Indian star’s pro-Pakistan views may start riots

Shah Rukh Khan

Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan refuses to retract remarks despite threatened violence

BY David Cairns LAST UPDATED AT 11:40 ON Fri 5 Feb 2010

Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan, one of the biggest movie stars in the world and a Muslim, is refusing to back down on comments he made which have angered hard-line Hindus across India – despite the possibility of violence and rioting when his new film premieres in hundreds of cinemas next week.

Khan, dubbed one of the 50 most influential people in the world by the US Newsweek magazine, said last week how sad he was that none of the cricket teams in the Indian Premier League (the IPL) had bought Pakistani players for the new season. The multi-millionaire actor and TV presenter also co-owns an IPL team, the Kolkata Knight Riders.

But Khan's mild suggestion that (Muslim) Pakistanis should be welcome to play cricket in (Hindu) India was enough to enrage the Shiv Sena party, a right-wing group with a reputation for demonstrations which end in violence and rioting. Now Shiv Sena say they will attack cinemas showing Khan's latest film, My Name is Khan, when it opens on February 12 to a first-night audience of hundreds of thousands, if the star doesn't back down.

Khan's hugely popluar films – 2007's Om Shanti Om was the highest-grossing Bollywood movie ever made on its initial release – are watched by Muslims around the world, in addition to their more usual massive Hindu audience. Khan has a reputation for making secular films in which love triumphs over bigotry, and is himself married to a Hindu woman - he has said that his children are being brought up to respect both religions.

Now the actor, whose parents were born in what is now Pakistan but moved to modern-day India before partition, has come out fighting, using micro-blogging site Twitter to defend his views. He wrote: "Should I retract the fact that I am an Indian? Should I retract what my freedom fighter father taught me?

"What did I say that was wrong? All I said was that I wanted people to come to my country."

Indian media pundits have been surprised by how little public support Khan has received from his fellow Bollywood stars, with only his rival heart-throb Aamir Khan standing by him. The pair were quickly dubbed '2 Idiots' by Shiv Shena, a reference to Aamir Khan’s 2009 comedy 3 Idiots.

Shiv Sena members, objecting to what they see as assaults on traditional culture, have in the past attacked shops selling gifts for Valentnie's Day. Twelve years ago they attacked cinemas showing a film with a lesbian theme, and yesterday they threatened to repeat that action. · 

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