NEW DELHI — One of India's biggest movie stars was detained and questioned at Newark Liberty International Airport Saturday, causing outrage in his home country and reigniting debate of the hardships many Indians say they face while traveling abroad.
Shah Rukh Khan, 43, known in India as the King of Bollywood, was on his way to Chicago for a parade later Saturday to mark India's Independence Day when officials at Newark pulled him aside and interrogated him for two hours. The star of scores of top-grossing films was finally released after Indian consular officials vouched for him.
"I was really hassled — perhaps because of my name being Khan," he said in a text message to reporters in India. "These guys just wouldn't let me through."
Khan recently finished a shoot in the United States for his forthcoming film, My Name Is Khan, which happens to be about a Muslim's harrowing experience with racial profiling. Khan told reporters that in real life he "felt angry and humiliated."
U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection spokesman Elmer Camacho said Khan was questioned as part of the agency's routine process to screen foreign travelers. He said the process took 66 minutes and Khan was not detained, the Associated Press reported.
The incident followed another recent example of an Indian coming under suspicion for what talk show pundits in India call "flying while brown." Last month, Continental Airlines apologized to former Indian President Abdul Kalam for frisking him at the New Delhi airport.
News of Khan's detention broke on a day of national pride, marked by parades, family picnics and girls wearing bangles in green and orange — the colors of the Indian flag. News channels aired nonstop coverage of Khan's troubles, along with reactions from Bollywood A-listers, civil rights officials and security experts, some of whom defended the questioning in a post-Sept. 11 world.
U.S. Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer released a statement Saturday saying the U.S. government was looking into the matter. "Shah Rukh Khan, the actor and global icon, is a very welcome guest in the United States. Many Americans love his films," Roemer said.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni suggested Americans should be treated the way Khan was when they arrive in India. "There have been too many instances like these in the U.S. concerning Indians," Soni said on television.