Friday, February 12, 2010

My Name Is Khan 

My Name is Khan

The character of Rizwan Khan, played by Shah Rukh Khan in this now-controversial Karan Johar film, keeps repeating, “My Name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist.”

That is the film’s single point agenda, to show that post 9/11 Muslims are discriminated against, and that US authorities paint them all with the same brush of hatred and suspicion. It’s short-sighted and simplistic, and not even willing to look seriously at the dangers of fundamentalism.

Rizwan has Asperger’s Syndrome, a kind of autism—he has trouble relating to people, and is scared of noise. He goes to America to join his brother Zakir (Jimmy Shergill) and his wife Hasina— Zakir has always resented the attention their mother (Zarina Wahab) showered on Rizwan. But that area is not explored.

He falls in love with Mandira (Kajol), a divorcee with a son. The child accepts Rizwan easily too, and they are integrated into a white neighbourhood. The romance is handled with typical Karan Johar tenderness—he is unbeatable in this department, and the actors’ ease and comfort level with each other, makes their moments special.

Then 9/11 happens and there is a backlash against Muslims—or any brown-skinned person. Mandira’s son becomes the victim of a hate crime; she is grief stricken and pushes Rizwan away. He sets off on a journey to meet the President and tell him, that his name is Khan and he is not a terrorist, so that he can win Mandira’s love again.

A bit of Forrest Gump, a bit of Ab Dilli Door Nahin and Naunihal and traces of Khuda Ke Liye, in the way Rizwan is arrested and tortured. So far so good, and you are with Johar and Khan, in spite of the political naivete, and the laying off the melodrama a bit too thick.

When Rizwan goes to help a flood hit village, where he had found shelter earlier, and sparks off a media frenzy, the film loses its grip and becomes too self-indulgent and manipulative. It all but canonizes Rizwan Khan, and in doing so, takes away from the film’s humanist message. The scenes with Obama are cringe-making.

With all its sincerity and emotional highpoints, the film stops far short of being an important chronicle of its times, simply because it seems to exist in a Khan-centered limbo, and comes a bit too late. Also makes you wonder if Bollywood filmmakers, are so hung-up on being ‘global’ and ‘crossover’ that they can’t see issues under their own noses and cannot connect with the underprivileged and the alienated in India.

Still, you can be thankful for small mercies, that mainstream Diaspora-targetting Bollywood is trying to score political points. The film gives Shah Rukh Khan the opportunity to exercise his nearly atrophied acting muscles, and he is wonderful as Rizwan—charming even when he is being difficult. It must have been tough to keep that slightly cross-eyed deep-focussing look throughout, with the awkward walk and the mannerisms. Kajol lends adequate support, though she is not given a role half as challenging.

Johar handles a mixed cast, crowds and set pieces, but you can’t see him fitting to well into the skin of an activist. Better films on the subject have been made, and maybe it’s time to move on, unless there is a fresh perspective to share.


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