered him a small role in a Bollywood film Bharat starring Salman Khan. Considering it was a big break, Tariq readily accepted the offer. In July 2018, he flew to Mumbai to experience his first time on a film set. Tariq stayed on in the city for about a month to complete his part of shooting.
“It was a surreal experience to meet Salman Khan on the sets and dance alongside him and other actors,” says Tariq. During his stay there, he attracted many curious people and GOT fans on the set as they wanted to take photos and selfies with this Tyrion Lannister look-alike.
Tariq was excited to see Bollywood superstar Salman Khan in person for the first time. Khan, he says, also appreciated his work while shooting for the song sequence.
“Salman Khan would remember me and ask for me on the set among the many people present there,” he says. “It felt good to be appreciated for my little work from a superstar in the industry.”
Besides an ensemble song, Tariq also featured in a song and dance sequence in the film in which he was dressed up in similar costume and hairstyle as that of Tyrion Lannister of GOT.
“Even without makeup, many people on the set would say that I resembled the American actor more than another lookalike who was found in Pakistan,” he says. “That made me very happy.”
Tariq said that he was always prepared for the roles he was playing and made sure never to disappoint any director after accepting his part. “Sometimes I would do it in only one take on the sets as I would rehearse well based on the script provided to me,” he said.
In September 2018, Tariq again flew to Mumbai to complete the second leg of shooting for the film. He stayed in a hotel in Mumbai for 20 days to complete his shoot for other scenes in the film. While he was in the city, he also got another offer to act in an ad film for ITC Master Chef. For this, he had to travel to Goa from Mumbai, wrapping up the shoot for the ad in a single day.
“When I landed in Goa airport, a lot of people came up to me saying I looked like Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones,” he says, adding that by now he was used to such surprising reactions. He was happy to oblige whenever there were shutterbugs around him.
New found fame
Tariq was born into a family of peasants and studied till 12th standard while already performing on various stages as a school student at the government high school in Anantnag. Here, he earned several awards and accolades for his performances. Later, he moved to Srinagar to find more work. From 2001, he began featuring in minor roles in local language television shows and TV serials.
As he stepped into adulthood, Tariq says that people in his village would crack jokes at his expense and make fun of his height. Although he would feel bad about it, it never stopped him from performing on stage and acting in television dramas. He says that he always liked making people laugh. The humorous skits he performs, he believes, help make people forget their worries for a while and this drives him. Despite several dry spells, he never gave up acting.
In the past few years, after acting in some films and ads, and having featured in several popular GOT tribute videos, he has become a well-known figure in his village. People recognize him wherever he goes out in public. Usually, they want to take photos with him.
“People come up to me to say good things and they also want to take pictures with me now,” says Tariq who lives with his mother and elder brother in his native village. When he is not acting, he runs a small shop to make a living.
After the BJP government revoked Article 370 and divided Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories on August 5, 2019, it subsequently imposed a lockdown and a six month long communications shutdown.
Tariq, during this period, could not remain in touch with casting directors and other contacts from the film industry. Acting work was hard to come by and the opportunities to perform at tourism festivals organized by the state’s tourism department also became negligent.
Before the August 5 lockdown, Tariq said he had received another offer to act in a Bollywood film titled Marjawan written and directed by Milap Milan Zaveri and released in November 2019. However, he couldn’t contact the director in time since all the phone and internet network was shut down for about six months in Kashmir. The role he was offered was later taken up by Riteish Deskmukh who played the main antagonist, a dwarf character in the film.
Despite the lost opportunities, Tariq is still satisfied with what he has achieved over the years. He has no regrets, he says.
“God has made me the way I am and I can’t change that,” he says. “And there is no point in being sad about it.”
Last year, he got another offer to act in another Bollywood film U Turn directed by Arif Khan. He had travelled to Mumbai, Pune and Chandigarh twice to complete shooting for the film after the Covid lockdown was eased last year. The film, which stars Pooja Bhat’s daughter Alaya Furniturewalla, is expected to release this summer.
“I’m thankful to God for giving me some talent to act,” he says. “It is not just my looks that get me work,” he is quick to emphasize. “It takes a lot of hard work too and I’m trying my best to become a better actor.”
Whenever he meets other people with dwarfism, he says they often feel happy about his success. He says they are also talented and want to be appreciated and recognized for their work.
“The governments here have not been very helpful to encourage and support people like us,” he says. While they are not dependent, some aid would help.
“I tell others that our height is not a disadvantage and that we can achieve anything like other people,” he says. “There is no need to lament or worry about the way we are. We just have to keep working and our work will also be recognized,” he says.
In the coming months, Tariq is hopeful of getting another minor role in Salman Khan starrer Dabangg 4, the fourth installment of the Dabangg franchise featuring Khan’s iconic Chulbul Pandey character which is reportedly in the works. He wants to grab bigger roles in other films as well.
His other big dream is to meet Peter Dinklage in person at least once in his lifetime.
“I will just hug him and say many thanks. I will tell him that I got more work and respect because of resembling him,” he says. “It will be the happiest day of my life to meet him in person some day”.