Actor Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub is aware of his influence and more than happy to deploy it in real life as and when it is needed. "I'm a citizen of this country first and an actor later," he says, before adding, "I can't sleep if the room next to me is set on fire."
Ayyub, whose most well-known works include Raanjhanaa, Tanu Weds Manu Returns and Article 15, was one of the first celebrities to express solidarity with the students of Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, who were lathicharged by the Delhi police during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in December last year. He welcomed the New Year with the students in Delhi's Jamia and Shaheen Bagh areas, which became the epicentre of the protests in the national capital against the amended citizenship law.
The Delhi-born actor says that he never shies away from speaking his mind because his conscience doesn't allow him to sit quietly and curb his emotions when he sees others suffering.
"I should live a life that I sleep peacefully at night. I should not have any guilt. An actor's honesty connects him with the audience and this truth will reach the audience only if I'm truthful in my personal life also. Secondly, if I don't feel any physical discomfort or pain while witnessing someone else's pain then I can't become an actor at all. Forget the actor, I can't even become a good human being. And, if I could feel the pain then it's better to let it out by speaking up."
But speaking out can often come at a cost, and Ayyub says he is fully aware of that. "The fear of losing out on projects often comes to my mind. But I knew this would happen ever since I've started speaking up. I have come to terms with one fact that I won't work with people who get scared to offer me work because of my political stand. There's no point in working with such cowards."
Ayyub continues, "I have no problem working with people of opposing ideologies. We are living in a democracy and everybody has a right to have a different opinion. But if you are scared to work with me just because I speak on political issues then I'm sorry I can't work with you."
The actor, who made his debut with the critically acclaimed film No One Killed Jessica in 2011, is currently receiving love and appreciation for his incredible performances in back-to-back projects Chhalaang and A Simple Murder. In Chhalaang, Ayyub plays a charming physical training instructor in a Haryana school. While in A Simple Murder, a dark-comedy, Ayyub plays Manish, a middleclass man, who gets mistaken for an assassin by a powerbroker and is assigned to kill the daughter of a politician.
"It was great fun to play Manish. It was something that I never got to play before on screen. So, I was very excited about it. He is a very dumb guy who has no idea about what's happening around him but the kind of growth that character has on the show is quite interesting. Also, the kind of positive response that I have got for Chhalaang, boosts my confidence as an actor and pushes me to take on different characters. It makes me believe that I could get acceptance in any kind of character and people are ready to see me on the screen beyond a stereotypical hero's friend," says Ayyub.