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When Mammootty became a suspect in New York

May 07, 2009 11:15 IST
Though the special check at New York's John Fitzgerald Kennedy airport was a clear case of racial profiling, award-winning Malayalam superstar Mammootty does not take it personally.

Mammootty had taken a British Airways flight on April 29 to attend a series of fundraising events for his friend, attorney Stanley Kalathara, who is contesting the election for the New York City Council from District 25, which includes Jackson Heights and Corona.

At JFK airport, immigration officials delayed Mammootty's exit for almost two hours. The reason? Mammootty's real name, which appears in his passport as Muhammad Kutty Ismail.

When the immigration official saw the last name Ismail, he sent the actor to a separate room for questioning.

Mammootty has visited the US 22 times, once after the 9/11 attacks. But this was the first time he was questioned.

"Every country has its laws and systems. We too have it. We should obey those laws. I did not feel discriminated or harrassed when I was questioned at the airport," he told rediff India Abroad.

"This is not something that happened to me alone. So there is no point taking it seriously," he added. Even US Senator Edward Kennedy has been stopped at airports, the star pointed out.

Kennedy was stopped and questioned at airports five times in March 2004 because his name appeared on the Bush government's secret 'no-fly' list. One was Boston, Massachusetts, a state he has represented in the US Senate for over 40 years.

Kalathara, upset over the delay, informed the Indian consulate. But before consular officials could step in, Mammootty asked the New York immigration officials to check his Web site, which includes information and photographs of the more than 300 films he has acted in.

"Once a person is marked for questioning, it seems they need confirmation from their Washington office (before releasing them). The officials themselves forwarded details from the Web site to the Washington office and his name was immediately cleared," Kalathara said.

"It was a routine thing. Mammootty did not take it seriously. The official apologised profusely and even accompanied him outside," Kalathara said.

Whatever the actor felt, it became another instance of profiling of people with Muslim names. Tamil superstar Kamal Haasan suffered a similar experience in Canada because his last name appeared to be Muslim -- although he is a Hindu.

Immediately after 9/11, Malayalam actress Samyukta Verma and her team were detained for some time because during their flight into New York one of her associates pointed out high-rise buildings in the city. A fellow traveller, who felt threatened, alerted the pilot. Three UA Air Force fighter jets escorted Verma's flight to JFK and the incident made news in India and the US.

Image: Mammootty, centre, at a fundraiser in New Jersey. Text and photograph: George Joseph