By Subhash K. Jha
PATNA: Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan has aroused controversy in India during a visit to Istanbul by meeting Turkey’s First Lady, Emine Erdogan.
Khan was in Turkey to find shooting locations for “Laal Singh Chaddha,” a remake of classic American comedy “Forrest Gump.” While 40 percent of the film has been shot in India in Punjab, the production team decided to film the remainder elsewhere over the coronavirus concerns.
Right-wing elements aligned with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) expressed anger at his meeting the wife of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while others said the courtesy meeting was blown out of proportions and will have no effect on the well-known actor’s popularity.
“Turkey is among the most intolerant nations in the world. How can Aamir, who speaks out so strongly against intolerance, go to the home of the president of this intolerant nation and have coffee with his wife? This is the reason India is outraged,” filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri, known for his open support of the BJP, told Arab News.
Agnihotri, who is a member of India’s Central Board of Film Certification, said that Aamir should apologize for his “cultural diplomacy.”
“President Erdogan has ordered the arrest and prosecution of thousands of dissenters,” Agnihotri said. “This is President Erdogan, whose wife Aamir went to have tea with? Turkey sponsors terrorism in India. Turkey is an enemy to India. Even an ordinary man in India knows this. How can an enlightened artist like Aamir Khan who addresses so many socio-political issues in India be ignorant?”
Actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha, who used to be affiliated with the BJP but is now a part of the opposition Congress party, disagreed with Khan’s critics. “Aamir is one of the most intelligent actors of India. He wouldn’t do anything to damage his image as a leading cultural ambassador of the country. So what if he had coffee with the First Lady in Turkey? Aamir had not gone to Turkey as a political representative of India. He was there to shoot a film. What’s wrong in paying a courtesy visit to the country’s president’s wife?
“Let’s not bring politics into cinema. If Aamir made a personal social visit, let’s not make it into a political issue,” he said.
The actor, who shot to fame in 1988 with the epochal love story “Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak,” is known for his game-changing performances in many Bollywood blockbusters.
One of India’s most beloved actors, he has been repeatedly accused of what attackers say is “anti-nationalism” since November 2015, when he admitted in an interview that his wife Kiran Rao was worried about the safety of their son because of India’s atmosphere of growing intolerance.
Film critics Raja Sen and Karan Anshuman played down the incident. “This will have no effect on Aamir’s career,” Sen said. “Audiences only care about causes from time to time, but their allegiance to their favourite stars is forever.”
For Anshuman, what should now matter during foreign visits, when all countries are facing the coronavirus pandemic, is that people take necessary precautions be kept when meeting others — in the literal sense: “Last I heard India is still a free country and people shouldn’t project their politics and beliefs onto others. Aamir Khan can do whatever he wants as long as he’s wearing a mask when in public.”
Singer-actor-politician Babul Supriyo, who is a BJP lawmaker and is currently serving as minister of environment, said that the government has not commented on Khan’s visit to Turkey.
“I don’t wish to comment on the rights or wrongs of it,” he said, observing that Bollywood stars are even more in the spotlight now due to social media activity and therefore subject to “immense” scrutiny. “One needs to be very cautious in one’s public conduct.”