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In the season of SRK’s Pathaan, memories of Amitabh Bachchan and Nutan’s Saudagar

The Muslim in mainstream Hindi films is almost invariably fair-skinned, shalwar-wearing. Of Pathaan-like stock. The 1971 Rajshri Productions’ film told the story of a community of rural Bengali Muslims.

January 27, 2023 / 03:30 PM IST
Pathaan released in theatres on January 25, 2023.

Pathaan released in theatres on January 25, 2023.

“I am a Khan. The name itself conjures multiple images in my mind too: a strapping man riding a horse, his reckless hair flowing from beneath a turban tied firm around his head. His ruggedly handsome face marked by weathered lines and a distinctly large nose.

A stereotyped extremist; no dance, no drink, no cigarette tipping off his lips, no monogamy, no blasphemy; a fair, silent face beguiling a violent fury smouldering within. A streak that could even make him blow himself up in his God’s name.”

In this succinct and genuinely moving essay written for Outlook magazine, Shah Rukh Khan spoke of what it meant for even a superstar to be Muslim in the post-2011 world. He spoke mostly of his own experiences—detained in airports, as a father who bequeaths the family name Khan to his westernised kids, as a citizen from a minority community in a free, democratic country his father fought for, as a beloved superstar. But the quoted paragraph is especially interesting—it describes the image of a Muslim in his mind. Note the descriptors: strapping, horse-rider, turban, ruggedly handsome, large nose, fair silent face. In other words, the popular image of the Pathan, the ethnic tribe native to Pakistan and Afghanistan on the north-west frontier of India.

When the Pathan gets into the groove