WikiLeaks: Bollywood Wanted for Afghanistan Propaganda Effort

U.S. Diplomats in India wanted to enlist Bollywood stars in the fight to stabilize the war-torn country.

NEW DELHI -- Bollywood finds mention in WikiLeaks in a confidential cable sent by U.S. diplomats in India suggesting that the appeal of Bollywood stars in Afghanistan could aid international efforts to stabilize the country. 

Media reports here over the weekend have quoted the March 2007 cable that  was a response to a request from Washington for “specific, concrete ideas for opportunities for India to use soft power in helping Afghanistan's reconstruction." The cable from U.S. diplomats in India said Bollywood was an area that “seems ripe” and added, “We understand Bollywood movies are wildly popular in Afghanistan, so willing Indian celebrities could be asked to travel to Afghanistan to help bring attention to social issues there.”

However, the U.S. embassy's proposal to send Bollywood stars to Afghanistan never materialized. 

Bollywood movies have been hugely popular in Afghanistan for decades and 1975's hit action-romantic caper Dharmatma became the first Indian movie to be shot in the country directed by leading star Feroz Khan and featuring popular actress Hema Malini.

In recent years, despite security concerns, leading Bollywood banner Yash Raj Films shot its 2006 production Kabul Express in Afghanistan starring top actors John Abraham and Arshad Warsi.

Meanwhile, local media Monday also quoted WikiLeaks mentioning another U.S. embassy cable that referred to the threat faced in February this year by Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan from a local political party (the Shiv Sena) which wanted to ban screenings of the actor's latest film My Name Is Khan.

The debut Bollywood release by the newly launched Fox Star Studios India, My Name Is Khan was set for a 12 February release but “the Shiv Sena had threatened to ban screenings... because Shah Rukh Khan publicly lamented the absence of Pakistani cricket players in India's professional cricket league for the coming season,” said the cable dated Feb 22, 2010.

Khan also co-owns one of the India Premier League teams that could not bid for any Pakistani players.

Following initial protests which saw Shiv Sena workers burning the film's posters in front of the actor's Mumbai mansion, the film eventually released after “a show of force by the police convinced theaters to roll out a full release."

The entire incident became a major media event, and as the U.S. cables mention, “With protests and controversy generating far more international buzz than the typical Bollywood movie, Khan's new movie opened to packed audiences in Mumbai and elsewhere.”

Referring to the WikiLeaks cables on Bollywood, leading business paper The Economic Times featured an editorial Monday headlined “Winning ways: Bollywood in the Afghan Wars” which said, “With Bollywood’s reigning deity Shah Rukh Khan actually tracing his ancestry back to the same stark land (Afghanistan), it is entirely logical that the Americans would have wanted to rope in the big guns of the Bollywood brigade to capture key theatres in Afghanistan... A few star-studded, bump-and-grind Bollywood extravaganzas could well have been far more effective in luring out those lurking in the deepest recesses of the Tora Bora mountains than drone attacks.”