As Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi, 32, speaks of his love for Bollywood films, it is hard to imagine that this is the same man who, almost three years ago, was at the centre of what’s now one of the most infamous political protests in recent history.
In December 2008, al-Zaidi flung his shoe at the then US President George W Bush at a press conference in Iraq, kicking off a trend that refuses to die. “My action was fuelled by so much that was, and still is, happening in Iraq,” he says.
The now Lebanon-based TV journalist was in the Capital recently to attend the staging of a play based on his book, The Last Salute to George Bush. It’s produced by filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt.
As thrilled as he is about India’s response to the play, al-Zaidi can’t stop raving about Bollywood, either. “I’m a big fan of Amitabh Bachchan. And it’s not just me, he’s got many fans back in Iraq,” he says. When asked about other favourites, he says, “Remembering names is a bit difficult because I don’t understand Hindi, but just watching Bollywood films is a different experience. You don’t need to know the language to enjoy them.”
He seems equally fascinated by the Bachchan bahu. “Aishwarya was so beautiful and regal in Jodha Akhbar. She is the most beautiful woman ever.”
So, will he come back to India for a chance to meet his Bollywood idols? “It took me a month to get the visa this time, but I’m very keen on visiting again,” says al-Zaidi, whose message to US President Barack Obama is that “the people of Iraq are ready for their freedom”.