By Sonya Rehman
Divided by religion, marred by violence, Bollywood’s King Khan weighs in on the current debate in India…
With the culmination of the Masala! Awards this year, perhaps the biggest talking point about the event was how it brought together both Indian and Pakistani artists on one platform to further promote the cross-cultural exchange of artists on both sides of the border. From Simi Garewal, Varun Dhawan, Mahira Khan, Jacqueline Fernandez, Farhan Saeed and more, the shared shield of arts and culture has, of late, found itself on shaky footing, thanks to religious intolerance and blatant bigotry on the part of certain factions of Indian and Pakistani society. But while most Bollywood stars have preferred to stay quiet, one voice has spoken up loud and clear – Shah Rukh Khan, who has attempted to set the record straight.
Shah Rukh Speaks…
As Shiv Sena, India’s political party of Hindu hardliners, continues to propagate the violent divide of Hindus and Muslims within the country, Shah Rukh Khan didn’t mince his words in a recent moving interview with renowned journalist, Barkha Dutt, on his 50th birthday, aired on NDTV.
In conversation with Barkha Dutt, the actor vehemently spoke about the senseless rise in bigotry. “The politics of two states can be handled by the politicians,” Shah Rukh had stated in the interview (which went viral), “But how does an artist [and] this inter-cultural exchange of two countries – which were [once] the same – allow it?”
Stating that intolerance has spoilt India’s image abroad, the actor said: “There’s nothing less important than religious intolerance, it’s shocking to me. I think it’s important for any country to not have this kind of intolerance at all – even in small pockets.”
Barkha Dutt’s Letter to King Khan
In a heartfelt, emotional open letter to the star, the journalist wrote: “You are a first among equals in your community. Almost no one else (save a handful of notable exceptions) among the biggest and most glamorous stars is willing to speak — if you put it politely, you can call it reticence; if you are blunter, the word you would use is cowardice. But you bucked the trend, yet again.”
In the NDTV interview, Barkha empathised with Shah Rukh for continuously having to justify his patriotism in light of the recurrent hostility from the ‘hate brigade.’
“It’s the most degrading, hurtful, and disturbing thing,” the actor had responded, “How can you question my patriotism? How can I be unpatriotic? I’m an Indian movie star, I’m a born Indian…how does that get questioned? Even if I go and live in China, I’m Indian! Why should it be questioned?”
Support for Mahira Khan
Shiv Sena’s ongoing intolerance and incitement of hatred also comes at a time when, last month, the party publicly warned Pakistani actors from promoting their films in the country. Speaking with a local Indian daily, Akshay Bardapurkar (the General Secretary of Shiv Sena’s cine wing) had stated: “Everybody knows what our stand on Pakistani artists is. We have made it clear over and over again.” Mentioning Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan’s presence in India, what with Fawad’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Mahira’s Raees, Akshay had said; “We will not let them promote themselves in Mumbai.”
But these attitudes are on both sides of the border. In August, Pakistani anchor, Faisal Qureshi, was lambasted for his sexist and insulting remarks against Saif Ali Khan for Phantom. Minutes after its release on Youtube, the video went viral, sparking debate across India and Pakistan especially since Phantom was banned in Pakistan.
It is in light of these incidents that Shah Rukh’s brave stance needs to be applauded. “We’re not terrorists,” Shah Rukh stated to Barkha. Mentioning he’d been abused at for speaking out against the bigotry, and, how, his critics have told him to move to Pakistan, the star stated: “Even if you push me out, I’m not going anywhere, so please shut up.”
In his NDTV interview, the 50-year-old actor also stood up for his co-star, Mahira, by stating that artistes could not, under any circumstances, be barred from working together. Infact, the superstar also recently tweeted a message of support to his pretty co-star, saying how good the pair would look onscreen in Raees.
For years, the Indian and Pakistani artiste community have worked and supported each other from art, film, theatre, music and fashion. But in the wake of recent events, an imperative question continues to loom large: will politics manage to obliterate cultural ties between both nations?