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Iraqi shoe-thrower coming to Delhi to watch play on him

Monday March 07, 2011 08:26:41 PM, Subhash K Jha, IANS

Mumbai: Iraqi journalist Muntazer-al-Zaydi, who threw his shoes at former US president George W. Bush at a press conference in Baghdad in 2008, will be in Delhi to watch actor Imran Zahid enact the protest in Mahesh Bhatt's play "The Last Salute".

The intrepid journalist's tryst with globally recorded shoe-throwing is now the theme of "The Last Salute" to be produced by Bhatt and directed by well-known theatre personality Arvind Gaur. It will be staged May 14 at the Sriram Centre.

Most interesting of all is the fact that the young actor Imran Zahid, who plays Muntazer-al-Zaydi, has been in constant touch with Muntazer to understand the mind of a man who chose such a crude but effective way of political protest against Americanism.

For months, Imran has been struggling to comprehend Muntazer's Arabic e-mail.

"To play Muntazer I needed to understand the man's motivations as a humanbeing, journalist and political individual. Though he speaks a smattering of English and we've conversed by phone many times, Muntazer-al-Zaydi writes only in Arabic. All his e-mail to me came in Arabic.

"I had to take the help of a lecturer-friend from Delhi University who specialises in Arabic. She helped me unravel the enigma of Muntazer as contained in his e-mails. It's only through his writing on email that I actually understood why he did what he did," said Imran.

The actor, who's all set to play Muntazer in Delhi followed by one-off performances in Mumbai, Kolkat and Dubai in the same month, shares some of the unknown facts about Muntazer-al-Zaydi.

"Muntazer had been repeatedly warned by the Iraqi government of dire consequences because of his anti-establishment stance, but he remained defiantly pro-democracy. Not too many people know that he had gone to the Bush conference prepared to hurl the shoes, so it wasn't a spontaneous display of outrage.

"He had, in fact, taken off his shoe before entering the Bush conference and then carefully placed the shoe under his chair. A woman saw him putting the show under his chair and asked him what he was doing with it," he said.

Muntazer told Imran, "So many dog sniffers and metal detectors couldn't decipher my true neeyat that day."

Imran's most recent e-mail from Muntazer said, "I am going to Tahir Square on Friday, March 4, even if they arrest or kill me, I'll protest."

All these incidents, anecdotes and statements that Imran has collected through his enduring communication with Muntazer has now gone into playing the character on stage.

Imran, who has also been selected to play the slain students' leader Chandrashekhar Prasad in Mahesh Bhatt's "Chandu", is nervous as hell.

"I'm not allowing myself to think that I will be creating history when the real Muntazer-al-Zaydi will be sitting in the audience in Delhi watching me play him on stage.It's a feeling I can't describe in words," he said.

Also expected at the historic play from Bollywood are Shabana and Javed Akhtar, Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan, Hema Malini, Shatrughan Sinha, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan. Plus, of course, the entire Bhatt clan including Emraan Hashmi.

But the Bollywood invitees on May 14 is not what Imran is excited about. After having interacted for so long with Muntazer, the actor is looking forward to meeting him.

"Not just that. Mahesh Bhatt saab will appear on stage in Delhi and the other three performances to read a letter that he wrote to George Bush in 2003. Bhatt saab will also moderate question and answer sessions with Muntazer-al-Zaydi after each stage performance. All in all I think we will be creating a kind of history," said Imran.







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