Shahrukh Khan and the Pound of Flesh: the Cost of Stardom (The King is Out: Part II)

by Huma Dar

[read Part I]

Shahrukh Khan (SRK) has a long history of playing the fraught field (of the Indian context) with flawless diplomacy, perhaps even overplaying the field.  In early 2002, precisely during the days of the state-sponsored anti-Muslim pogroms in Indian Gujarat, the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, from BJP (a Hindu Nationalist party), released an MTV-esque album,Samvedna [Sensitivity]. Widely broadcast on Doordarshan, the State-owned television channel, as well as on Indian-American programs (at least in the San Francisco Bay Area), the video features Vajpayee reciting his Hindi poetry while Jagjit Singh, the ghazal singer, sings in tune.  The album is prefaced by the rhapsodizing words of Javed Akhtar — another famous Muslim from Bollywood, narrated by Amitabh Bachhan.

Continue reading “Shahrukh Khan and the Pound of Flesh: the Cost of Stardom (The King is Out: Part II)”

“Veil in the Time of War” or “Veilin’ the Time of War”

In the context of the current multiple arenas of war and occupation in Muslim-majority regions, the issues of gender and sexuality are vitally linked to the casus belli, both within and without academia. Such linkages, with a long and complicated genealogy thoroughly imbricated in the politics of colonization, decolonization, and neo-colonization, also indicate an obsessive desire to re-enact the “discovery narrative” or the “rescue narrative.” Examining current contestations in popular media – including recent articles written by Maureen Dowd, Naomi Wolf and Phyllis Chesler et al and the poster designed by Alexander Segert, which was integral to the success of the anti-minaret Swiss referendum – this essay investigates whether, how, and where the neoconservative, neoliberal, and the mainstream feminist discourses converge, diverge, and intersect.

Segert's Anti-Minaret Poster

by Huma Dar

In the context of the current multiple arenas of war and occupation in Muslim-majority regions, the issues of gender and sexuality are vitally linked to the casus belli, both within and without academia.  Such linkages, with a long and complicated genealogy thoroughly imbricated in the politics of colonization, decolonization, and neo-colonization, theorized by Inderpal Grewal, Gayatri Spivak, Lata Mani, Leila Ahmed, Sherene Razack, Saba Mahmood, Sunera Thobani amongst others, also indicate an obsessive desire to re-enact the “discovery narrative” or the “rescue narrative.”  Examining current contestations in popular media – including recent articles written by Maureen Dowd, Naomi Wolf and Phyllis Chesler et al and the poster designed by Alexander Segert, which was integral to the success of the anti-minaret Swiss referendum – I investigate whether, how, and where the neoconservative, neoliberal, and the mainstream feminist discourses converge, diverge, and intersect.  I undertake to deconstruct the ongoing debates that obsessively revolve around the veil or the sexuality that is variously professed to be suppressed, annihilated, or even “discovered” beneath the veil by some liberal explorers.

Continue reading ““Veil in the Time of War” or “Veilin’ the Time of War””

The King is Out, His Name is Khan: Long Live the King (Part I)

My Name is Khan, although narratively based mostly in the USA, has to be theorized within and around the framework of Bollywood; the Urdu-Hindi film history, and its transnational circuits of production, distribution, and consumption; Shahrukh Khan’s star narrative, and the determining context of the Indian political scene along with that in the US and its “war on/of terror.”

by Huma Dar

 

The Defacing of Khan: It's Not Easy Being Muslim in Mumbai or in Newark

My Name is Khan, although narratively based mostly in the USA, has to be understood and theorized within and around the framework of Bollywood; the Urdu-Hindi film history and its transnational circuits of production, distribution, and consumption; Shahrukh Khan’s star narrative, and the determining context of the Indian political scene along with that in the US and its “War on/of Terror.”  Even prior to the Indian Partition in 1947, most Muslim artists had what Sa’adat Hasan Manto (1912-1955) mockingly called “shuddified” or Hinduized names – Dilip Kumar for Yusuf Khan, Madhubala for Mumtaz Begum Jahan Dehlavi (1933-1969), Meena Kumari for Mahjabeen Bano (1932-1972), or the more ambivalent (non-halal) Johnny Walker for Badruddin Jamaluddin Qazi (1923-2003) and Nargis for Fatima Rashid (1929-1981).  At the contemporary moment, the biggest stars of the Urdu-Hindi film industry in India are Khans: Shahrukh, Salman, Aamir, Saif Ali et al.  It might therefore be tempting to conclude that the Bombay film industry is indeed a level playing field.  The Khans are all Muslims, at least nominally.  Cinematically, they enact, with a few notable exceptions, Hindu characters.  Culturally, the vigorous fanzines of Bollywood idolize them as comfortably suave denizens of metropolitan Bombay[Mumbai] with understated or unexpressed Muslimness — their Hindu wives, girlfriends, or mothers facilitating this imagined assimilation or passing.  Of course, for regular, non-filmi (“film-related” in Urdu-Hindi) Muslim men, this assimilation through marriage to Hindu women is generally frowned upon and can have potentially fatal consequences.

My ruminations on My Name is Khan, like a typical Urdu-Hindi film, lengthy and replete with intermissions, are an entryway into not just the film as cinematic text, but also its complex and rich transnational contexts that must be read in tandem.  In a series of six thematic posts, with this as the first, I will expand on:

(i) The (B)Onus of Muslimness in Bollywood

(ii) Shahrukh Khan and the Pound of Flesh: the Cost of Stardom

(iii) Placating the gods of Citizenship: the Ritual Sacrifice

(iv) A Suitable Boy, “Decent” People, and Names that Pass

(v) The Price of Translating a Narrative and its Context

(vi) Outing the Muslimness, Finally: Some Viewing (and Hearing) Pleasures

Continue reading “The King is Out, His Name is Khan: Long Live the King (Part I)”