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Is India overreacting?

Is India overreacting?

Actor Shah Rukh Khan’s detention at an airport in the US has outraged politicians, actors and his fans in the country. But is everyone going overboard?

August 16, 2009 2:50 by

Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s detention at an airport in the US has angered people in India so much that some of them are even planning to hold a protest in Delhi, reports the Associated Press.  Khan apparently said that he felt “angry and humiliated” by the experience.

The Indian federal information minister, Ambika Soni, said that India should adopt a similar policy toward Americans traveling to the country, and actress Priyanka Chopra tweeted that the incident was “Shocking, disturbing and downright disgraceful.”

US customs officials however told the AP that Khan was only questioned as part of a routine process, and that he was not detained; “[…] it took a little longer because his bag was lost by the airline,” said spokesman Elmer Camacho.

Are people in India reacting too strongly? Are custom officials expected to keep track of celebrities from every country in the world? Would airport officials in the Netherlands recognize Nancy Ajram?

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  1. Carol on August 16, 2009 3:50 pm

    No, Indians and others are NOT overreacting to the bad treatment given Shahrukh Khan a few days ago here in the United states. I am a born in the USA Caucasian with no Indian or Asian background at all and Shahrukh Khan is the MOST famous movie star in the world as far as I and many of the people I know feel. From the first time I saw one of his movies in 2003 he’s been my own favorite movie star EVER and all other actors and entertainers are nothing compared to him. He’s the most talented, witty and sensually attractive performer in the world…and most everyone in the world except Caucasians in the US and Canada know that….but here people don’t watch movies with subtitles so they are missing knowing of the greatest talent alive today.

  2. Nick on August 16, 2009 5:07 pm

    I completely understand that Shahrukh Khan must be frustrated at what has happened to him. Does it mean that just because he is a global icon he should be glorified. I am a fan of Shahrukh and the bollywood fraternity,but if you have not done anything wrong why are you angered by this events. The person that probably flagged Shahrukh for the reason probably did not know Shahrukh and he/she/there were doing their job. If every person that is famous is not out into such checkups what does that mean for the rest of us “unknowns”.. Im not saying that Shahrukh is involved any illegal activities that could harm a city/state/countery, but if we stopped screening people based on Iconic status, would that not put them at higher risks from the people that want to harm the country? What if terrorists recruited an “iconic” person because they know he/she wont be pulled over for questioning? What harm would happen later.. Its better to be safe then sorry and have no rules set aside for Icons… For crying out loud, he is just an Actor who is not even on a diplomatic passport… So what if he was screened… Its for our safety……Get real guys .. The former Indian President Abdul Kalam (who has a diplomatic passport unlike SRK) was recently put through security checks. Where was the Indian public then when it happened right in India? Lets get in touch with reality. Bollywood actors are not VVIPS they are regular people who just happen to be in a profession more famous then most of us.

  3. dean on August 16, 2009 5:45 pm

    Yes, the actor’s fans,friends and indian media ar overreacting since they misunderstood the procedure done by new york airport security officials and blaming the u.s immigration and govt. which had nothin to do with the actor being questioned. Celebrities or not, i am glad the security didn’t ignore their routine procedure and checked celebrities regardless of an overnight star or superstar for a long time in any country. It wudn’t be fair to check other passengers and not check a celebrity. Morovr, the wait was prolonged b.c the actor’s bag did not arrive, and obviously all bags hav to be checked. So, the issue of keeping celebrity information and just letting him go w.o checking bags is absurd.

  4. Mohamed on August 17, 2009 5:08 am

    Who is this Khan? forget about that he is a global star. more than half of tamil nadu doesnot know him. I presume some sections of the so called elite Indians want maharaja treatment and blow things out of proportion.
    Sure the film fraternity will speak in unity coz they want a free passage everywhere.
    No wonder In India there is VVIP, and VIP darshans in Indian Temples where special audience will be arranged with God.Now one can understand why these so called celebrities expect such maharaja treatment.I pity the poor billion Indians whose struggle between life and death goes unnoticed.the action of the US immigration officials must be lauded.

  5. Amin on August 17, 2009 6:04 am


  6. neeraj on August 17, 2009 6:20 am

    Given the number of bollywood movies shot in the US and the sheer number of Indians movies that are played in theatres and watched by the masses including Americans and other nationalities..i dont think its fair to compare Nancy with Shahrukh. There is no production base in Nederlands for Arab cinema or music videos’s and thus little or no reason for her to be recognised!

    well..nancy has nothing to do with Nederlands! Shahrukh does with the US. I do think that the reaction is a bit over rated…and he should be treated like any other Indian must be..what makes his special? India might react similarly if some Hollywood actor just shows up from a flight..Shahrukh had not made any prior security or clearance arrangements..I think its fair that he got a similar treatment that anyone with a Khan could have got..

  7. Sushil Kumar on August 17, 2009 6:55 am

    US procedures and sytems have ensured no repeats after 9/11. However whatever happened to good old fashioned common sense? This incident was an open and shut case; A simple Google search would have clinched the actor’s claim. Dont official immigration screens show how many times and for how long the guy has visited and lived in the US?
    Regardless of nationality officials in such posts tend to occassionaly take leave of their sense of reasonableness and prefer to behave in a bull headed manner.
    I strongly feel that th US version of bags not arriving has more to it than declared.
    And by the way Nancy Ajram – with all due respect – is an Arab celebrity and does not have the kind of international appeal and exposure of a Shahrukh Khan.

  8. Suzan on August 17, 2009 7:11 am

    Would airport officials in the Netherlands recognize Nancy Ajram? — Now THAT’s a thought.. OMG! Would love to see that one day…

  9. DUBoy on August 17, 2009 7:28 am

    I am an Indian and a Shah Rukh fan as well. I feel it’s natural for Shah Rukh to been angered, frustrated and a bit humiliated by the whole US episode. But, as a sensible man, I don’t expect the US staff to recognise Bollywood stars or ex-Presidents (really! how many times could a US airport security staff have possibly seen Dr. Kalam’s face or pic??). By not giving Mr. Khan any special consideration, the staff has just proved to be doing his job to his employer’s satisfaction…!!!
    Media (and Ambika Soni and the people) are overreacting as this sort of a reaction wasn’t seen when India’s ex-president Dr. Kalam was frisked (despite his diplomatic status and being accompanied by protocol officer etc.) “in an Indian airport” by a US airliner staff. So Mr. Khan and his empathising fans (other Bollywoodies and actress Priyanka included) should at least now urge the Indian politicians (they surely will listen to the stars) to take all steps to make sure every American including former presidents to be frisked thoroughly before let out on Indian soil. As all Americans do really understand the need for security procedures and arrangements, I’m sure they will co-operate and raise no flag.
    And if someone does take objection, Indian babus should throw them back to the plane and send them back as I’, sure India will not disappear from the world map or Indians won’t end up in perennial misery by hurting American sentiments.
    It may sound absurd, but somebody has to bell the cat. Although the usual (or even tough) security checks and frisking is fine, being pulled up for having a Muslim name (poor Kamal Hassan, a Hindu actor too had gone through the “Khan experience” earlier) and undergoing multiple-hour “interrogation” (call it psychological torture because these are not normal interview sessions) even after proving credentials and identity is not a pleasing experience for citizens of India or America.

  10. Menon on August 17, 2009 7:43 am

    I totally understand the sentiments of US Customs Officials. It is their country and they will do whatever possible to secure their country. Security checks and detention in the name of religion and race is happening for long time in US especially after 9/11. This is known to everyone in the world. Celebrities take it or not, the US security officials will check anything suspicious be it Khan, Hassan or Ismail. We must accept the security checks of a nation if we really wish to travel to this place.
    Again, I don’t accept kipp’s idea of comparing Nancy Ajiram with Mr.Khan. Most of the bollywood stars spend most of their time in US doing shows and shooting movies throughout the year. SRK was also listed among the 50 most powerful personalities in the world by NewsWeek magazine from US.
    I know it’s hard for the west to digest the popularity of bollywood, but this is happening dear.
    We should accept the security measures of a country but also should not ignore the popularity of Indian celebrities.

  11. Indian on August 17, 2009 9:53 am


    After a long time actor Salman Khan has come up with a real gem. On hearing about Shah Rukh Khan being questioned by US security at Newark, New Jersey, he said it’s good that the country has such a tight set-up. And that “there has been no attack after 9/11 because of this.’’

    Salman has a point. SRK might be an icon to Indians and many in the subcontinent, even to the desi diaspora spread across the globe, but to America he’s just a visitor. We may be convinced he cannot be involved in anything that’s remotely violent, but the guard given the responsibility of stopping something like 9/11 from happening in his country again will want to take no chances. And what is the possibility that he’s a die hard fan of the Khan and Bollywood? Very slim.

    Interestingly, the same day that SRK was detained in Newark, there came news that the great Bob Dylan, who was wandering around Long Branch, near New York City, sometime back, was asked for an ID by two cops too young to know who he really was. When he couldn’t furnish one, he was taken right back to the resort where he was putting up and staff there vouched for him. And America is Dylan’s own country.

    Was there a furore? Not that I know of. Not even a little blowin’ in the wind.

    SRK says he’s “upset and angry’’ because it was his Muslim name that caused all this. Thousands of Muslims are made to go through extra security checks everyday in America and a host of Western countries. Is he equally upset at that? He’s probably just pissed that it happened to him, India’s mega star. We all know how a lot of Muslims have been subjected to prejudice around the world because many countries see terrorism as an Islamic phenomenon. Yes, it is uncalled for, unjust and maybe wrong. But America is a country that takes the killings of its people with the seriousness it deserves, unlike India whose record on this is shameful, to say the least.

    Also, because most of the perpetrators of 9/11 were Muslims, America thinks it has to be doubly careful where they are concerned. Had the terrorists been Jews, perhaps it would have looked at Jews with similar suspicion. I was much more aggrieved at President Kalam being frisked. But that’s a dated debate.

    There are two layers to the SRK incident and we must peel them off with care. One, it is quite ridiculous that Indians feel their icons and superstars are everybody’s icons and superstars. What the heck? If Jet Li came to India tomorrow, the man on the street here would probably call him ‘`Chinky’’ and not give a second look. For that matter, what if Gérard Depardieu came travelling. How many would know him? Matt Damon was here recently and there wasn’t a traffic jam in Delhi. These guys are huge back home.

    Moreover, America doesn’t have a culture of fawning the way India has. Mike Tyson was treated like a common rapist and spent most part of his youth in the slammer. Winona Ryder was sentenced to a three-year probation for shoplifting. Chinese born Hollywood actress Bai Ling was fined US 200 dollars for petty theft.

    More importantly, we are actually aggrieved because we are “not like them’’. Well, guess what. It isn’t a virtue. We should be like them and take the security of our country and its people with solemn, no-nonsense professionalism. Frisk Brad Pitt when he lands in India next. Give Tom Cruise the same dose. Don’t spare Bill Clinton either. Isn’t he an ex-prez just like Kalam? Who’s stopping you and what’s stopping you? Colonial hangover? Or is it plain lethargy and callousness. Looks like both.

    We are just whimpering over here like hurt puppies because we feel, “Oh, but we don’t do it to them’’. Oh no, we don’t. And it’s a scandal. We should. I’ve seen white men – and women – get away in India with murder. Indian women can’t get into some discos wearing a sari. And bouncers will frown at you if you are dressed in a kurta. Have you seen what some of these firangs have on them? No one bats a eyelid.
    So instead of making SRK’s detention an issue, we should think of upgrading our own security set-up.

    There’s a lesson in this. And it is a positive one. A day after our own 26/11, there was hardly any security at CST in Mumbai. It can’t get worse than that. The bottom line: Stop fawning, shed the colonial hangover and make no compromise where the country’s safety is concerned. Can we do that or is it too much to ask from a country that’s been free for 62 years but was ruled by white sahibs for 200?

  12. Doug on August 17, 2009 12:46 pm

    So what if he’s famous? Leaving aside the tragic reality that no-one outside of India or the Indian diaspora has ever heard of the man, being famous is not grounds to be allowed to stroll through customs free from security checks.

  13. amer shaheen on August 17, 2009 3:24 pm

    India is reacitng was samll thing as it is very clear from news that he was stopped normal routine queations. there is nothing in the news to make a heap.

  14. vishal on August 17, 2009 5:54 pm

    What u said is right bt unfortunatly you haven’t heard frm u.s customs and border protection that they had no problem w/srk’s identification. Not basd on sum stupid google search tht demeans the whole procedure, but based on real documents in srk’s personal possession nd tht is the right way of makin identification. Its not the question of it’s “easy” finding out w.tip of ur fingers, its the question of the “right” way of findin info.

    Moreovr, newark officials hav alrdy stated everything ws rightnd they just wanted to find out contacts and “present” stay, they don’t want ramayana of srk’s movies and stay previously in u.s. This is newark airport and they ar doing their job, the city which he workd in u.s fr months recently did their job nd it doesn’t mean newark officials brush their responsibility aside. This incident was an open nd shut case b.c newark security officials did their job nd evrything ws done on tht aspect of identification. How many times they have to say that, still indian media nd srk’s supporters wnt to find hidden meaning, its no rocket science.

    You might want to believe tht ther is more to it thn bag problem which ws 1 of the reason of delay, the other being other passengrs wer ahead of srk is terms of checking so the delay ws prolognd. But, ur belief might come true b.c evn srk said at the independence day celeb , tht his bags did not arrive and he didn’t gt his bags either. So srk himself admitted tht but just little ovr an hour ws wasted, so i find it hrd to believe srk’s claim of 2 hrs. He shud be positive tht newark officials claimed evrything ws o.k not according to srk’s rule of checking, bt their rules and his bags arrived w.o problem nd ws kept waiting fr jst 66 minutes. Whts the big deal, i don’t find any reason why srk shud be embarrased. Later he said tht procedures hav to be followd and officials wer polite, but he decided to back stab nd state procedure ws unfortunate nd he ws humiliated.

  15. henryyoung on August 18, 2009 10:07 pm

    That’s terrible, when will we put a stop to this nonsense. Yes, I understand that we need to protect our country, but if he says he’s a STAR, then let him go by w/o any hassles. What will he think of we as Americans?


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