Iraqi scribe who hurled shoe at Bush says he admires Gandhi

"I would like to thank India for giving birth to my idol Gandhiji. I take inspiration from his words that if you have a strong will then you will have freedom," said Al-Zaidi after watching a play "The Last Salute," an adaptation of his book, of the same name, on the Iraq war.

Conceived and produced by Bollywood filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, the 70-minute play scripted by Rajesh Kumar and staged in the capital last evening tried to explore the story of the 2003 Iraq war, the intervention of US and the factors leading to Al-Zaidi's shoe-throwing act. It began with a couplet from legendary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

"Muntazar, for me is like Bhagat Singh who spoke against injustice," said Bhatt who produced this play with Promodome Films and Delhi-based Asmita theatre group.
"I have not chosen this incident in particular but it is the thought which I chose. This thought of speaking against injustice is ingrained in our national conscience. Gandhi's way was different but the thoughts are same in 'The Last Salute',"  he adds.

Al-Zaidi's character was portrayed by Delhi actor Imran Zahid who is set to debut in Bollywood in Mahesh Bhatt's next film "Chandu" which essays the life of student leader and activist Chandrashekhar Prasad, who was shot dead in 2007.

The journalist, who is on a two-day visit to the country, had written the "Last Salute" in Arabic during his time spent in detention after hurling his shoe at the US President in 2008 at a press conference in Baghdad.

"My book has been published in Arabic and I hope some publisher would publish it in Hindi and English too," said Zaidi who spoke through a translator.

Bringing Al-Zaidi into India wasn't easy due to problems with visa clearance but says Bhatt the Indian government intervened and cleared the visa.

"It is the greatness of our democracy that we were able to invite Al Zaidi and stage this play," said the filmmaker adding that he is planning to take the play to other places like Dubai.

Asmita's Arvind Gaur who directed the play says, "Theatre and society are interconnected, and through our plays we try to reflect what’s happening in our society." Gaur says he was approached by Mahesh Bhatt around four months ago to direct the play.
Apart from Al-Zaidi and Bhatt other famous personalities in the packed audience included actors Pooja Bhatt, Dino Morea and Jaya Prada.

Praising the play Pooja Bhatt said that democracy is not a free ride. "We need to speak up to maintain our democratic rights," Pooja Bhatt added.

"I am moved by watching the play," said Dino More, the actor of "Raaz" fame.

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