Waquar Hasan: Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, who recently figured in an international list of 50 greatest actors of all time by the prominent British magazine Empire, has again become a target of Hindutva supporters. This vilification is either because of his political statements or due to his movies; the latest being the saffron attire Deepika Padukone wore for a song in his upcoming movie ‘Pathaan.’ The movie is set for release on 25 January 2023.
Khan has a massive fan following not just in India but across the globe. He is one of the most successful actors in India. But what is there in Khan which draws Hindutva ire and outrage? Is the latest excuse for boycotting Khan justified?
“It has everything to do with the religion of the star. That is the take-off point. As trailers dropped and the song dropped, the right-wing kept on adding items to the outrage list: colour of the costumes, name of the song, bold scenes, Deepika’s show of solidarity with JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) students, etc,” said author and journalist Manimugdha Sharma, talking to Clarion India.
Khan is currently at the receiving end of a vicious hate campaign. Ministers and political and religious leaders are making hate-filled statements against him. On Wednesday, a Hindu priest from Ayodhya threatened to burn Khan alive calling him a ‘jihadi’.
“They have insulted our bhagwa rang (saffron colour). Such films should be boycotted…Shah Rukh Khan has made no web series against the Prophet because he has no guts… He only insults Sanatan Dharma. Insulting Sanatan Dharma has been made a means of earning money. If Sanatan Dharma is insulted, then a death sentence will be given. I will burn Shah Rukh alive if I see him,” Paramhans Acharya said.
Like Acharya, Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra also raised objections to the saffron attire and hinted at imposing a ban on the movie.
“The name of this song ‘Besharam Rang’ is also objectionable in itself and the way saffron and green have been worn, the song’s colours, the lyrics and the title of the film are not peaceful. It needs improvement. If it is not done, then we will consider whether its telecast should be allowed in Madhya Pradesh. Now let’s see, so far all those who have been asked have improved. If it’s not done then we will consider it,” said Mishra invoking the visit of Deepika Padukone to JNU.
Sharma told Clarion India that Hindutva supporters had started a campaign to boycott Khan’s movie even before the song ‘Besharam Rang’ came to light.
“Nobody had any clue then that there would be a song like Besharam Rang. But the right wing’s mind was already made up: It didn’t want Pathaan. The reason isn’t hard to guess—Shah Rukh Khan. One will have to be pretty daft to believe that the right-wing outrage has anything to do with aesthetics,” he said.
Arguing on a similar line, journalist Alishan Jafri, who often tracks hate crimes and campaigns, drew attention to the songs in which actors close to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have danced in saffron attire in their movies. Akshay Kumar, who is close to the BJP, party leader Manoj Tiwari, BJP MP and Bhojpuri actor Dinesh Lal Yadav have all danced with actresses wearing saffron attire. Kumar also made fun of Hindu gods.
“Every time a frivolous excuse is used to boycott anyone. It does not matter whether he is a Muslim or non-Muslim. The way Shah Rukh Khan is being boycotted, non-Muslim actors can also be boycotted. But the interesting part is that if a non-Muslim is boycotted, he is projected as Muslim sympathiser,” Jafri told Clarion India.
He pointed out that there was an industry to run boycott campaigns. It is basically an economic attack. When influential people are humiliated, the humiliation is also normalised against ordinary people.
According to Jafri, Khan is being targeted for two reasons: one is his religious identity and another is the political statements he has often issued. In 2015, he had said that there was extreme intolerance in India when prominent people were criticising the Narendra Modi government for the rise of hate crimes against minorities, especially Muslims.
Talking to India Today TV, Khan had said, “There is intolerance, there is extreme intolerance… there is, I think… there is growing intolerance.”
After this statement, Yogi Adityanath, the current Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, had compared Khan to Hafiz Saeed (co-founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant organization).
“Shah Rukh Khan should remember that if a huge chunk of society would boycott his films, he will also have to wander on streets like a normal Muslim….I am saying these people are speaking in a terrorist language. I think there is no difference between the language of Shah Rukh Khan and Hafiz Saeed,” Adityanath had said.
The campaign against Khan, Jafri said, is due to a larger sense of jealousy against him among some sections of the people. They just loathe the idea of finding Khan, being a Muslim, at the top of the movie world.
“They cite the example of Shah Rukh Khan being at the top in Bollywood to say that there was no discrimination in India. The next day, you boycott Shah Rukh Khan. I mean it’s very hypocritical,” said Jafri.
Talking about the success of Khan, Sharma said that Bollywood is quite inclusive as an industry, and is still a symbol of Indian pluralism—the good old ‘idea of India’.
“For over 30 years, the three Khans (Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh) have dominated here, which was often hailed as an example of India’s success as a secular state. Clearly, this was intolerable to the votaries of ‘Hindu Rashtra’. So, we have seen relentless attacks on Bollywood in the last few years from the Hindu nationalist quarters,” he asserted.