Bollywood star Aamir Khan's 'intolerance' claim sparks India backlash

In this file photo taken on Mar 25, 2015, Indian Bollywood actor Aamir Khan at the Ficci Frames 2015 annual media and entertainment industry event in Mumbai.
In this file photo taken on Mar 25, 2015, Indian Bollywood actor Aamir Khan at the Ficci Frames 2015 annual media and entertainment industry event in Mumbai.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - A top Bollywood actor who starred in a television campaign to promote India has complained of "rising intolerance" in his homeland, sparking a storm of criticism including from the ruling Hindu nationalist party.

Aamir Khan, who like many Bollywood stars is Muslim, said on Monday that a sense of "insecurity" and "fear" was gripping India and revealed that his wife had even questioned whether the couple should leave the country.

"As an individual, as a citizen, certainly I have also been alarmed, I can't deny it, by a number of incidents," he said at an awards ceremony in New Delhi.

His comments attracted a major backlash on social media in the Hindu-majority country, and a withering attack by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"Don't forget, India made you a star," said BJP spokesman Shahnawaz Hussain at a press conference.

Hussain told reporters it was "not all right to malign our Incredible India", a reference to the campaign slogan used to promote the country of 1.2 billion to tourists.

Khan, one of India's highest-paid actors, featured in a commercial as part of that campaign.

The row was the trending on Indian Twitter on Tuesday under the hashtag #aamirkhan, but users were divided over the actor's comments.

"You publicly spoke your mind and that is courage," said one, while another accused him of mounting a "publicity stunt" or a "malicious campaign".

TV footage on Tuesday showed dozens of activists burning posters featuring Khan in several cities across India, while police protection at his Mumbai home was reportedly upgraded.

The 50-year-old actor was the latest in a series of high-profile figures from the art world to raise concerns about religious and cultural intolerance under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was elected last year.

His fellow Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan referred recently to "extreme intolerance in India" after the lynching of a Muslim man in October over rumours that he had eaten beef.

Earlier this month nearly 200 figures including author Salman Rushdie signed an open letter urging British Prime Minister David Cameron to raise "the rising climate of fear" in India with Modi during his London visit.

Aamir Khan, one of the few outspoken Bollywood celebrities, shot to prominence hosting a popular TV talk show Satyamev Jayate, which focused on sensitive social issues like female foeticide, rape and corruption.

He went on to star in blockbuster films including Dhoom: 3 (2013), one of the highest-grossing Bollywood movies of all time.