Rightwing Film Geek

The Wrath of Khan

On a somewhat lighter note …

Shahrukh KhanI could hardly stop laughing last week at the news that Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan had been detained at Newark Airport and the resulting international stir, focusing on charges of ethnic-religious profiling and/or American ignorance of foreign movie stars. We’re now at the point where Arnold Schwarzenegger is inviting him to dinner, though it’s coming out that Khan himself may not have been the target of the detention and it may have had more to do with a legitimate investigation of the genuinely shady world of Bollywood financing than any kind of ethnic profiling.

But the circumstances under which the detention apparently happened is the stuff of high comedy. The Muslim star was in the US for, among other things, efforts to promote a film called MY NAME IS KHAN. About ethnic profiling of Muslims in the post 9/11 U.S. Inspired by a real-life incident.¹

As Jon Stewart said “ohmigawd, it’s a perpetual motion picture machine.”

(I can’t seem to get the embed to work … just click on “Shah Rukh Khan Detained at Newark,” and that takes you to the video on the Comedy Central site.)

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Jon Stewart does not know how many inputs this perpetual motion-picture machine has, because he doesn’t know what I do.

AsokaThe first time I ever saw Khan in person was at the Toronto Film Festival a few years ago, where he appeared with director Santosh Sivan for the screening of their film ASOKA. The reason for my interest was that Sivan had made a great Tamil film that had made my previous year’s Top 10 (and people should check it out). It’s called … ahem … THE TERRORIST. And it’s about … uh … a suicide-bombing mission.

Wait … there’s more. ASOKA was about the life of the king who conquered most of what is now South Asia in the 3rd century BC. King Asoka became a pacifist, rejected war and devoted his life to spreading Buddhism after seeing the mass carnage of the final battle of his war of conquest.² When introducing the film, Khan mentioned that theme. He said something like (and despite the quote marks, this is paraphrase from memory), “this film is about love and gentleness and rejecting violence — a message now more important than ever in the wake of the week’s horrible events. We always wanted to make a film that can bring people together in love and peace, and nothing is more important right now.”

This screening took place Sept. 15, 2001.

Yes, I saw Shah Rukh Khan in person for the first, and to-date only, time, just days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — a topic he directly brought up.³
¹ I should add that I would be surprised if there isn’t some name(s) on the terrorist watch list (and which should be on said list) that resembles Khan’s — something like S. R. Khan or Sheikh R. Khan or Shah Rokan or something else that would let me forgive someone making an honest initial mistake. What IS inexplicable is the hour-plus delay in letting him go, assuming that Khan was the target. I mean … how difficult can it be to establish that this guy is (arguably) the biggest star in (by some measures) the world’s biggest film industry. Do airports block Mr. Google or something? Are there any significant-sized employers in Newark (like, oh say, an international airport) with no Indians on staff?
² … rather conveniently, I cynically note. It’s the easiest thing in the world to do to reject war once you’ve won. Indeed, one of the things that unendeared me to ASOKA (which I graded a 5) was that if the movie was supposed to be about a religious conversion turning a king against war, it’s chickencrap to basically make the whole movie about his conquests, ending at the final climactic battle. There’s a few-minute coda showing Asoka’s tear-filled conversion as he roams over the battlefield and a couple of vague closing title cards about Asoka’s post-conversion rule — that’s it.
³ To be fair, most filmmakers and stars did bring up the terrorist attacks, even if to apologize by telegram for being unable to arrive in Canada (Takashi Miike did that). In one of their less important impacts, the attacks played havoc with the festival. Partly because of the cancellation of most Sept. 11 screenings, but mostly because the several-day shutdown of North American airspace meant many film prints (and less importantly stars and directors) could not arrive in Toronto or could do so only after their already-scheduled screenings. The festival had to extend itself one day to accommodate as many films as possible.


August 24, 2009 Posted by | Shah Rukhkhan | 1 Comment