August 16, 2009

Do they know who that man is? Do they?

Someone should send the U.S. Customs staff at New Jersey's Newark Liberty Airport original DVDs of Om Shanti Om and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. That way, the next time Bollywood idol Shah Rukh Khan comes through their portal, they won't subject him to another two–hour–plus detention as they reportedly did on Friday, August 14th — before a gig in Atlantic City (and Indian Independence Day activities in Chicago, Illinois the next day).

Not done, guys. Apparently his Muslim surname sent up erroneous red flags at Homeland Security. But let the gentleman explain:

It was absolutely uncalled for I think, me having just finished working there for more than a month… just a couple of weeks ago. They said I have a common name which is causing the delay… checked my bags… I felt angry and humiliated…

I am assuming this country is paranoid with a certain section of religion in the world. This has happened to me before. This is not the first time.

And it required the efforts of Indian Consulate people to get him freed.

BollywoodWorld also notes the immediate shock and anger expressed by the Bollywood creative community, including director Karan Johar, actress Priyanka Chopra (currently seen in the must–see Kaminey), Kabir Khan (the director of New York), and Kunal Kohli, who notes:

Even if they had done a Google search on their mobiles, they would have seen who he is. What were they checking for two hours on their super computers?

Let's hope that Fox Star's forthcoming release of My Name is Khan, directed by Karan Johar (and dealing with how 11 September 2001 affects one Indian Muslim) gets a wide enough release that it inspires some much needed change of heart at DHS.

The Bush regime is (burnt) toast, guys.

P.S.: Yash Raj Films' double–DVD set of New York, however flawed, should also be recommended viewing.

UPDATE 1 on 2009.08.16: The BBC and others have heard U.S. Customs officials defend their actions, claiming that SRK (as he is also known) was only held for an hour and six minutes. Customs spokesman Elmer Camacho claimed that it was only a routine procedure used for all foreigners entering the States. Meanwhile, Timothy Roehmer, who is the U.S. Ambassador to India, said the embassy would look into the matter.

In addition, the story got picked up for an almost quarter–page space in Newsday, while the New York Times and National Public Radio re–ran a version of the story circulated by the Associated Press.

UPDATE 2 on the same date: The New York Times and other media outlets now say that SRK is trying to put what happened behind him, saying that "it's a procedure that needs to be followed."

There's more on the story over at Screen, which suggests that the man is a bit world–weary these days.

No question director Kabir Khan is tired of the whole homeland security charade himself:

When I heard this news, I was so surprised… it has almost become a routine. If you have a Muslim name you are bound to be questioned. It happened with me thrice in the US. I was stopped by immigration officials for three to five hours– they don’t care whether you are a celebrity or whoever.

But when it comes to Shah Rukh, it doesn’t take more than 20 seconds to figure out who he is — any search engine will give more information on him than Hollywood stars Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt, and despite that, if it took them two hours to figure out, then it's harassment.

No wonder he made New York.

The Yash Raj Films DVD set of that film will be in my hands shortly (I pre–ordered it via Amazon). It will have two discs, so I will be very interested by what extra features are on the second disc, or whether there will be a running commentary track for the feature itself. Besides wanting to know why the staff shot most of their film in Pennsylvania (?), I would like to know more about his experiences with our Department of Homeland [In–]Security, and how much they shaped his perspective of what I thought was my home country (I'm no longer so sure). We'll soon know in a few days.

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