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The difficulty of being Khan

August 24, 2009 14:43 IST

Shah Rukh KhanA brief daily skimming of the Net this week may amply convey the real difficulty of being Khan. If prefixed by Shahrukh and followed, in caps, by the letters US, what occurs is an eruption or amplification of the trouble the name spells in people's hearts.

You don't have to enter 'movie star' or 'Muslim' or 'detention' to make yourself better understood. The real problem you realise, as the barrage of opinions pour forth, is the forceful return of the argumentative Indian. Perhaps he wasn't ever absent but there are now thousands arguing about dozens of issues linked to the Bollywood actor's hold-up at an American airport.

Some of the Internet and blog war may be out-of-hand and over-the-top but a good deal is highly educative and entertaining. No wonder the actor adroitly toned down initial anger and humiliation and sounded almost conciliatory on his return to Mumbai.

"I think it's a procedure that needs to be followed but an unfortunate procedure," he said.

Out there in cyberspace, though, it's not so simple. Apart from adding a new footnote in Indo-US relations, the debate has expanded to include such burning themes as pride vs prejudice, VIPs vs ordinary people, 9/11 vs 26/11, Hollywood vs Bollywood, Muslim vs non-Muslim and even Khan vs Khan. (The last concerns the long-standing rivalry between Salman Khan and SRK; Salman when asked about SRK's detention, said: "It's not such a big deal. It's good that the country has such a tight set-up. That's why there's been no attack on America after 9/11.")

There is the usual proportion (small) of outlandish opinion that aligns SRK's brief ordeal with the persecutions that American policies have rained upon the people of Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan etc. And there is another proportion (sizeable) on remarks made by cabinet ministers (Ambika Soni, Praful Patel) and film folk (Priyanka Chopra, Farah Khan) who condemn the detention, though cricketer Harbhajan Singh doesn't: "Why such a fuss? This is a normal thing."

The Indian film industry's IQ comes in for some sharp questioning apropos filmmaker and choreographer Farah Khan's remark: "It is shocking that there is not a single Indian working at that US airport and they don't know Shah Rukh Khan. They could have Googled him."

Here are some hot points of debate:

* Should the rich, famous and powerful be exempted from random selection checks when regular travellers suffer them? Indians share their experiences at the hands of US security and Indian Americans say how harassed and intimidated they feel at Indian airports. "Thousands of Americans and minorities are profiled and subjected to the same treatment in the US," writes a blogger. "Indian ministers, actors and cricketers are so pampered at home they should periodically be sent to the US for a reality check," says another.

* Is US immigration expected to know who SRK is? "No one forced him to come to the USA. So he won't be back. I'm pretty sure America will survive without him. He can cry me a river," reads a post. "The immigration officer did his job with the utmost perfection, regardless of the status of the passenger," says another. "Tomorrow if a Mongolian superstar is detained at IGI airport you can't blame the officer. After all, India is to America what Mongolia is to us."

* Is it a country's sovereign right to evolve and implement its own security procedure? "America has had no major terrorist hit since 9/11. We have had attacks on Parliament, serial bomb blasts killing hundreds and then 26/11. Instead of making SRK's detention an issue, we should upgrade our security setup." Another says: "I'm a blue-eyed Scandinavian American and I teach English in China. It may sound strange but I am more nervous of the US organs of security than of the Chinese."

* As for American stars in India, here's the best: "Frisk Brad Pitt when he lands in India next. Give Tom Cruise the same dose. Don't spare Bill Clinton either."

Sunil Sethi