SRK, Kamal Haasan: Victims Of Religious Politics On Overdrive?

Two superstars of Indian cinema face the wrath of an over-zealous system of religious politics. Is it fair to attack entertainers like SRK and Kamal Haasan for their views?

India is a land of many dichotomies and differences in opinion. So what happens when one section disagrees with another? Going by the definition of a democracy, it should ideally lead to an open debate, where free speech is encouraged and voices from each section are given a chance to say what they have to say.

Alas, in India today, the easiest way to disagree with someone’s opinion seems to be to ban it. We’ve seen it happen to one of the finest Indian-origin authors of our times, Salman Rushdie. We’ve seen it happen to celebrated artists like MF Hussain. We’ve also seen it occur to superstars of Indian cinema like Kamal Haasan, who face the wrath of certain communities when what they have to say isn’t in line with what some people don’t want to hear.

And now, we’re seeing the same fate befall yet another megalith of Indian cinema; a man who’s also known as the King of Bollywood, due to his unmatched super-stardom and acclaim the world over. A rank outsider, who made his fame and fortune sing in a short span of 2 decades; who’s now come to lord over the entire Hindi film industry with his magnificent presence and celebrity. A man who the world knows as Shah Rukh Khan.

Shah Rukh Khan is a man of many talents. One of them, unfortunately, is this penchant to inadvertently attract the most banal of controversies, and get the whole country talking.

To be fair, sometimes it feels like he’s just being attacked because he’s so immensely famous: that people are just piggybacking on his success and fame, and using his name to promote their own agendas, as Priyanka Chopra articulately summed it up (SEE HERE).

Having said that, Shah Rukh Khan is, for whatever we’d like him to be, only human after all. For all his on-screen perfection, the man in real life is flawed, much like the rest of us.

The 47 year-old superstar has literally come under fire for his interview to Outlook magazine, where he speaks about his identity as a Muslim in a post 9/11 world. Since then, he’s been impugned for allegedly critiquing India (though he does nothing of the sort in said article) from many sections, and has been asked to defend his opinions stated very articulately in the Outlook interview. So much so that he had to issue a clarification statement, wherein he categorically states he never once even remotely said that he felt unsafe in India.

He was merely talking about what it means to be a Khan; where “Whenever there is an act of violence in the name of Islam, I am called upon to air my views on it and dispel the notion that by virtue of being a Muslim, I condone such senseless brutality.”

Isn’t it fair to give the man a little room to vent; to be able to express what he truly feels, even if it involves a seemingly sensitive topic like religious identity? Or do we expect him to wear his patriotism on his sleeve, at all times; just because of his last name?

SRK further clarifies: “Second if you read it, nowhere does the article state or imply unsafe….troubled or disturbed in India. It does not even vaguely say that I am ungrateful for the love that I have received in a career spanning 20 years.” And really, how could he feel ungrateful, when he’s been surrounded by the kind of adulation and respect and pure love that most stars crave, and may never see during their tenure as entertainers.

Shah Rukh Khan goes on to say how his religion is his personal identity, and not a public proclamation of who he is with respect to the larger society. “…For I believe, our religion is an extremely personal choice, not a public proclamation of who we are. It’s as person as the spectacles of my father who passed away some 20 years ago. Spectacles that I hold onto as my most prized and personal possession of his memories, teachings and of being a proud Pathan. I have never compared those with my friends, who have similar possessions of their parents or grandparents. I have never said my father’s spectacles are better than your mother’s saree. So why should we have this comparison in the matter of religion, which is as personal and prized a belief as the memories of your elders.Why should not the love we share be the last word in defining us instead of the last name? It doesn’t take a superstar to be able to give love, it just takes a heart and as far as I know, there isn’t a force on this earth that can deprive anyone of theirs.”

SRK even touches upon the immensely negative reaction his piece has generated, with writers and sections of the media slamming him for his views. “Ironically the article I wrote (yes its written by me) was actually meant to reiterate that on some occasions my being an Indian Muslim film star is misused by bigots and narrow minded people who have misplaced religious ideologies for small gains….and ironically the same has happened through this article…once again.”

On the other hand, we have Tamil superstar Kamal Haasan, whose big budget film (approximately made on a budget of Rs 95 crore), has come under fire from certain sections of the Muslim community, for being anti-Islamic. Though the film has been cleared by the Censor board, the state of Tamil Nadu has enforced a two-week ban and stay on its release. A heartbroken Kamal Haasan is now facing “financial ruin” due to the accumulated losses from the delay, and has threatened to leave the country if things don’t improve. “I will look at all the states from Kashmir to Kerala excluding Tamil Nadu. If I don’t find one which is secular, I will leave for another country. M F Hussain had to leave, now Haasan will have to.”

Elaborating on the financial turmoil he’s faced thanks to the ban, Haasan melancholically states: “”I have lost all my property for the film, so I have nothing to lose, but choose now. If the judgment is not favourable for me, I have to look out for a secular state abroad. We will get away from this place but will have lot of good memories.”

As Barkha Dutt very articulately and aptly sums the entire issue up: “Kamal Haasan, Ashis Nandy, Salman Rushdie, Shah Rukh Khan, MF Hussain. Milestones in a country’s pathetic journey to becoming a nation of bullies.”

And that’s exactly what the controversy is about. Bullying men because they have managed to scale the dizzying heights of success in one lifetime, when most others would take a 100 lifetimes to get there. Berating an actor, a filmmaker because they dared to voice an opinion.

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