The Catholic Khans

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By BHARATHI S. PRADHAN
  • Published 26.08.07
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Forget all other misdemeanours. But you just can’t stick the charge of hurting anybody’s religious sentiments on Salman Khan. If the actor, who has recently discovered a flair for putting paint on canvas, wanted to gift a personal piece of art inspired by The Last Supper to Amrita Arora (his brother Arbaaz Khan’s sister-in-law), one is certain that there was no brusque insensitivity behind it.

It was surprising — nay, alarming — to read how a group called The Catholic Secular Forum got worked up over Amrita Arora’s totally harmless revelation that Salman wanted to paint his interpretation of The Last Supper as a housewarming gift for her swank new apartment. All she said was that Salman would seat family members at the table for his interpretation. Is this absolutely innocuous, off-the-cuff excitement over the actor’s personalised gift enough to filibuster and demand that he be arrested for it?

Anybody who knows the Khans and the Aroras should know the following:

When Joyce Arora, married to a Punjabi, divorced her husband, she brought up her two small daughters, Malaika and Amrita, as devout Catholics. In fact, when Malaika fell in love with her ‘coffee ad co-star’, Arbaaz Khan, mother Joyce was keen that they have a church wedding. The Khan family, led by father Salim Khan and older brother Salman, were so robust in welcoming Malaika into their fold that they enthusiastically togged up in their Sunday best and participated, suited-booted, in the ‘I do’ nuptials.

The Khans were so receptive to the church wedding that, far from grumbling, they were grinning happily about it and even relentlessly kidding Arbaaz by calling him ‘Albert D’souza’!

Malaika and Arbaaz also live in a building that is predominantly Catholic, built on parish property. If you ever visit them, a Madonna with child on the door welcomes you in. Arbaaz is also known to religiously escort his wife for midnight mass every year on December 24.

If the glamorous Arora sisters and their mother have remained close to their faith through all their ups and downs, the Khans too have made room in their family for an assortment of religious beliefs. When Arbaaz and Malaika’s son, Arhaan, was baptised, Salman Khan’s presence was not mandatory. It was only his nephew, not his son. But close family ties and a positive acceptance of all faiths found Salman wearing a suit and holding the infant for his baptism in a Bandra church.

There has been an equal enthusiasm shown by the entire family in standing by dad Salim Khan’s second wife, Helen Richardson. Helen may have married Salim but she has remained a Catholic and Salman has never failed to give her and her faith the same respect he gives his natural mother, Salma.

As it is with any piece of personal art, one could debate forever on whether Salman Khan wanting to interpret The Last Supper falls within creative freedom or whether he’s treading on sensitive territory. But there can be no debate over Salman Khan’s secular credentials.

If at all any Catholic or the church itself felt that Salman should stay away from The Last Supper, all they needed to do was to have a quiet word with the actor’s family. The protests over Da Vinci Code may have ultimately fallen on deaf ears but the parish that is aware of how sensitively the Khan family has handled Malaika’s and Helen’s religious beliefs, should know that Salman Khan would’ve responded positively to a simple, quiet request and stayed away from The Last Supper for ever. Since they would’ve met with no resistance from Khan, the situation didn’t call for a protest or threats of arrest.

In any case, why is this new weapon of arrest and jail term being overused for actors alone?

Celebrity art aficionados who have found no mischief in 90-plus Husain’s nude paintings of Hindu goddesses, are surprisingly silent over the imagined slight to Catholics by Salman’s painting that was only an idea and had not even been executed. Do the rules of secularism or hurting religious sentiments change when the accused is a Hindi film actor?

Hey, Psst!

On Tuesday night, the sneak previews of Heyy Babyy rolled off at Yashraj Studios with Sajid Nadiadwala’s wife, Wardha and a predominantly female crowd watching the comic entertainer. Even if you can tell that there are several ‘cheating shots’ with the baby (infant smiling or gurgling, filmed some other time and put in when required), first-time director Sajid Khan has come up with a complete entertainer. The baby steals your heart, Akshay Kumar is at ease with the tomfoolery and the surprise guest entry of Shah Rukh Khan brings the house down.

Refreshingly, Vidya Balan (who, after Parineeta, finally gets to prove just how competent an actress she is) is at home in a completely commercial ambience.

Bharathi S. Pradhan is managing editor of Movie Mag International