Theatre

A shoe raised in protest

A scene from the play.   | Photo Credit: 24DFR BHATT PLAY 2

In 2008, during a press conference in Baghdad, Iraqi journalist Muntadhar Al-Zaidi’s unique protest took the shape of his shoes, which he hurled at the then President of United States of America, George Bush. It was clearly going to be an incident the world wouldn’t forget easily, and the deep discontent, anger and hopelessness that had led to it soon became the subject of first a book by Al-Zaidi, and then a play by Mahesh Bhatt.

“The Last Salute”, based of a book by Al-Zaidi titled “The Last Salute to President Bush”, is both a historical recounting of events that led up to the shoeing (as the act is now called), and a tribute to people who suffered due to the Gulf crisis and the US intervention. Presented by Mahesh Bhatt, Promodome Films & Asmita Theatre Group Production, the play has been directed by Arvind Gaur, and sees Imran Zahid in Al-Zaidi’s role.

While it is based in a very specific historical context, the play also attempts to draw universal threads, addressing ideas of peace, violence and political orders. It begins with a letter that Bhatt wrote to a friend, after he had refused an invitation to attend the 51st National Prayer Breakfast meeting with Bush in Washington. Read out by Bhatt himself, the words act like a prelude to the play, laying out his stand against the US intervention in Iraq. He uses strong, powerful words, choosing to lay bare the fact that he thinks America’s “bullying ways” must come to an end. Behind him stands the cast of the play, half cloaked in darkness. The mood is set, and when the play begins, it plunges into things straight away. Narrated by Gaurav Mishra, it tells stories of injustice and violence, chaos and confusion, fear and frustration. Bit by bit, they pile up, and culminate in the infamous press conference.

“The Last Salute” doesn’t use subtlety. A video with horrifying images of a war torn country plays in the background, as do songs by Sahir Ludhianvi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and other such stalwarts. The stage itself is very crowded with actors. The pace of the play is fast, moving from scene to scene, and packing in perhaps too much to take in together. While it attempts to build momentum, it unfortunately doesn’t succeed entirely in doing so. There is a sameness to the pace, and the scenes don’t incite and provoke quite as much as they are meant to.

There are some performances that stand out, their emotions ringing true and hitting home— Ishwaq Singh, who essays George Bush, does so with a kind of ease that convinces. Zahid as Al-Zaidi also shines, and carries the weight of the main role well.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 7:01:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/a-shoe-raised-in-protest/article7134337.ece

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