According to Forrest Gump, life is like a box of chocolates because “you never know what you’re going to get.”
Now, an Indian remake of the movie has been hit by boycott calls over years-old comments by its Muslim star, Aamir Khan.
It is the latest example of how Bollywood actors, particularly minority Muslims such as Khan, are feeling increased pressure under Hindu nationalist Indian Prime Minister Modi.
Photo : AFP
Laal Singh Chaddha, an Indian spin on the 1994 Hollywood hit with Tom Hanks, is expected to be one of India’s biggest films of the year. This is due in large part to its main star, 57-year-old Khan.
However, ahead of the release on Thursday, the Internet is awash with clips from a 2015 interview when Khan expressed a growing “sense of fear,” and that he and his then-wife discussed leaving India.
“She fears for her child. She fears about what the atmosphere around us will be. She feels scared to open the newspapers every day,” he said.
More than 200,000 Twitter posts, many from Modi supporters, have been shared since last month calling for people to spurn the movie.
“Aamir Khan married two Hindu Women, yet named his kids Junaid, Azad & Ira,” one person wrote on Twitter, referring to the children’s typical Muslim names.
“That’s enough reasons to boycott Lal Singh Chaddha, basically a production from Bollywood’s Love Jihad club,” the person added, using a derogatory term coined by Hindu nationalists who accuse Muslim men of marrying Hindu women and forcing them to convert.
Reacting to the furore over his new film, Khan this week stressed his patriotism, a key tenet of the Modi government.
“I feel sad that some of the people ... believe that I am someone who doesn’t like India,” he said. “That’s not the case. Please don’t boycott my film. Please watch my film.”
Films have long sparked controversy — as well as violence — in the movie-mad country of 1.4 billion people.
However, the heat felt by Khan, one of a clutch of Muslim megastars in the industry, mirrors growing intolerance, marginalization and vilification of the minority, commentators say.
“There is no doubt that Aamir is being targeted by those spreading hatred toward Muslims,” one commentator, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of becoming a target himself, told Agence France-Presse.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party owes its origins to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a militaristic group espousing “Hindutva,” or making India an exclusively Hindu state.
Lynchings of Muslims by Hindu nationalist mobs over so-called cow protection — a sacred animal for many Hindus — and other hate crimes have sown fear among India’s about 200 million Muslims.
Social media is full of misinformation claiming that Muslims would soon outnumber Hindus — due to inter-religious marriages — or that the minority is a treasonous fifth column backed by Pakistan.
Critics say that the world’s most prolific film industry and its stars have been gradually changing their output to fit the government narrative since Modi came to power in 2014.
In 2019, the hagiographic PM Narendra Modi was too much even for the Indian Election Commission, which delayed its release until after a vote that year.
There has been a recent string of military-themed movies that have been nationalistic, all-guns-blazing stories of heroics by soldiers and police — usually Hindus — against enemies outside and within India.
This year’s The Kashmir Files, about the fleeing of Hindus from Muslim-majority Kashmir in 1989 and 1990, saw incidents of people in cinemas calling for revenge killings of Muslims.
Film critic and author Anna Vetticad said the methods to “subordinate India’s Muslims and Christians to the majority community ... include demonizing these minorities and constantly demanding proof of their patriotism.”
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