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Hrithik snagged in Mission Malign, this time in SA

HRITHIK ROSHAN Hrithik snagged in Mission Malign, this time in SA The Times of India News Service MUMBAI: After Nepal, another political potboiler involving superstar Hrithik Roshan could be brewing on distant shores--this time in South Africa. According to Indian film industry sources, this second episode appears to suggest an orchestrated campaign to malign the actor worldwide.

The ingredients are much the same--the award-winning star of the hit film, Kaho naa..pyaar hai, smack at the centre of a controversy, the ruling and opposition parties stirring up a storm, and a boycott of Hrithik's films in South Africa looming ominously on the horizon.

According to the ruling African National Congress (ANC), a ban on all Hrithik films could follow in South Africa. ``If the matter is not sorted out very soon, we will be forced to take drastic action,'' said K. Morar, a prominent member of the ANC, who spoke to this newspaper from his party's headquarters in Durban.

It all began a few weeks ago when a poster of the superstar was circulated on the eve of a local government election along with the November 29 edition of Post, one of the more popular weekly newspapers catering to the 1.5 million-strong Indian community in South Africa. It showed Hrithik striking a dance pose and carried the legend, `VOTE DA For ALL the people'--DA being the opposition Democratic Alliance in South Africa.

The ANC's contention? Hrithik appeared to be urging the Indian community, traditionally supporters of the African National Congress, to vote for the opposition. As it happened, the Indian community by and large voted for the DA. And thereby hangs this story.

The ANC reportedly wrote to the superstar in Mumbai and asked him to clarify his stand. Sample this excerpt from the letter, ``Aside from the concerns that you, as an international actor, are seen to be interfering in the domestic party political affairs of another country, the fact that you are seemingly aligning yourself with a party that represents the interests largely of the previous oppressors is seen as your perpetrating a betrayal against the disadvantaged masses and as placing the future of this (Indian) community in great jeopardy.

'' Hrithik's father Rakesh Roshan immediately wrote back to the editor of the Post, Brijlall Ramguthee, saying, ``Hrithik is not associated with the DA or any other political party in South Africa.'' The letter went on to add, ``Hrithik does not endorse, nor is he endorsed by any political party anywhere in the world.'' Mr Roshan also asked the newspaper to tender an immediate apology, which the paper subsequently carried in one of its editions.

Despite these developments, a provincial leader of the ANC in Kwazulu-Natal issued a public warning that ``Indians would be sidelined in service delivery''. Mr Morar told this paper, ``In spite of the apology tendered by the Post, Hrithik is unfortunately being viewed as a collaborator of reactionary forces in South Africa.

'' He said the ANC was investigating the actor's ``alleged nexus'' with the DA and that the matter could snowball into a diplomatic fracas. ``We are taking up the issue with the foreign affairs ministry in New Delhi, so that a compromise is reached at the earliest. India is one of our closest allies and we don't want relations to be spoiled because of Hrithik.''

Even as Roshan Junior--who is presently shooting in Mumbai--seems to have been caught once again in a political crossfire not of his own making, his father said emphatically, ``I wish to state categorically that Hrithik was never and will never be a part of any country's internal affairs. We have made our stance clear on the issue. We are not part of this in any way. What can I do from here if there is something happening in South Africa?''