Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan may be hugely popular in Malaysia but his being conferred the title of 'Datuk', akin to the British knighthood, has stirred up a controversy with many questioning whether he really deserves it.
"Politicians, professionals and the man on the street are hotly questioning the wisdom of the move," The Star newspaper said.
Adverse comments include one that says "he hardly knows where Malacca is" and "what has has he done to promote Malacca in his songs and movies?".<b1>
"SMSs received by The Star also hit out at the move, demanding that such awards be given to local artistes," the paper said.
Shah Rukh did not attend the ceremony Saturday at which the Sultan of Malacca, Yang di Pertua Negri Tun Mohammed Khalil Yakoub, conferred the title on a number of dignitaries on his 70th birthday.
Former Malaysian finance minister Daim Zainuddin, who had suggested to Yakoub that Khan be given the title, said the move was a way to promote Malacca.
Defending his recommendation, Zainuddin pointed out that Shah Rukh had shot the movie "One 2 Ka 4" at the Famosa Resort in Alor Gajah in 2001.
"This resulted in many people visiting Malacca. The award was given in recognition of this," said Malacca Chief Minister Mohammed Ali Rustam.
Shah Rukh was given the Darjah Mulia Seri Melaka (DMSM), which carries the title Datuk that can be used by the recipient as a prefix to the name. The recipient's wife can also call herself 'Datin'.
Although a fan of the Indian actor, businesswoman Fatimah Tahir said she was "stunned" to hear that he was being conferred Datukship.
"I thought the award is given to those who have contributed to Malacca's development. I wonder whether Shah Rukh knows where Malacca is," Tahir, 40, was quoted as saying.
"I am happy for him but does he even know he is getting the award?" asked lawyer Nizam Bashir.
Lim Kit Siang, advisor of the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP), also pitched for the local artistes, three of whom got a lower honour that does not carry any title.
Lim's take was that if Khan deserved to be a Datuk, so did Hollywood stars Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who shot the movie "Entrapment" in the country 1999.