Imran Zahid and Mahesh Bhatt. “Imran has passion in the right direction. But if he does not deliver, we will kick him out,” says Bhatt. Image Credit: AP

Dubai has been lucky for debutant Indian actor Imran Zahid. And he wants to thank the city by bringing his play, The Last Salute, to Dubai after its premiere in India in March. As we revealed in an exclusive story earlier this week, the play is based on the book The Last Salute To President Bush, written by Muntadhar Al Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at former US President George W. Bush.

It is produced by Bollywood filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and Zahid is playing the role of Al Zaidi. "I come from a small town in Bihar, and the first time I travelled abroad was to Dubai," Zahid told tabloid!. "And the city changed my life, because that is where I met Mahesh Bhatt."

It was Zahid who told Bhatt about Al Zaidi's book. "The Iraqi journalist is the same age as me. But while I was going to rock shows, he was watching his country being bombed," he said.

"He could have taken up arms, but he chose to study journalism and use the power of the media to raise a voice on behalf of his people."

He is excited about Al Zaidi attending the premiere in Delhi. "I spoke to him on the phone last week and he was keen to see the play. He told me that he is an admirer of Gandhi and India's non-violent struggle for independence, and wants to visit the Gandhi memorial in Delhi to pay homage," said Zahid.

As for his future plans, Zahid has left it to Bhatt who has cast him as another dissenter, Chandrashekhar Prasad, in his upcoming film, Chandu. "As an actor, I would like to do all kinds of roles. But Bhatt is my mentor and I will follow his advice in everything I do."

Producer's notes:
Tabloid! spoke to Mahesh Bhatt about the play The Last Salute and, as usual, the controversial filmmaker expressed his strong opinions.

Why did Muntadhar Al Zaidi's story appeal to you?

I feel that this was a historic event that evoked a thunderous response from all those who opposed butcher [former US President George W.] Bush's so-called war against terror.

Al Zaidi believed in free speech and was opposed to Saddam and could not bear to see the rights of his people being trampled upon again. His spontaneous action was dictated by powerful emotions. But he has suffered a lot for this. He was put in jail, beaten up and tortured.

Bush's weapons of mass "distraction" have divided the world into us and them and stoked the fire of Islamophobia, forcing every Muslim to prove that he is not a terrorist.

Al Zaidi is a young man who had the audacity not to conform and the guts to stand up to a bully and tell him the truth. I believe that this man hurling his shoe at Bush was one of the defining images of our time and his story must be heard by everybody.

Why did you choose to produce a play rather than a film on this subject?

A film is too expensive and this kind of subject [would have] no takers in Bollywood, which is in the business of manufacturing illusions. But whether you do a play, film, newspaper column or speech, the idea is to communicate, share our concerns and keep human beings on the path of sanity.

Your latest film, Chandu, is also about a dissenter. Tell us more about this project.

We are still working on the script and the project is under production. It is about Indian student leader and activist Chandrashekhar Prasad, who was shot dead in 2007. This young Indian chose not to be a part of the self-absorbed, consumerist culture pervading our country and chose to help the underprivileged and paid with his life for that.

The idea behind this film is to present in this age of tabloidisation and celebrity worship the real heroes, who are unsung and unremembered.

What did you see in Imran Zahid to cast him as Chandu and play the role of Al Zaidi?

Imran has passion in the right direction. He is committed to ideas with social content and has the drive to achieve what he wants to do. Unlike many westernised Indian youngsters, he remains connected with his Indian roots. Both the roles are challenging, but directors Arvind Gaur and Ajay Kanchan have faith in him. But if he does not deliver, we will kick him out.

How do you feel about your other protégé, Emraan Hashmi, finally finding success outside the Bhatt camp with Once Upon A Time In Mumbai?

I am very happy. He was never supposed to be caged and doing films only for us. I feel that he gets us more power by becoming a bigger, more experienced actor. Once Upon A Time In Mumbai has given his career a major boost and done for him [what] our films could not. And I am looking forward to working with him again in Murder 2.

Why have you given up direction?

I am happy producing, writing and encouraging young talent by honing their skills and giving them a platform to showcase their abilities.