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K4: Khan Korea vs Khan Korea

- Actors drawn into undeclared race between rival countries
Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan

New Delhi, Dec. 1: Salman Khan may have beaten all comers to the latest round of Koffee With Karan but the real battle is unfolding in the Korean Peninsula, one of the world’s most volatile hot spots, between two other Khans.

Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan have been unwittingly drawn into an undeclared race to symbolise India’s ties with South and North Korea. Neither can be blamed but stuff more potent than coffee is flowing.

North Korea’s cultural czars screened Aamir Khan’s 2007 blockbuster Taare Zameen Par this past week to celebrate 40 years of New Delhi’s diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

The screening at Pyongyang’s most famous watering hole for foreign diplomats — the Taedonggang Diplomatic Club — would normally not have drawn more than a cursory reference to the well-known influence of Bollywood across borders.

But a preceding event tossed some diplomatic spice into the screening. Barely two months ago, South Korea had picked Shah Rukh Khan as its goodwill ambassador in India.

Although the screening was jointly organised by the Indian embassy and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s Cultural Committee for Relations with Foreign Countries, it was Pyongyang that selected the film, a North Korean diplomat said.

“The film (Taare Zameen Par) captures a positive, sensitive theme and unlike some other Bollywood films, neither has objectionable content nor has been made by people closer to our rival nation,” the diplomat said, when asked what went into choosing the film. “We deeply value our relations with India and the film we choose for such an important occasion has to be just right in all aspects.”

The film was watched by senior officials of North Korea’s foreign ministry, culture ministry, other international diplomats and members of the Indian community.

By “objectionable content”, the diplomat was referring to scenes that the communist state’s famously prudish censors and political leaders may find too bourgeois or obscene. But it is Shah Rukh’s close association with South Korea that the diplomat was perhaps alluding to when he spoke of “people closer to our rival nation”.

The Cultural Committee for Relations with Foreign Countries is a North Korean government arm tasked with building cultural ties with other nations.

Bollywood films — including those of Shah Rukh and Aamir — have risen in popularity in South Korea over the past decade. Their appeal in North Korea in unclear but diplomats, scholars and military officials visiting India from Pyongyang regularly ask their hosts for Bollywood films.

Shah Rukh, who has advertised for South Korean automobile giant Hyundai Motors for over a decade, accepted in October the request to serve as a “public diplomacy ambassador” for Seoul.

But every public move made by South Korea is closely monitored in the secretive North. The 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between India and North Korea fell on November 27. Taare Zameen Par, Aamir’s directorial debut in which he also stars, was picked in the days leading to the event.

It is not clear how Aamir, who famously hates rankings, will react if North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, known as “supreme leader”, “great leader”, “peerless leader” and “the sun of the 21st century”, decides to bestow a befitting title on the actor.