Shah Rukh Khan: The Secular Idol

Over the past few weeks, Indian media was saturated with yet another controversy linked to Bollywood.

This time it involved the actor Shah Rukh Khan and his latest action movie, Pathaan, released on January 25, 2023.

The movie, which marks Shah Rukh Khan’s return to the big screen after 5 years (and following a series of flops), was targeted by Hindu nationalists, including many BJP officials. They deemed the songs to be blasphemous and called for a boycott. It seems as though this didn’t gain much traction as the movie is breaking all box-office records.

Some analysts reveal that their problem is mainly with the actual title of the movie. “Pathaan” is the Hindi nomenclature for Pashtun/Afghan, an ethnic group which is (as mentioned in a previous article), in the region, the Muslim group par excellence, having over the centuries expanded Islam in South Asia through dynasties and empires.

But there’s some ambiguity in all of this, beginning with Shah Rukh Khan himself. He is probably the most popular of all Bollywood actors, and Bollywood is well-known for having not an Islamic bias but rather a secular bias.

And Shah Rukh Khan is very much an idol who has been shaped by Bollywood’s long flirt with secularism.

Shah Rukh Khan: The Symbol of the New Secular Middle-Class

Bollywood has always been ideologized.

For the first few decades following the independence of India, as an article from The Times of India puts it, it was a laboratory of Nehruvian socialism and secularism. Basically, there was a romanticization of the poor and the worker, as well as the trope of the token Muslim always being some sort of secular-nationalist.

This fitted the vision of Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s inaugural Prime Minister.

But Nehruvian socialism more or less crippled the country, and Indian secularist historian, Kapil Komireddi, provides a gloomy picture in his Malevolent Republic (pp.38-39):

Consider the view from Delhi in 1991. India was a nation of 843 million people and five million telephone lines. Two billion dollars separated the country from bankruptcy (…) the barren rhetoric of economic self-reliance and political non-alignment could no longer conceal the republic’s decaying reality. Here was a colossus of a country that compelled its enterprising middle-class citizens to make fifty trips to Delhi and wait three years to import a computer. Did you want a telephone connection? That could take anything from six months to three years. Did you want to buy a car? The waiting period for the Morris Oxford knock-off ran up to twenty-two months. Did you want to manufacture vacuum cleaners? You needed a license for that. In the mood for Coca-Cola? That Yankee beverage was as contraband in the ‘sovereign socialist secular democratic republic’ of India as liquor in the Islamic Republic next door.

So Nehruvian socialism impeded the economic growth of India for “development” fetishists, and there were many other issues as well, most significant of which was perhaps a corrupt bureaucracy with its “Licence Raj” system. (You had to obtain licenses from government officials in order to operate a business, and this was a slow and corrupt process which was initially designed to promote “independence” from foreign companies within the country.)

RELATED: An Upcoming Bollywood Movie and the Demographic Anxiety of Hindus

Thus the Indian élite thought that, for India to “grow” (which, being the materialists they are, meant economic growth), they had to deregulate the economy. This led to the liberalization drive of the ’90s, which was headed by PM Rao and⁠, more importantly, economist and minister of finance, Manmohan Singh, who would himself later go on to become PM from 2004-2014, two mandates preceding Modi. In fact, he was the first PM since Nehru to be re-elected.

Economic liberalization (less government control and more privatization, a freer market, reduction in import tariffs and so on) always leads to societal liberalization. And we’re not only thinking of Harshad Mehta’s epic 1992 scam as a market manipulator.

We’re talking of Bollywood as well, Shah Rukh Khan in particular.

Through his movies, Shah Rukh Khan represented a new “opening of India to the world,”⁠ especially his romantic films from the mid-’90s onwards. It would be extremely rare for any millenial to have avoided hearing of at least one of these titles while growing up⁠—productions such as Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), Dil To Pagal Hai (1997) and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998).

But how do these movies, that break all box-office records, fit with India’s post-Nehruvian neoliberal ideology?

The answer: in the romance.

RELATED: Modernity and the Demise of Love

The 1973 movie, Bobby, created a new formula in Bollywood⁠—that of teenagers romancing and going against their social class, their family and, far too often, their religion. But Bobby was more or less an isolated case.

Shah Rukh Khan would reinforce and amplify these ideas through his movies, and you can figure out the rest. In the name of “love,” you aim for social mobility. Even if this means going against class, your family or even religious differences. It’s the idea that, under capitalism, the individual is an isolated atom that is seeking personal fulfillment through money. He has no religion, no family, etc.

Shah Rukh Khan’s movies are the embodiment of this capitalist and secular dynamic but in the form of a film, playing on the emotions of the audience. In the movies, love triumphs over everything—especially “oppressive structures” such as the family and religion⁠. And in the same way, in order to “succeed” within neoliberal India, the individual has to go beyond traditional structures.

RELATED: Bollywood’s Persistent Islamophobia Problem

Such neoliberal ideology is found in another movie of Shah Rukh Khan, Yes Boss (1997), which is not so well-known. It is all about a highly ambitious middle-class Indian who aims for social mobility to the extent of sanitizing his boss’ extramarital affairs (thus the title of the movie being a depiction of a submissive and hypocritical attitude).

Shah Rukh Khan’s movies are about this new neoliberalized middle-class that seeks money, even if it means going against everything moral or traditional. No longer are we in the Nehurivian socialist world of the romanticized poor-but-honest worker.

Of course, both ideologies have still at least one feature in common, and that is secularism. Outside his movies, it seems Shah Rukh Khan tries to overdo the secular angle in real life as well, as he keeps Hindu idols such as Ganesh in his house because he’s married to a Hindu (such a marriage is not even valid or recognized in Islam to begin with).

Shah Rukh Khan, just like Bollywood as a whole, is just another secularizing idol.

RELATED: How Hollywood and Bollywood Are Negatively Impacting Our Societies

MuslimSkeptic Needs Your Support!
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

90 % of all innovators are easy to spot, they don’t follow the Sunnah.
They trim or have no beards. Have weird haircuts and cut the sides (fades) which is forbidden as the prophet (SAW) said either cut it all or let it all grow.
They dress like Westerners and follow their rhetoric.
Good little slaves.


Anyone who bows to idols is a kafir. Acting to earn a living is no justification. The Bollywood murtaddeen willingly bow to idols in real life, even outside of movies. They are murtaddeen who should not be prayed over when they die and should not be buried in Muslim graveyards.


One thing you forgot to mention, a critical information – the movie in question, Pathaan, is actually a propaganda piece to sanitize India’s revocation of article 370 of the constitution that granted Kashmir a special status. India has increased its aggression against Muslims of Kashmir, both in legislature, as well as on ground.

The movie made removal of article 370 look like a gift from heaven for India as well as Kashmir.


His newest film is going up the charts like crazy courtesy of Muslims cause they think buying tickets and watching his film is some sort of j!had even though he is a stupid kaf!r.
There is an old video of his daughter bowing to hi du god Ganesh and saying thank you Allah it made me cringe from my heart

Anti PC Akhi

Yes Bollywood actors and Muslims are all secular and liberal which is expected because India doesnt conceal its secular liberal purpose and establishment.

On the other hand Lollywood, Pakistani film industry, on which not a single piece has been written, pumps as much if not more mushriki and Islamophobic propaganda to over 200+ million Muslims under a “Islamic republic”.

It would have been nice for a Muslim film industry to counter Bollywood/Hollywood. Instead they straight up worship it.

Truth seeker

The truth of the matter is all these actors or so called idols are formally selected groomed by agencies and given big contracts and fame to propagate certain agendas. The three so called khan are all willing or unwilling mind controlled slaves of the local as well as international establishments. Creating hatred between humans is the name of the game. I see it as a ploy to further make hell the life of muslims in that country. It’s all by design. The world needs a real true Islamic government.