May 4, 2014 By KC Saleem

Misfortunes of Two Indian Stars

heyram1Headlines about two Indian actors have recently gone viral. They are Bollywood’s own King Khan and Kollywood’s own King Kamal. Shah Rukh Khan wrote an article titled ‘Being a Khan’ in the Outlook Turning Point Magazine on the agonies of carrying a name, Khan. Kamal Hassan made Vishwaroopam (Global Shape), a film on the most pressing problem of our time: terrorism. It was mired in controversy.

Shah Rukh wrote in the article what it meant to be an actor and what it meant to be a Khan, being unusually aloud on the latter. Some of the points he said are what mainstream Muslims in India skirt around:
1. I am a Khan. The name itself conjures …..a stereotyped extremist; no dance, no drink, no cigarette tipping off his lips, no monogamy, no blasphemy, a fair silent face beguiling a violent fury smoldering within.
2.   Stereotyping and contextualizing is the way of the world we live in. We take comfort in defining phenomenon, objects and people – with a limited amount of knowledge and along known parameters.
3.   Whenever there is an act of violence in the name of Islam, I called upon to air my views on it and dispel the notion that by virtue of being a Muslim, I condone such a senseless brutality
4.   I wonder at times whether the same treatment is given to everyone whose last name just happens to be McVeigh (as in Timothy)

5. I gave my son and daughter names that could pass for generic (pan-Indian and pan-religious) ones: Aryan and Suhana. The Khan has been bequeathed by me so they can’t really escape it. I pronounce it from my epiglottis when asked by Muslims and throw the Aryan as evidence of their race when non-Muslims enquire. I imagine this will prevent my offspring from receiving unwarranted eviction orders and random fatwas in the future. It will also keep my two children completely confused. Sometimes, they ask me what religion they belong to and, like a good Hindi movie hero, I roll my eyes up to the sky and declare philosophically, “You are an Indian first and your religion is humanity”, or sing them an old Hindi film ditty, “Tu Hindu banega na Musalmaan banega – insaan ki aulaad hai insaan banega” set to Gangnam Style.

Sometimes, carrying a name like Khan can be an agony in our world, as it was for Shah Rukh some time back. He had the bitter experience of being held and grilled for over two hours in the back room of American airports twice earlier – one in April last year and the other in 2009. One was when he arrived in the US last April to visit the Yale University where he reached two hours late for his scheduled speech. In his speech, he said that he was detained at the airport as always. “It was nice. It always happens when I come to America. Whenever I start feeling too arrogant about myself I take a trip to America”.

That someone who lives in the luxury of stardom and laps up the love of a huge number of fans express concern over the plight of Muslims who are being brought under the scanner of doubt after each and every explosion in the world is phenomenal. But what Shah Rukh said was not discussed as he was.
Soon after the article came out, Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed invited him to live in Pakistan (in the same way Right-wing Hindu groups had asked him to leave for Pakistan-“Rallies have been held where leaders exhorted me to leave my home and return to what they refer to my original homeland”.) Pakistan Interior Minister Rahman Malik said that India should provide security to the star. Indian asked him to mind his own business and think of the security of the minorities in Pakistan. Shah Rukh scotched the squabble by saying he never felt unsafe in India. Does he expect someone of stressing the word ‘he.’

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Vishwaroopam touched upon safety by commenting on how unsafe it is to live in world where terrorists are not holed up in hideouts, but walk along our streets with laptops and mobile phones. From another angle, Vishwaroopam explains to Shah Rukh the rationale for the state in suspecting Muslims. The film is about a good Muslim, a Raw agent, trying to counter the plan of bad Muslims to destroy the New York City. Kamal might be telling the simple truth: ‘By virtue of being Muslim, it is not sufficient for you to condone terrorists. You must start defusing as many bombs as at least in Jab Tak he Jan.

Kamal Haasan, heaved a sigh of relief after the state government lifted the ban on his mega budget movie (nearly one billion Indian rupees) following a four-hour-long tri-partite meeting between the filmmaker, various Muslim organizations and the government. Post deliberation, the director buckled under pressure to make seven changes including muting of certain scenes. Earlier, Kamal was reluctant to make any changes in the film and had emotionally aired his grief that he would have to flee the country to live like MF Hussain.

There have been many Islamophobic flicks recently in Tamil Nadu like Velayudham and Tuppaki. Kamal expressed his belief in the Good Muslim v/s Bad Muslim theory by remaking Hindi film A Wednesday in Tamil. There are good reasons for us to believe that when social and political movies are made in rather unconventional and daring manner asking more questions than simply and superficially answering them, old faces like Kamal have only hackneyed the western stereotype images of Muslims depicting them as terrorists.

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