I never knew you harboured political ambitions?
I didn't! This new phase in my life just happened. Our political system needs a change. And I wanted to be part of the change in a way that was more effective than just mere lip service about corruption. We all complain about the corruption in the system. But we do nothing to change the status quo.
Why Lucknow as your constituency?
For me any part of this country is equally my home. It isn't as if I feel more territorial about Lucknow. The problems of the common man are common to all. Everyone is crippled by corruption and bribery. Then there is the problem of discrimination which plagues every part of the country. It doesn't matter which religion or state you belong to, you are discriminated against everywhere. As a Muslim I've faced acute problems trying to find accommodation. Whether it is a caste or a communal problem, there is a huge crisis in our system.
Nonetheless, why Lucknow?
I can speak the language of Lucknow and I know the city's culture. I am not going to Chennai to contest elections because I am realistic about my reach. When I told the party that I want to contest the elections they thought Lucknow was my best option.
What do you think of Rajnath Singh of the BJP being your main opponent in Lucknow?
He is no doubt a very formidable opponent, though I've never been intimidated by the competition. Even when I have to co-star with Mr Dilip Kumar or Mr Amitabh Bachchan I know I've my own space. I surrender to the director and leave my performance to him, likewise after going through Mr Kejriwal's manifesto I decided to let him and his party guide me through this new journey. I've the advantage of being a known individual. This could help the party with their motto of 'By the people, of the people and for the people.' This whole movement towards swaraj is what I would like to work towards with the party.
So you are convinced the AAP can bring about a change?
Yes I am. We must keep in mind that none of the electoral candidates in the AAP has a criminal record. Almost every political party has given tickets to candidates with criminal records. You can't say it's okay just because they haven't been indicted. The court cases for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots are still on. It doesn't mean no one is guilty.
I come to politics with certain credibility. I've made a mark in my own field as an entertainer. And I've a clean record. My priorities and my allegiance to society and country have always been beyond question. Right-thinking people have always been concerned about the issues that plague our nation. But because we are so busy with our everyday life we set aside thoughts of the nation. We don't really pay attention to the politics of the nation because we feel we've chosen by vote the people who are supposed to look after our country. Unfortunately our elected parliamentarians no longer think themselves answerable to us. It's as though I and you hire someone to do a job which he fails to do. Technically the elected politicians are our employees. Whether it's a farmer or an actor, politicians have to be answerable to us all.
Do you think the AAP can bring accountability into politics?
I am pretty sure they can if they are given the reins of running the country. They've a very clear practical and relevant electoral manifesto. To consider their manifesto Utopian is to be excessively cynical to the idea of reform in our politics. We have to look at Arvind Kejriwal's track record. He's an IIT graduate, then he became an income-tax office, after which he formed an organization for social reform. Then he went on to work for the RTI (Right To Information). The RTI was the first attempt to connect politics with the common man. After he worked towards his goal with Anna Hazare he formed the movement for the masses. This is where I decided to follow what Mr Kejriwal was doing.
The minute Mr Kejriwal went into active politics people went began to doubt his integrity?
But why??? Politics gave him the platform to do the things that he couldn't if he became an NGO. Social activists can contribute to bring about change. But they can't make the change. They can't change the system until they get into politics. Mr Kejriwal had to get into active politics. Initially my reaction too was, 'Arrey yaar, why is he in politics?' But then I realized to change the system you have to be part of the system. Then he was criticized for what he did in Delhi. But in just over a month he shook the Capital. He came in primarily for the Lok Pal bill. That Bill would stir up a lot of hornets' nests in politicians. That is why he is makes our politicians uncomfortable.
After his Delhi stint a lot of his supporters turned against Mr Kejriwal?
It was the political parties that created brouhaha about him. Our people believe in what's written by the media, whether it's rating films or rating a politician's performance. Has anyone tried to really understand what Mr Kejriwal tried to achieve in Delhi and why he decided to fight the Lok Sabha elections. Other political parties have been making huge blunders for 70 years. Look at the number of communal riots that keep happening. The AAP is just a few months old. We need to give them a chance.
In any case I wasn't getting too many roles to my lacking. Besides there is a team working with me in Lucknow. I will be spending a lot of time in Lucknow because I am not committed to do ten films. Even if I do two quality films a year I am happy. I've also recently started my own production house. I've produced two National award-winning documentaries Inshallah, Football and Inshallah, Kashmir. I've also produced a feature film BMW directed by Aditya Bhattacharya.
Your need of the hour is an Indica not a BMW?
I am very clear about the financial aspect of my life. I've my film career to take care of me and my family's needs. I am not looking at politics for money at all. This is my chance to serve the nation by working with the AAP. I've enough money to look after my wife and children. Now, if I was to say mujhe jet lena hai toh mushquil ho jayegi.
Are you counting on the support of your film fraternity?
Ha ha. Jisko aana hai aa jaye. See, a lot of actors are afraid to be affiliated to any one political party. In America I see a lot of stars coming out in open support of Obama or whatever they believe in.
Yes, but in Bollywood Salman Khan flew a kite with Narendra Modi and there was an uproar?
You know, the legendary boxer Mohammad Ali said he one day decided to give up boxing. He was bashing his opponent's head in, while hundreds were looking at him. He realized there he had a big responsibility towards those who were looking at him. I think we entertainers need to realize we are closely watched.