Hail the rebel

Years ago, in an audacious act, a young Iraqi journalist who hurled a shoe at the then US president George W Bush, in Baghdad in 2008, sent shock waves around the world. This very incident formed the subject of eminent theatre director Arvind Gaur’s Asmita theatre group, The Last Salute. The act was presented by Sandiip Kapur’s Promodome Films and filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt,  which was recently staged at the Kamani Auditorium in the Capital. 

The Last Salute is a play based on the Iraqi journalist Muntadar-al–Zaidi’s book ‘The Last Salute to President Bush’. The play explores facts of the gulf crisis and the US intervention which has been questioned time and again. It highlights the emotions of the people involved, talks about world peace and the politics that affect the common man. It was a historic event that evoked a thunderous response from all those who opposed former US President George W. Bush’s so-called war against terror.  

Al Zaidi, the protagonist played by Imran Zahid, believed in free speech and was opposed to Saddam’s regime and could not bear to see the rights of his people being trampled upon again. His spontaneous action was dictated by powerful emotions. He was privy to the suffering of thousands of innocents-both as a writer as well as a volunteer. George W Bush portrayed by Ishwak Singh, and his weapons of mass ‘distraction’ that divided the world into us and them and stoked the fire of Islamophobia, forcing every Muslim to prove that he is not a terrorist. 

The 90-minute play opens with the reading of a letter, Mahesh Bhatt had written to Senator Charles Mendies in 2003, citing his reasons for declining the invitation to join the then American President for the 51st Prayer Breakfast in Washington. And then the stage is set in Iraq, for the events to unfold. The beautiful protest songs of writers like Faiz Ahmed, Habib Jalib and Sahir Ludhianvi highlighted the anger, undercurrents and situation of the Middle East. Asmita’s eminent theatre actors, Shilpi Marwaha, Ishwak Singh, Rahul Khanna, Shiv Kanungo, Palak Bhutani personify the protagonist’s emotions, dilemma, conscience and anger, ‘narrate’ the incidents that provoked him to fling the shoe - the ultimate act of disrespect in the Arab world, while a multimedia presentation corresponds to the narration by Gaurav Mishra. Actor Imran Zahid, who plays Zaidi, says that he has been in constant touch with Muntadar-al–Zaidi to understand the mind of a man who chose such a crude but effective way of political protest against Americanism.

Muntadar 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. The highlight of the play as the narration goes, was when he had taken off his shoe before entering the Bush conference and then carefully placed the shoe under his chair. A woman saw him putting the shoe under his chair and asked him what he was doing with it, but could not comprehend his intentions. 

What all newspaper reports could not do, one shoe highlighted- the Iraq situation and protest after what America did to it. Here was a man who had first suffered at the hands of Saddam and then at the hands of George Bush who became the voice of millions of sufferers of his country, all because Bush’s American dream had turned into a nightmare for them. 

Since then this little known Iraqi journalist has been hailed as a fighter in the West Asia and beyond, his shoes’ brand became the most sought after. Zaidi was beaten up, imprisoned and tortured for two years. But he didn’t kill a single soul, while Bush, who waged a war on a false pretext and has blood in his hands roams free.
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