My Name is Khan

Trip Start Jan 22, 2010
Trip End Feb 14, 2010

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Flag of India  , Uttar Pradesh,
Monday, February 8, 2010

A controversy now occupying India involves an about-to-be-released Bollywood film, its star Shah Rukh Khan (or simply SRK), and the game cricket.

Since most people in Canada have never seen a cricket match or Bollywood film, let alone heard of the film stars in India (for which I refer you to Emma's Bollywood Guide from a few days back), you can be excused for thinking it can't be much of a controversy.

Cricket and Bollywood are analogous to baseball and Hollywood in the US, but more so. They are national passions, obsessions. Along with India-Pakistan relations, they provide the bulk of the news material here (South African trouncing India in a test match is the lead story on the news).

So when SRK, owner of the Kolkatta Kight Riders cricket team criticizes the Indian league for freezing out all Pakistani players in its new draft round, you have a media perfect storm.

"My Name is Khan" was already news before the cricket controversy. The film reunites Bollywood's biggest stars under the most popular director. The plot sounds unremarkable but boths its main character and SRK himself are muslims.

Even after the genocide and mass exodus to Pakistan following Partition, there are still 70 million muslims in India -- about 10% of the population -- but that figure is probably eclipsed by the number of Hindus who support the extremist/fundamentalist Shiv Sen party.

When some fundamentalist Christian group in the US protests, say, The Last Temptation of Christ, perhaps the producers get a tad antsy, but ultimately the only thing it will affect is the box office bottom line (and even then, I often wonder if it increases or decreases attendance).

In nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, divided along religious lines, even a harmless new piece of popular entertainment can shake the fragile atmosphere. The leaders of Shiv sena are calling on their followers to prevent the film from playing in Mumbai. It hasn't even opened yet and the images of vandalized theatres are on the news tonight.

Regardless of their religion, I can't stand radical fundamentalists. The Hindu variety here are the kind of people who would condone blowing up one of the wonders of the world because it was built by a Muslim. On both sides, the mass killings of Partition no doubt weigh heavily and affect actions to the present day. As Emma says, "It's not the past; it's now."

We're still wondering whether we'll risk going to the film when it opens in Mumbai the day after we arrive there. Emma has been looking forward to it for 2 years, but those broken doors and shattered windows on the news would make anyone uneasy.
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