SRK grilled at US airport, ‘angry’
Feels He Was Singled Out For His Surname
Chidanand Rajghatta & Bharati Dubey | TNN (THE TIMES OF INDIA; August 16, 2009)
Washington/Mumbai: “My name is Khan.’’ “Oh it is, is it? Step aside please.’’
The way it was related, that might well have been the opening exchange between Shah Rukh Khan and an unnamed, uniformed, superempowered US immigration official who had no idea (and didn’t care) that the man in front of him was the star of a film by the same name (My Name Is Khan), much less that he was a universal Bollywood icon.
SRK was asked to step aside for a ‘secondary inspection’ at Newark airport near New York in the early hours of Saturday (India time)—en route to an event to celebrate India’s Independence Day in Chicago—after his name “flashed on the computer screen”.
“I told them I was a movie star who had recently visited the US to shoot my film, and that I was here to attend an event,’’ Khan told TOI. “But nothing seemed to convince the immigration officer. Other officers and the Jet Airways staff vouched for me but this particular officer did not listen to anyone.’’ Evidently, even the fans seeking Khan’s autograph made no impression on the officer.
His hand baggage was inspected and he was taken to a room “with about 20 people” where he was questioned for almost two hours—about the purpose of his visit, the names and phone numbers of the event organisers, why he was carrying “so much cash” ($1500), which films he had acted in, why his checked-in baggage had not arrived (it hadn’t been loaded in London and was to follow in six hours) and other, in his opinion, irrelevant questions.
It is not clear why Khan, who is a frequent visitor to the US and has a work permit, was subjected to a secondary inspection. The actor surmises that it was because of his last name; in other words, his Muslim identity. He was denied the use of his cell phone for an hour (which isn’t unusual; visitors cannot use mobile phones before clearing immigration) and was finally allowed to make just one phone call under the rules.
SRK, who said he felt “angry and humiliated’’ by the experience, made a call to Congress MP Rajiv Shukla as soon as he got his phone back. Shukla, in turn, spoke to the Indian consulate and the American authorities, paving the way for Khan’s exit. “I can understand the American anxiety—this isn’t the first time I have been stopped at an American airport, but it is traumatic to not be allowed to even make a call,’’ Khan told TOI. “Thank God my kids weren’t there with me.’’
Indian and US officials rushed into damage control mode after word came in that the actor had been ‘detained’. External affairs ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said the matter had been taken up with the US embassy. Timothy Roemer, the new US ambassador in New Delhi, said he was trying to ascertain what exactly had happened at the airport. “Shah Rukh Khan is a global icon whose films are much loved even by Americans and he is always welcome in the US,’’ he said. But Khan, from all accounts, doesn’t feel so welcome and says he will review his plans to visit the US again.
It is not the first time an Indian entertainer with a Muslim identity has been asked to step aside for additional scrutiny.
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