Movie: My Name Is Khan
Director: Karan Johar
Actors: Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol
This is possibly that rare time, it appears, that the lead actor of this film has pushed himself to perform a role, rather than just play himself (Swades and Chak De India come to mind as distant second and third exceptions).
It doesn’t speak too well for a career of about 60 films over nearly two decades. Habit formations are strong. It’s hard to perceive Shah Rukh Khan as a character. More losses of inhibition such as this could find this leading man a softer spot in Hindi cinema history. Until now, he’s likely to be recalled as a unique super-star, not an actor – a combination of the two being reserved for Amitabh Bachchan, and thereafter Aamir Khan alone.
Shah Rukh plays Khan in this film by that name. For many portions though, you aren’t certain the director’s name is Karan Johar (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham).
The ambition of the screenplay itself (Shibani Bhatija) is compelling enough to elicit that compliment.
The film of course crushes the most popular post-9/11 prejudices of our times. The case isn’t new. Which is that while most global terrorists may be Muslims - all Muslims aren’t terrorists. And that no religion, including Islam, preaches violence against the innocent.
The hero Rizwan, a devoted believer, quotes the Prophet from the Koran, “With the loss of one innocent life, dies humanity alongside.” He sees worldwide consequences of September 11, 2001, under that same light. This gentleman grew up as a kid around an inexplicably dated, 1983 riots in Bombay (unless I read the year wrong). He moved to be with his brother in the US, after his mother’s death. He also grew up with a mental challenge, Asperger’s syndrome. Few know this condition well. It’s hard to tell whether Shah Rukh’s manners match the mental disorder, or is even consistent, if at all. Rizwan appears to have a problem dealing with crowded spaces, loud colours, intimate hugs, expressing emotions, or voluntarily reacting to common external stimuli. His cognitive skills though – grasp of factual knowledge -- seem much superior to normal humans. By the looks of it, he isn’t quite the sociable candidate for a door-to-door salesman’s job. But that’s what his brother offers him, to sell a beauty product, at salons. This is how he meets his girl, a Hindu widow with a child (Kajol – excitably 'Goldie Hawn', in her grin and floppiness). They live together as family. Her li’l son becomes the step-dad’s best pal. Their love for soccer and Manchester United may be odd for America. They still play the fool together. Until 9/11, which changes their lives as it did for many.
Forrest Gump in its scope, Rain Man in its approach, slightly convenient in its ‘Bollywood opera’, world-class in its photographic treatment (Ravi K Chandran), more sorted than Kurban (from the same producer, along a similar theme); you can sense, throughout, honesty in the film’s purpose.
There is least empathy for a problem you haven’t faced yourself. This film expresses that well. Being looked down as Muslim is at some level a global reality. Prejudices are part of human DNA, Americans being no exceptions.
If anything, the lunatic mainstream in urban India – Shiv Sena and its sorts -- is more generous in its bigotry. They took on the secular Muslim superstar before this film’s release. They’ve taken on before, South Indians, then North Indians, even one of their supposed own, if the surname’s Tendulkar. We know the villains in this movie. They could be outside its theatre. They make My Name Is Khan even more important for its subject’s worth.
The posters have been announcing this film’s arrival as a moment that’ll change the way the world thinks. Unlikely. A commercially successful, massively scaled mainstream film that doesn’t just make a song and dance of it all could certainly change Bollywood forever. Of all, I’m glad Johar also made that move. Sure, this movie’s a risk. Shouldn’t each be anyway?