While Irrfan has dropped his ‘Khan’ to avoid cultural identification, Kamal Hassan is in a seriously defiant mood. He is thinking of changing his distinctly Muslim-sounding name to a more prounounced Islamic-sounding ‘Qamal Haasan’. “Just to show a sense of solidarity with my Muslim brothers, including Shah Rukh whom I am very fond of,” he says.
If Irrfan thinks it’s a liability to be called a Khan, Kamal thinks it’s equally incriminating to be named a Haasan.
“It doesn’t matter whether I am really Muslim or not. If I have to suffer for my name, I’m willing to do so,” says Kamal.
It’s not just Shah Rukh with his ‘Khan’ surname that gets him special treatment at the American treatment. You could get the US immigration guys into a budge over a Hindi name simply because it sounds Muslim. This, Kamal Haasan discovered recently at an airport in Canada when he was on the way to the US for a makeover for a role. He was detained and questioned because both his names sounded distinctly Muslim.
Says Kamal Haasan, “My father did a very mischievous thing, maybe because I was born when he was 50, and by then he had developed a sense of humour about human quirks and contradictions. He gave me a Muslim-sounding name. And the ambiguity of my name does confuse the Americans. I enjoy that. My father too enjoyed the ambivalence. In fact he was keen that I spell my name ‘Kamal’ with ‘Q’ in a very Islamic way. I had almost listened to him. Then I backtracked. But I feel I should go for it. While he was alive he would often ask me if I was mistakened for a Muslim.”
Kamal Haasan frequently gets into the ‘suspicious’ segment of the US immigration department. “Sometimes they take me aside and ask me questions. Just because we do business with America they think we are questionable. If we’re so touchy about immigration rules in America, we shouldn’t be doing business with them.”
Kamal Haasan feels racial and cultural suspicion exist in every society. “Talk to an Afghani who comes to visit India. Afghani students can’t get rooms to stay in India. There’s resistance to Afghani passports in India. And why are we so touchy about American treatment? They’ve a 9/11 to caution them. With 9/11 Australia is hostile to Indians. India should stop acting paranoid about racial profiling.”
Shah Rukh Khan, whom Kamal Haasan is very fond of, would be pleased to know he has undivided support from the senior actor.
However Kamal cautions, “We don’t need to over-react just because this Khan is a Shah Rukh. I don’t think Shah Rukh himself minded the detention. I know the gentleman. He would never say, ‘I am Shah Rukh Khan, so I should be treated differently from other Khans’. I think he said, each time he wants to feel normal, he visits the US. His fans might feel injured on his behalf. But it can’t be helped. The Americans are an injured nation. They’re being just be careful. It happened to me and I had to miss my flight. There was no great apology or anything. It’s rules they’re following.”
Kamal Haasan doesn’t recommend a separate treatment by the US immigration to Shah Rukh. “I’d recommend that they be kind to all Khans. They can’t generalize about all Khans. It’s as awful as saying all Americans are stupid.”
As for Irrfan dropping his Khan surname, Kamal Haasan is willing to go the opposite way. “I’m ready to change my name from Kamal to Qamal. I’m often mistaken for a Muslim and I don’t correct the misconception. My brothers Charu Haasan and Chandra Haasan don’t have to face this. Please remember the fabric of our nation is woven with saffron, white and green. We can’t pull out any of the colours. We have to co-exist. The crusades are over.”Interviews Kamal Haasan Shah Rukh Khan