NEW DELHI – Bollywood mega-star Shah Rukh Khan returned to India on Tuesday, stung by his treatment at the hands of U.S. immigration officials, and told fans that the screening process was discriminatory and embarrassing.
He denied that he was highlighting the incident as a publicity stunt for his new movie, “My Name is Khan,” about the discrimination Muslims face in the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Khan, 43, was taken for secondary screening at Newark Airport in New Jersey for about 90 minutes Friday, which he said happened because of his Muslim name and South Asian origin.
Even as many Indians expressed outrage over the perceived slight to a national icon, some suggested their country’s hyperactive broadcast media and VIP culture may have fanned the flames.
Khan may not be a household name in the United States. But “King Khan,” as he’s known here, is among India’s – and the world’s – top film stars.
In 2008, Newsweek named him the world’s biggest movie star and one of its 50 most influential people, ahead of Oprah Winfrey, the Dalai Lama and Osama bin Laden.
Thus for many Indians, it’s all a bit unthinkable that others wouldn’t treat him with the same respect and near god-like reverence he’s afforded at home.
Khan was on his way to Chicago to attend a celebration for Saturday’s Indian Independence Day when he was asked to step aside.
“Routine security procedures weren’t followed,” he said, adding that border guards could have compared his fingerprints and retina scan against data on file. “We should not be treated on the basis of our color or nationality.”
His protest hit a nerve with upwardly mobile Indians who have faced enhanced and sometimes intrusive scrutiny since 2001 when trying to attend U.S. schools, visit their relatives or participate in business meetings.
Hoping to turn perceptions around, U.S. Ambassador Timothy Roemer said through a spokesman that Khan had millions of American fans and was always welcome. U.S. border officials denied Khan was detained or discriminated against and said normal procedure was followed.