Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Shah Rukh Khan and Bollywood in Wikileaks

Days after news broke that US diplomats in India suggested taking a softly-softly approach in Afghanistan by sending in Bollywood stars to help stablise the country, it has now emerged that the industry's biggest star, Shah Rukh Khan, was the subject of a separate cable.

The cable concerned a threat by the Shiv Sena, a right-wing Indian political party, to ban screenings of the actor's movie "My Name is Khan", a 2010 film made by Karan Johar.

"The Shiv Sena had threatened to ban screenings of Shah Rukh Khan's upcoming movie, 'My Name is Khan', because Shah Rukh Khan publicly lamented the absence of Pakistani cricket players in India's professional cricket league for the coming season," says the cable, dated February 22, 2010, as reported in the UK's Guardian newspaper.

The cable reported how Shiv Sena goons burnt posters of the movie and protested in front of his Khan's home, calling for him to "move to Pakistan".

"Khan himself did not bid on any Pakistani players as co-owner of one of the frachises," it said.

While some theatre owners refrained from screening the film on its opening day due to security concerns, "a show of force by the police convinced theatres to roll out a full release" the next day.

"With protests and controversy generating far more international buzz than the typical Bollywood movie, Khan's new movie opened to packed audiences in Mumbai and elsewhere," it added.

In August 2009, Khan was stopped upon entry into the United States, where he was to participate in a slew of South Asian-related events, including promotions for "My Name is Khan". Immigration officers pulled him aside at Newark airport in New Jersey, questioning him for over an hour about the nature of his visit and asking for details of American companies that could vouch for him, before he was released.

Last week, it emerged that a March 2007 cable suggested the appeal of Bollywood stars could spotlight social issues in Afghanistan.

In response to a request from Washington for "specific, concrete ideas for opportunities for India to use soft power in helping Afghanistan's reconstruction," US diplomats in India said Bollywood was an area that "seems ripe" and added: "We understand Bollywood movies are wildly popular in Afghanistan, so willing Indian celebrities could be asked to travel to Afghanistan to help bring attention to social issues there."

However, the U.S. embassy's proposal to send Bollywood stars to Afghanistan never materialised.

Bollywood movies have been hugely popular in Afghanistan for decades. The 1975 hit action-romantic caper "Dharmatma", which starred Hema Malini, was the first Indian film to be shot in the country.

In recent years, despite security concerns, leading Bollywood banner Yash Raj Films shot its 2006 production "Kabul Express" in Afghanistan starring top actors John Abraham and Arshad Warsi.

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