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April 30, 2002
What it means to be Kamal Haasan
Subhash K Jha
On Saturday [April 27] evening, veteran artiste Kamal Haasan was prevented from boarding a flight from Toronto, Canada to Los Angeles, USA.
The reason? He was suspected of being a terrorist.
"You can't have a name like Kamal Haasan, which sounds very Islamic, and hope to be left in peace in the American subcontinent," said Haasan, over the phone from Toronto, on Monday night.
Haasan, who was in Toronto shooting for his latest comedy in Tamil, Panchatantram replayed the humiliating incident at Toronto airport. "It started quite comically, actually. The customs authorities asked me what I was doing in that part of the world. I told them I was shooting for a film. They then asked me who my producer was. I told them my producer's name.
"They asked me why I was flying to Los Angeles. I told them I was going for prosthetic makeup. Evidently, they did not know what that was. I explained I needed to assume a particular look for the character I was playing for my next film [for director Priyadarshan].
"Then they wanted to know who was paying my airtravel bills. I pleaded ignorance about the nitty-gritties of my travel expenses. They said I needed to have all these details handy for customs purposes. I assured them my papers were in order. But one of the officers led me inside almost as though I was one of the bad guys in Rambo," Haasan laughs drily.
He adds, "I requested them to let me make a call to my producer who was supposed to fly out from Toronto the same night back to India. The authorities refused pointblank, saying cell phones weren't allowed. They made me wait half an hour and then interrogated me again.
"This time I was grilled like a terrorist.
"They suddenly said I could leave. When I looked at my ticket, it said Refused. I asked them if this meant I could board my flight to LA. They said, 'No, you can't'."
Stranded in Toronto on a Sunday, Haasan then woke up his friends at the American embassy. He recalls, "I didn't know what hit me. The customs guys said I wasn't polite. That was a lie. I didn't once throw my weight around. I didn't lose my dignity. If the immigration authorities expected me to grovel, I would rather not travel. I was upset because people were waiting for me in LA."
Kamal Haasan isn't the first Indian showbiz personality to be harassed. Earlier, Aamir Khan was interrogated for an hour and even strip-searched at Chicago .
"His name is Aamir Khan and mine is Kamal Haasan," he states. "We can't get away with Islamic names like these thanks to September 11 and Osama bin Laden. And if there's a beard to go with the name like mine, there's nothing like it."
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