Actor Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub plays a Muslim wrongly accused Of terrorism in “Sameer”. He says that he was initially reluctant to do the film as he feels that “people start looking at your name and thereafter your religion, when you do a character in a political film.”
In an interview he speaks on what it means to be a Muslim in India today.
Q.In your new film ‘Sameer’ you play a Muslim engineer student wrongly accused of terrorism. How did you react to the part when it was offered to you?
I think it was more about what the film was trying to say rather than only my character. But still, I felt a bit of reluctance as people start looking at your name and thereafter your religion, when you do a character in a political film. But then I thought if I am clear in my head and heart about why I am doing a role, then I should not care.
Q. A lot of Indian Muslims feel gagged, cornered and pushed in the current political scenario in the country. Do you feel they are justified in their apprehensions?
I think the overall scenario is definitely disturbing in many ways. The whole game of ‘Shakti pradarshan’ from all the segments is a serious issue. So the polarity being engineered by vested interests is making everyone a bit apprehensive.
Q. In your new film ‘Sameer’ the ATS is shown to randomly pick up suspects of terror activities and torture them. Would you say this is an accurate portrait of the situation?
We have seen many cases where innocent people have been wrongly suspected of terrorism and then after many years of trial they are proven not guilty. But by then their lives are destroyed. Our film ‘Sameer’ focuses on this issue.
Q. As a thinking empowered Indian Muslim, how isolated or assimilated do you feel to mainstream India given today’s political scenario?
As you yourself say, I am an empowered and now even a privileged Muslim, so it’s really easy for me to flow through the disturbing and chaotic events around me. But I have to confess that even I am targeted sometimes on my views just because I have a name. And I don’t mean just the Islamic name. But also a name that’s reasonably known.
Q. Our film industry has always been known to be extremely secular and non-discriminatory. Do you feel that to be true even now ?
I think that is something I am really proud of. I’ve never felt discriminated against in my place of work.
Q. Your brilliance as an actor has been repeatedly proven in film after film. Why are you seen playing the hero’s best friend rather than the hero?
(laughs) I think we should ask this question to the producers and directors. I am playing the lead in ‘Sameer’. So maybe I am now finally being promoted.
Q. Kangana Ranaut recently sparked off a debate on nepotism in Bollywood. Would you agree with her that it’s very tough for an outsider to make it in Bollywood?
Yes, I guess only a blind person can say that there is no nepotism. But it’s still not a hopeless situation. But yes , if you’re an outsider you have to really prove yourself and that too in much harder circumstances. Though we can definitely see a fast and positive change to it.
Q. So far how has your experience in Bollywood been? Does it anger you when you have to play second fiddle to actors with not half your talent?
I hsve had a roller-coaster ride, it was great fun. I am a very patient person, so I know things will change for the good.
Q. Tell me about your plans in the near future?
I do not plan anything in my life, if I do I will stop enjoying it. I am shooting for ‘Thugs Of Hindostan’ with (Amitabh) Bachchan Saab and Aamir Khan, and Aanand Rai’s next with Shah Rukh Khan. Right now my focus is on ‘Sameer’. As we know it’s a political thriller with a bold statement, which motivated me to sign this film. There are very few people who have the courage to take a stand on a political issue in these vulnerable times.