Forgetting a Patriot   (15 May 2009)

Late Bollywood actor Firoz Khan is rightly remembered as a daring filmmaker, but all his obituaries seem to have missed the most controversial incident of his life. The occasion was premiere of film Taj Mahal in Pakistan. A dinner was hosted in Lahore Golf club where the who’s who of Pakistani glitterati was present. The movie was released at a time when both Pakistan and Indians were renewing their vows of friendship. Understandably, people present at the dinner were outdoing each other in singing laurels for their neighbour country. After Shatrughan Sinha of BJP and Mahesh Bhatt spoke in praise of Pakistan, it was Firoz Khan’s turn to take to the podium.

Khan began with praising the hospitality and warmth of the people of Pakistan. This was the first time in 60 years that he had visited Pakistan, he said, and called for greater friendship between the people of two countries. Then he suddenly added that there was nothing to compare Pakistan with India and that he was proud to be an Indian.

Khan then firmly settled into launching a tirade against Pakistan in front of the Pakistani elite. He exclaimed how in Pakistan people fight with each other and there was rampant discrimination even among the citizens of this country. On the other hand, everyone had equal rights in India and there is no discrimination against anyone on the basis of religion. This is why India is great, remarked Khan.

At first, everyone was stunned at what was going on and there was pin drop silence in the banquet room. The moderator then tried to snatch the microphone away from Khan, but Khan snubbed him and scolded him in return for humiliating Indian actress Manisha Koirala. His son Fardeen then intervened and diffused Khan’s seething anger.

I remember how all hell broke loose after this incident. The Indians members of the delegation in particular went around criticizing Khan and called him a drunkard. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf threatened to ban his entry into Pakistan.

Today, the atmosphere has again taken a complete turn and ironically, the same Page 3 Indian intellectuals, who had attacked Khan for criticizing Pakistan at that time, were falling over themselves in demonstrating jingoism after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks against Pakistan. But my hat is off to this true patriot, who had the audacity to stand on Pakistan’s soil and show a mirror to its face.

Rajeev Shukla