New York/New Delhi, Bollywood icon Shah Rukh Khan was Saturday questioned for two hours at the Newark airport in the US over his surname and was freed only after Indian diplomats intervened.
The Indian government and entertainment industry reacted furiously after the 43-year-old actor, named by Newsweek last year as one of the world’s 50 most powerful men, revealed how he was detained and stopped from even using his mobile telephone.
Speaking to CNN-IBN channel on telephone from the US, Shah Rukh appeared to shrug off the embarrassing episode saying he had suffered similar treatment previously too.
The incident happened as the hugely popular actor, whose fans number millions in India and abroad, was on his way to Chicago to attend an event related to India’s Independence Day.
Other Bollywood stars like Katrina Kaif, Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan too are set to attend the function.
“They checked me because I was an Asian,” the actor said. “They wanted to know why I came to the US and where I am staying.”
Shah Rukh’s manager Niloufer Qureshi earlier told IANS over telephone from Mumbai: “He was detained because his surname is Khan. He was kept until officials from the Indian embassy intervened.”
Asked if he got into trouble because of his giveaway Muslim name, Shah Rukh, who is married to a Hindu, said: “Certain countries have issues with my name.” He quickly added: “I am very proud of my name.”
Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni denounced Shah Rukh’s detention over religious grounds.
“I don’t think that this manner of detaining (in the name of religion) is justified. But in the US, several examples have surfaced where frisking takes place more than required,” she told reporters in New Delhi. “There should be a tit for tat response.”
Bollywood filmmaker Karan Johar, a close friend of Shah Rukh, said in Mumbai: “I am shocked and upset. I am feeling terrible.”
Shah Rukh admitted that he became “greatly worried” as the American officials piled him with questions — mainly about his travel to the US.
The actor said a large number of Indians, including organisers of the Chicago event, were waiting outside at the airport to receive him. Indian diplomats came to his rescue when they heard about his plight.
He said it was ironic that the incident happened on the eve of Aug 15 — when freedom is celebrated by Indians.
“I personally feel it is over and done,” he said, sounding conciliatory. Asked if he felt like reacting in a similar way, he replied: “If they want I can frisk Angelina Jolie when she is here (India).”
Undoubtedly one of Bollywood’s biggest and most highly paid stars, Shah Rukh has acted in nearly 70 films in a career spanning 17 years.