One of India’s beloved Bollywood superstars, Shah Rukh Khan, who is Muslim, made international headlines recently after he was held for questioning at Newark Liberty International Airport.
Many here describe Khan as the ‘Brad Pitt’ of India. Khan was on his way to Chicago to participate in a parade celebrating India’s independence before he was detained for over an hour.
The actor was visiting the U.S. to promote his new film, “My Name is Khan,” which incidentally is about racial profiling of Muslims after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Critics argue the well-known Indian actor was singled out for questioning by U.S. immigration officials due to his Muslim name. U.S. officials have said Khan was subject only to routine procedures.
In India many of Khan’s fans were outraged and planned a protest demonstration near the Parliament in New Delhi. After the reported detention made top news on TV stations in India, angry fans in the northern city of Allahabad shouted anti-U.S. slogans.
The federal information minister, Ambika Soni, was quoted by the Associated Press suggesting that India adopt a similar policy toward Americans traveling to India. Soni implied that a “tit-for-tat” treatment should be used. “I have always felt – even when I was frisked there (the U.S.) – that the way they frisk us we should do the same for them here,” said Soni.
Internationally acclaimed filmmaker Shekhar Kapur criticized Soni’s remarks. “What are you going to do, Ms Soni?” he’s quoted saying in The Times of India. “Interrogate every American citizen arriving at our shores for an hour and a half? Or wait for Brad Pitt to arrive here? Cabinet ministers need to make more considered statements,” he said.
Khan, speaking to The Times of India said the experience did make him feel “angry and humiliated.”
Afterwards however Khan played down the whole ordeal. “I think it’s a procedure that needs to be followed, but an unfortunate procedure,” he said to AP.
The U.S. embassy in New Delhi attempted to end the controversy over the weekend describing Khan as a “global icon” who was a welcome guest in the country.
Khan has acted in more than 70 films, and has consistently topped popularity rankings in India for the past several years.
One way to make it up to Khan is if President Barack Obama invites him over for dinner, said Kapur.
“What happened to Shah Rukh is a minor incident which we should protest about, yes,” said Kapur. “And ensure that this doesn’t happen to an Indian public figure like him again and move on.”
Kapur continued, “And President Obama, adept as he is diplomatically and politically, should invite Shah Rukh to a family dinner over beer and (view) one of his Bollywood films.”