SRK in dock

A movie star’s brush with reality



As the cliché goes, it would have been funny if it weren’t so tragic. Days after India and Pakistan clashed over Kashmir at United Nations after the tense stand-off over border skirmishes, they sparred again over the Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan. The controversy began with Khan writing in a foreign magazine Outlook Turning Points that in a post 9/11 world he had become “an inadvertent object of political leaders who choose to make him a symbol of all that they thought is wrong and unpatriotic about Muslims in India”. The excerpt pulled out of context from his piece has  been repeated so many times on every conceivable form of media that it appears stupid to reproduce it yet again and what followed thereafter. 
Khan’s observations, incidentally, triggered a response from the least expected quarters: Jamat-u-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed urged Khan to move to Pakistan if he felt insecure in India. This was followed by Pakistan interior minister Rehman Malik advising New Delhi  to provide security to the star which elicited an angry response from New Delhi with Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari and Home Secretary R K Singh saying that Pakistan should worry about the state of affairs in its own country.
The incident also had a huge public fallout with a section of public opinion in India miffed over Khan’s remarks, and seeing these almost as a betrayal. If anything, the incident has once again exposed the raw nerve endings in both India and Pakistan where even a star’s candid articulation of a part of his personal experience roil not only the public opinion but also strain the relations of the two countries.
This is not to suggest that Khan’s sensitive observations should not be a subject of public debate. They should be. There is a need to discuss the troublesome issues he has raised with maturity. For what Khan has said about his personal experience does indeed reveal something pertinent about being a Muslim in post 9/11 world not only in India but across the world. What, however, lends Khan’s opinion a more uncomfortable dimension is that it somewhere also touches upon the sub-continent’s own troubled historical baggage and above all the complexity of the Hindu-Muslim relationship.
What is it that prompted the cathartic outpouring of public outrage over the mere perception of  a suggestion by Khan that his religious identity had sometimes made him  insecure in India. What Khan has actually done is to bring to light a disturbing fact that has become banal due to recurrence. If SRK becomes a frequent target of communal ire, it is treated as a routine. But if he starts complaining about it, it is treated exceptional and a sign of ungratefulness.
Now what complicates the scene further is that it also incorporates a certain sense of hurt by the majority community in India who have all along adored Khan and think therefore he owes his stardom to them. Khan is hence expected to be grateful for the overwhelming love he has received rather than be plaintive about the communal assaults on him which some commentators have advised him “to take on the chin”.
As is apparent, the response by its very nature does not have a logical or rational basis. For one, it was disproportionate, leave aside its being also unwarranted, to what Khan had said. It also sprang from a certain deeper and lingering uneasiness between Hindus and Muslims, a reminder once again that what operates underneath the majority-minority equation is a complex play of history, memory and prejudice. Two communities are still far from retrieving their relationship from the trauma of partition.  It is this troubled background and baggage that makes patriotism of an Indian Muslim subject to a more exacting loyalty test, sometimes even giving rise to bizarre public reaction as in case of Shah Rukh Khan. The remedy, therefore, is not to be politically correct about this divide but to lay it bare as Khan has done and then deal with it at a more understanding level.

Lastupdate on : Tue, 5 Feb 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 5 Feb 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 6 Feb 2013 00:00:00 IST

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