Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan says actors and those in the entertainment industry should allow their work to speak for themselves and not get carried away by how people interpret seemingly innocuous comments.
Khan, 50, came under attack on Social Media in early November after bemoaning what he described as the “extreme intolerance” in India.
“There is intolerance, there is extreme intolerance and there is growing intolerance”, he told NDTV on 3 November.
“We have made a huge thing about our meat-eating habits. How can the food habits of people be an issue? It is stupid… It is stupid to be intolerant and this is our biggest issue, not just an issue… Religious intolerance and not being secular in this country is the worst kind of crime that you can do as a patriot”, the star added.
While he received support from some quarters, Khan was attacked by those who viewed his comments as “unpatriotic” with numerous Twitter users calling for a boycott of his movies and many others calling on him to leave India.
His comments had come in the wake of a string of incidents involving Hindu nationalists targeting Muslims, secular thinkers and those seen as not subscribing to the so-called ‘Hindutva’ ideal – including the murder of a Muslim man near Delhi for allegedly consuming beef and attacks on rationalists and journalists.
On a visit to London to promote his new movie ‘Dilwale’, Khan told the UKAsian: “In these situations one should keep quiet. I should talk only about my work and not get carried away thinking people will get upset if I speak up or don’t speak up.
“We have something called freedom of expression not just in our country but also worldwide and that should remain. If I make a comment saying I like your dress, that should not be interpreted as something I would like to wear it myself and if someone says they don’t like the dress should not be interpreted as they think this type of dress should not exist. It’s a discussion. Freedom of expression means anyone should be able to put their views forward. It doesn’t mean the ultimate, ultimatum, decision or the final say”, Shah Rukh added.
Weeks after Khan was targeted for speaking out against intolerance, fellow superstar Aamir Khan came under attack after claiming that his Hindu wife had expressed concern about continuing to live in India.
Shah Rukh made his remarks to the UKAsian a day after acclaimed filmmaker Hansal Mehta, whilst condemning those who had targeted the two Khans, said that the fault for such attacks ultimately lay in Bollywood itself.
“We have these highly polarised and heated responses to any political stand a film personality takes. There is no room for debate or discourse, especially when it comes to Bollywood celebrities,” Mehta said.
“The fault lies somewhere in the Bollywood system,” Mehta added.
“We want to hobnob with politicians and be extremely diplomatic. We don’t take a stand, and this is reflected in our films which are populist in their discourse. People can have political opinions in private, but in public they want to be in favour and this is often because of fear of a backlash”.
However, Shah Rukh refused to be drawn on Mehta’s comments.
“Like everyone else Hansal Mehta also has his own opinions. I am not a politician but if Hansalji thinks he should get into politics as a film maker, that’s his belief. I am Apolitical by nature. I am an actor. My expertise is in this field. It’s like telling me I should become an astronaut. I can’t become an Astronaut nor can I become a cricketer. I only know how to act, although I will try to become as good a film maker as Hansal Mehta”, Shah Rukh added, tongue in cheek.