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 like Khan, are feeling increased pressure under Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Modi.
“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 2022.
This is due in large part to its main star, 57-year-old Khan, one of the Indian industry’s most bankable actors with past blockbusters like “3 Idiots” (2009) and “Dangal” (2016).
But ahead of the August 11 release, 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 tweets, many from supporters of Modi’s BJP party, have been shared since last month calling for people to spurn the movie with the hashtag #BoycottLaalSinghChaddha.
“Aamir Khan married two Hindu Women, yet named his kids Junaid, Azad & Ira. (Hindu co-star) Kareena (Kapoor) married a Muslim & promptly named her kids Taimur & Jehangir,” said one tweet, 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. #BoycottLaalSinghChaddha,” it added, using a derogatory term coined by Hindu nationalists who accuse Muslim men of marrying Hindu women and forcing them to convert.
– Patriotism –
Nicknamed “Mr Perfectionist”, Khan has been credited with pushing films beyond Bollywood’s traditional fare of song and dance into social and cultural issues.
He also hosted a TV chat show — “Satyamev Jayate” — that discussed touchy themes like rape, domestic violence and corruption.
The furore over his new film — which adapts Hanks’ famous line to say that “life is like a golgappa”, an Indian snack — is such that this week Khan 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 told local media.
“That’s not the case. Please don’t boycott my film. Please watch my film.”
– Intolerance –
Films have long sparked controversy — as well as violence — in the movie-mad country of 1.4 billion people.
But the heat being felt by Khan, one of a clutch of Muslim megastars in the industry along with Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan, mirrors growing intolerance, marginalisation and vilification of the minority, commentators say.
“There is no doubt that Aamir is being targeted by those spreading hatred towards Muslims,” one commentator, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of becoming a…