Shahrukh Khan: Not cosy with Cozi
by Sandhya Jain on 02 Mar 2010 13 Comments

Shahrukh Khan has been too busy batting for his film, My Name is Khan, battling Shiv Sena’s ‘Paki’ phobia, pandering to Bengali Muslim chauvinism by nixing a commercial tie-up between Lux Cozi and his IPL franchisee Kolkata Knight Riders, to spare a thought for the Pune bomb blast victims or the three Sikhs beheaded by Pakistan Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Area for refusing to convert to the religion of peace.


In other words, a mere pinch at his personal and professional interests is Muslim-phobia, but the murder of innocents by Islamic fundamentalists rampaging the region does not merit a moment of grief. For Shahrukh, it is a case of spoilsport purists ruining his ‘good’ Muslim act with ill-timed frenzy. The death toll in the Pune blasts currently stands at 17; our Star assures us his name is Khan – possibly similar, but distinct – from the bomber-co-religionists.


For some years now, Shahrukh has been positioning himself publicly as a Muslim-ONLY, in contrast to the more subtle stance of Muslim-REALLY by film personalities like Shahbana Azmi and Javed Akhtar. Amir Khan also flirted with a good-Muslim good-Indian façade in the wake of the post-Godhra Gujarat riots of 2002, earning accolades for taking on ‘demon’ Narendra Modi. But he retreated once he realised that an overtly Muslim persona could be financially punishing in a Hindu-majority nation where, like it or not, the Gujarat CM has emerged as a Hindutva Icon. The ban on Fanaa; momentary social boycott of a car endorsed by him; even the unofficial prohibition of Rahul Dholakia’s Parzania, in just one state – Gujarat – taught Amir that discretion is the better part of valour.


Shahrukh appears to have political backing to split the Mumbai film industry vertically down the middle, on communal lines. The objective was to paralyze the Hindu voice there and hijack the entire industry to serve the Islamic-Secular cause, as it once did in the early decades of Nehruvian Socialism (some say Stalinism). So Shahrukh needled and confronted Amitabh Bachchan for no apparent reason. Big B initially fumbled, but the silent and mighty weight of Bollywood established he was still the Badshah. The discourteous dis-invite for the Goa International Film Festival – at the instance of the Congress ruling family some years ago – could hardly diminish the patriarch. Shahrukh was forced to bow to Bachchan and back off.


Yet Shahrukh continues to thrust his Muslim identity in the public arena. There must be a larger political purpose, unveiled so far. Though he joined hands with franchisee owners to boycott the purchase of Pakistani players for IPL-3, he broke ranks to declare the boycott “unfortunate” after Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram expressed dismay over the informal ban; this earned the wrath of the Shiv Sena supremo. It baffles me why BJP supported Shahrukh and organised a private screening of his rather mediocre film, when its difference with the Sena was solely over the rights of north Indians and others to live and work in Mumbai. Clearly the new party president needs to get his act together, fast.


Now, as the IPL approaches, Shahrukh has again prioritized the Muslim question. His Kolkata Knight Riders made a tie-up with hosiery brand Lux Industries, but Shahrukh put the association ‘on hold’ [read cancelled] to defer to Muslim sentiment.


Readers may recall that some years ago, Priyanka, daughter of Lux Industries’ owner Ashok Todi, eloped and married computer graphics designer Rizwanur Rehman [Shahrukh’s name in My Name is Khan is Rizwan – coincidence?]


Rizwanur was found dead on the railway tracks; as forensics ruled out murder, it was assumed he had committed suicide out of depression, as members of his own family had colluded with Ashok Todi to return Priyanka to her natal family. But public pressure and the bleeding hearts industry forced the police to register a case of abetment to suicide against members of the Todi family, who are currently on bail.


The case received immense media publicity; Shahrukh would have been aware of it when he went to meet Todi and tie up the deal for KKR, and a lucrative contract for himself as Lux brand ambassador. In unison, Kolkata Muslims led by Kishwar Jahan, Rizwanur’s mother, rose in anger, prompted by jholawala fellow travellers, and demanded the KKR-Lux tie-up be terminated. The Imam of one of the city’s largest mosques appealed to Shahrukh to cancel the deal.


KKR succumbed to the “love and respect for the sentiments of our fellow Kolkatans” [read Muslims] and the KKR black and gold jersey was hastily reworked with purple by designer Manish Malhotra. The official statement said the association with the company was “on hold until issues are resolved and the sensitivities of the aggrieved group are adequately addressed.”


This is an outrageous intimidation of the Indian judicial process, as it states that justice will not be perceived to have been done unless members of the Todi family are jailed for the alleged offence of abetting Rizwanur’s death. So Afzal Guru will not be hanged because Muslims won’t like it; the Todis must be punished because the Muslims will like it. It’s a very perverse communal equation.


When no actor or celebrity endorses a product after checking that the character of the owners or promoters of the product, why this singling out of the Todi family? Years ago, Shahrukh endorsed a bogus product called ‘home trade’ – shot in London – which led thousands of persons to deposit their savings in the company, which then simply disappeared! When an aggrieved person took Shahrukh to court, the actor claimed it was impossible to check the bona fides of a company seeking endorsement, and that he too had not received his dues. This is quite unbelievable because actors are known to take payments in full and in advance for such one-time performances.


Anyway, Shahrukh Khan owes the nation an explanation why he and KKR stepped outside their legitimate domain to demand legal action as desired by the Muslim community of Kolkata in a private case that may not have criminal overtones in the end. They could have curtailed the deal with Lux Cozi and let the matter rest.


For the matter overtly pertains to the interests and honour of two communities. The Todis are Hindus who legitimately resented the marriage of their only daughter to a Muslim and her conversion to Islam via nikaah, which is imperative if the children of the union are to be recognised as legitimate in the Muslim community. Rizwanur’s premature death has led Kishwar Jahan to legitimately resent his marital family, but she cannot cross limits taking advantage of her minority status.


Shahrukh-KKR’s unfortunate language emboldened Kishwar Jahan and others to demand that he scrap his endorsement of the Lux-Cozi brand. This has put him in a bind as the unilateral curtailment of the contract could cost him financially and professionally. Moreover, it could have long-term implications, inhibiting Hindu proprietors, film producers and directors from hiring Muslims for fear that they may renege on their contractual obligations at a critical stage of the production, causing heavy losses.


All in all, Shahrukh seems set to unleash a new and ugly phase of communal identity politics in India.


The author is Editor,

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