Bollywood stars are infamous for hardly speaking their minds, especially when it comes to political matters. But Shah Rukh Khan has long been an exception. The actor’s outspokenness over the years has courted questions about his patriotism, and repeated attacks from the Hindu far-right.
“I sometimes become the inadvertent object of political leaders who choose to make me a symbol of all that they think is wrong and unpatriotic about Muslims in India. There have been occasions when I have been accused of bearing allegiance to our neighbouring nation rather than my own country,” he wrote in an article titled, “Being a Khan,” for Outlook Turning Points 2013.
Khan still is not one to mince his words. On Nov. 2, his 50th birthday, he openly addressed the issues he sees tearing at India’s social fabric—from religious intolerance to impaired creative relations with Pakistan because of political interference.
“In our country, opinion is taken with a little more aggression if it is not agreeing with yours. We don’t have debates and discussions; we take sides. We need to prove a point,” he said in an interview with the news channel NDTV.
He then addressed a question about how Pakistani artists are faring in India, especially in the light of singer Ghulam Ali’s cancelled show in Mumbai and an attack on politician Sudheendra Kulkarni, whose face was smeared with black ink, allegedly by Shiv Sena members.
Whichever space and place starts questioning its creative people at whatever level—as authors, as filmmakers, as journalists, as poets—I think they are going to get a huge lash back, because creative minds are finally going to write stuff, which is going to affect the society in a big way. So whoever is doing it, whoever takes a stance like this against creative people, it is so silly…
Khan, who is cast opposite Pakistani actress Mahira Khan in Raees, a crime thriller to be released during Eid next year, also commented on the recent anti-beef hysteria:
Our religion cannot be defined or showed respect to by our meat-eating habits. How banal and silly is that. They made a huge thing about it. My kids came from school one day and they were a little confused, “Are we Hindus or Muslims?” I said, “Why not Christians? It doesn’t make a difference.”
According to Khan, these divisions act against Indian patriotism and progress.
If we are going to keep talking about religion, we are going to go back to the dark ages. It’s shocking to me. I don’t think religious intolerance is a way forward for any country. It is the worst kind of thing that can happen. And these are not small issues anymore; they are leading to violence. If you’re a true patriot, you have to love your country as a whole. You cannot love it in pieces, in regions, in states…
Khan also expressed admiration for the Indian authors who have recently returned their prizes to the Indian government in protest. “It’s extremely brave. It’s symbolic,” he commented, pleading, “Don’t bring the art under pressure because of politics and agenda.”