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My Name is Khan – Cultural Politics in India

Poster image courtesy Wikipedia

Poster image courtesy Wikipedia

This post is not about the Bollywood film ‘My Name is Khan‘, but the way it is perceived in India and the US and why. A look at the Hindi blog-posts related to this film reveals an interesting fact – that the reactions to this film have more to do with the cultural politics in India than with the aesthetic value of the film itself.

In the US, Shah Rukh Khan's recently released film “My Name is Khan” is doing well because it portrays the scenario in the West after the tragic events of 9/11 and attempts to show how Muslims in the US are perceived by the Americans. This portrayal draws from Khan's own experience at the Newark Airport last year when he was profiled for secondary interrogation by the airport authorities. This incident caused uproar in India and finally, the US Ambassador in New Delhi had to issue a statement to say that the causes of this incident will be investigated. The film narrates a similar story of an autistic Muslim in the US, who is harassed by the police after 9/11. To add an additional autobiographical touch to the film, his character in the film loves a Hindu woman. It's well-known that Shah Rukh Khan's wife in real life is a Hindu woman. Because of the growing unease with the Muslim population amongst the Western people of Europe and North America after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and later, this film has been well-received in the US and has managed to fetch 1 Billion Indian Rupees for its global distribution rights from the Fox Studios.

In India, this film ran into problems on the eve of its first screening in Mumbai with the fundamentalist Hindutva faction Shiv Sena. I reported this in my blog ‘The World Around Me‘ :

As I write this, Maharashtra government has made large-scale security arrangements today afternoon, and some 2000 Shiv Sena members have been arrested as they tried to disrupt the film screening.

Some of the Hindi blog-posts on this topic show several streams of thoughts.

Vijay Prakash Singh from New Delhi opines [hi] after watching this film that this is an ordinary film, but is gaining popularity because of the controversial environment in which it was released. He says that Shah Rukh Khan is influenced by the Western mode of thought and hence, he has dealt with an issue that is of interest to the Western audience. According to Singh, this film has consciously attempted to create sensation and has used all elements for this purpose. Besides, it is to this film's advantage that India has degraded parties such as Shiv Sena, which created a scene on an unimportant issue and provided additional popularity to this film it didn't deserve. Moreover, Khan also has the support of the ruling party, which immediately sent its police forces to arrest the trouble makers. According to Singh, this same police force was nowhere to be seen when the North Indians were being killed by the same Shiv Sena.

In this context, BBC Hindi started a discussion [hi] by asking the readers whether they support the idea that Indians should be friendly towards Pakistan or that Shiv Sena's attitude is right. Out of the many responses, Jamshed Akhtar from Lucknow says that Pakistan has always deceived India but Shah Rukh's attitude is right because a good player should be supported regardless of nationality. Rajiv from Allahabad says that although Muslim players and actors are popular with Hindus, some of them try to play the victim to gain popularity.

Nitish Raj in his blog post published before the release of the film says [hi] that Shiv Sena took this stand to make its presence felt because its’ popularity is waning now but their opponents seem stronger than them.

It is important to mention here Tarun Vijay's article which powerfully brings out the pathos of the Kashmiri Hindus who have lived a life of sufferings as refugees in their own country and who can't talk about their victimization because of the partisan politics that exists today. This is another dimension of portrayal of a community in India.

12 comments

  • Ami

    I think in the eagerness of these public figures to target SRK, they forgot that the movie is essentially Karan Johar’s and the screenplay is Shibani Bathija’s. SRK’s in it mainly as an actor. He does have his own personal opinion of the movie..he has to, in order to ‘be’ Rizwan Khan. But putting the whole political weight of the voice contained in MNIK on SRK’s shoulder? Isn’t that like giving him too much importance?

  • Moizuddin

    Islam say: To judge somebody, should be judge by his good deeds. I appriciate your few initiatives like for 1) Shahada : Belive in Allah 2)For salah (Namaz) intention should be toward allah only. 3)Zakat (Chariety) 0.25% of your Annual income to needy & poor person only. 4)Always help needy people inshallah allah help you.
    My only advice: Please always try to guide people for the correct way. As we know good deeds take us jannat, so how we can leave our nearest one’s to hell (Dozhaks). Think I don’t want my mother, father, my wife, childrens, all sisters & all brothers ask me at the day of judgment that you know all (Correct & Wrong )and you didn’t inform or guide us the correct way of jannat.
    Think…..allah hidayat all ——- Ameen

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  • Dreamer

    Archana Ji.

    Tarun Vijay is a right-wing politician. Kashmiri Pandits don’t face any oppression. They unfortunately got caught in cross-border terrorism and left the valley.

    But local Muslims in valley have suffered no less and died in thousands. It may sound harsh but Pandits could have stayed back and fought, which they didn’t.

    They left it. KPs didn’t face any state-sponsored terrorism or any discrimination within India. They have quotas in schools and colleges in whole country.

    But other communities and groups have faced state-sponsored violence. This is not to belittle suffering of Kashmiri Pandits.

    But they are not the only victims. As far as displacement is concerned, thousands of tribals are displaced in MP, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Maharashtra but they aren’t educated and don’t belong to vocal middle-class, so nobody speaks for them.

    Tarun Vijay is spokesperson of the same party that puts persecution complex in the minds of conservative Hindus and then thrives on their emotions, to cause mistrust among communities and increase Hindu suspicion of Muslims.

    His party and its leaders including a minister Mayaben Kodnani are in jail for burning pregnant women to death in Ahmedabad.

  • Tarun Vijay is spokesperson of the same party that puts persecution complex in the minds of conservative Hindus and then thrives on their emotions, to cause mistrust among communities and increase Hindu suspicion of Muslims.

  • Well, in my opinion, these type of movie has been seen throughout and they have now become common. The politics that is portrayed, I would say is not only for Muslims that was seen but for many others as they are, from what I have seen in the US, there has not been much rise in racial hate crimes against Muslims, which has gone to the Hindus as the ordinary people after 9/11 suppose that it is the Hindus who had caused this (mostly the high school teenagers).

  • nabeel

    Khuda Ke Liye is at the moment the best film done on Muslims. i feel that My name is khan is to much over acting. not well directed at all.

  • Dreamer,
    Thanks for pointing that out. You are right that Muslims too have suffered in Kashmir and there are tribals and others who have been displaced from their place in different parts of India. Yes, Tarun Vijay is a right-wing person and obviously his views are tailored to generate hatred and to divide the society. I was trying to present different sentiments this film has generated. Hence, I included Tarun Vijay’s article as well. Of course I agree with your point.

  • Mohammad

    Hi!

    Everyone is opportunist, Everything is deception and polictics, Every ideologies are executing according to the market analogy the movie gaining popularity the media generating and marketing their channels the normal human getting tense about recession the poor is going to the low level the rich person were skiping to exponently.So don’t be swindle, be simple and always be original.

  • I have only one correction about my blog, I have said ” when north Indians wre being beaten up ( not the word killed ) . This was reference to voilent agitation by Mr. Raj Thakare’s MNS . Killing of Bihari youth referred was about an young man killed by Mumbai police while he was trying to creat scene on a local Mumai bus, later on found to be frustrated unemployed.

    I never intend to use words in exaggerated manner, be it for any body , even degraded parties such as Shiv Sena and MNS.

    Further, for the comments of Dreamer, Kashmiri Pandits had to leave valley as in 1989 state was completely under voilent insurgency where then Home Ministers daughter was also kidnapped. They are even today not able to go back because as per Government of India & Local Government conditions are not conducive.

    An other clarification, charges against Maya Kodnani in Gujarat are not confirmed by court, case is still pending.

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