My Name Is Khan: A Quick Review

November 3, 2010 at 9:15 PMNov (Cinema, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life)

The controversy created by Shiv Sena has given extra boost to the Shah Rukh Khan starer My Name Is Khan, which now, as experts opine will reset the records set by earlier films.

Let me first applaud for Karan Johar for coming out, though not completely, from ‘family in fairyland’ story plot. Set in the backdrop of 9/11 the film My Name Is Khan, is about an autistic person who is on a journey to meet the President of U.S.A. to say that he is “Khan” and “not a terrorist.”

The journey starts when Sam- son of Khan is killed by his playmates on the grounds of Sam being Sam Khan. Mandira the wife of Mr. Khan in a hold Mr. Khan partially responsible for the death of her son saying her son wouldn’t have been killed if she were not to marry Mr. Khan and her son would not carry the affix Khan to his name. In an emotionally disturbed state she asks Mr. Khan to tell the world that he is not a terrorist and also to say the same to the President of U.S.A.

The major part of the story is in flashback which is recollected by Mr. Khan while his journey to meet the President. The childhood of Mr. Khan, his disturbed relationship with his brother, him falling in love with Mandira after showing her a new place in Washington which she has never seen, and marrying her, his intimate relationship with Mandira’s son Sam, the murder of Sam all appear on the screen in a flashback. During his journey he stumbles on a Afro-American family who treat him with respect. He also chances on some Islam fundamentalists who have a wrong understanding of Islam. He once travels to Georgia where he had met the Afro-American family, while flood has hit Georgia. Mr. Khan helps the people of Georgia in making a living during flood.

Mr. Khan during this journey is arrested on suspicion of being a terrorist. But when proved innocent he is left free. His service to Georgia gets wide media publicity and makes people think, “He is the same man whom we all taught to be a terrorist.” Finally after the wide publicity the entire America looks at Mr. Khan as a normal human being and not a terrorist. The wide publicity to his service gets him close to the President and say to him that he is not a terrorist and neither his son, who was earlier killed by his fellow playmates for being a Khan.

“The problem is not to make political films but to make films politically.”- Jean-Luc Godard
Better late than never, say wise people. If that is the case then we can applaud for Mr. Johar for having a thought to make a film on a contemporary issue of modern untouchability. But Mr. Johar comes too late to speak of a global problem. It is nearly 10 years now since 9/11 took place and our Muslim brothers and sisters are facing problems over all because of their Muslim identity which has, in the eyes of the world, overlapped with terrorism and terrorist identity.

This phenomenon of Muslims being referred to as terrorist exists even in India from more than couple of decades. I am wondering, still, as to why Karan Johar picks us 9/11 and not 6/12 of 26/11 for his film. Why does he not speak violence on non-Marathi people in his own Mumbai? Yes, I do agree that what moves me need not move everyone. But when entertainment has become a business I am forced to think and voice my opinion saying, “Mr. Johar speaks of an alien country so that his film will get him money and popularity abroad which is the heart of his business.” And so Mr. Johar chooses the discrimination in the U.S.A. and attempts to speak to Muslims and non-Muslims of the world, through one man, the state of being for Muslims in the world. The concern is appreciable but the intentions behind setting the film in America is yet another business stunt, it appears to me.

The world, in the movie, recognises Mr. Khan only when starts his work in Georgia for flood victims. Untill then he is seen as a terrorist and asked if he has some connection with Al-Qaida. This part of the film is quite self-defeating, looking through my eyes. Innocent victims, anywhere, need not prove how useful and productive they are. Even without proving themselves with unhealed wounds, they deserve to be heard and noticed. They need not ‘buy’ attention through their service for the nation and its people. The victims need not prove how good he/she is to say he/she is not a terrorist. Even if Mr. Khan did not go to Georgia, he deserved, as a victim, to be heard by media and also the president. He need not prove himself as being a generous and country loving man to the other country men to buy sympathy from others and be heard. A simple common man when victimized, in any country, he/she can lead a life without proving his innocence through selfless service. But justice must be ensured by the state.
The film fails majorly in its approach to look at the problem. The problem of being a Muslim in America is attempted to show through the autistic protagonist Mr. Khan. The film falls flat when the story of Muslims in America ends with the temporary victory of Mr. Khan. The story of the film fails to capture the problems of mass Muslims in America and remains just as a story of Mr. Khan and not as a collective chronicle of the state of Muslims in America.

Mr. Khan being autistic evokes more emotions from the audience than the feeling of alienation caused by 9/11. The audience sympathise not because Mr. Khan and his family becomes an ‘inside-outsider’ but because Mr. Khan is autistic. He is celebrated also because he is not-normal. So the film almost speaks just about an ‘extra-ordinary’ work by an autistic man and doesn’t spill over the edge and make it a story of a community, in total.

In her debut film Firaaq, Nandita Das handles a similar issue but handles it in a matured manner where the film goes on to narrate the story of Muslim communities in Gujarat after the riots. Ms. Das’s film doesn’t remain as a story of one man but of several men who are all trying to assemble their lives again after the riots are over.

Shibani Bhateeja’s screenplay is pretty decent. Neither too tight nor too loose. Sometimes becoming tight and sometimes becoming loose. Karan Johar, for a change, has avoided certain over-celebrating elements from his film. His experiment with colours is richly visible in the film, which was absent/ minimal in his previous films. Kajol has no much role in the film but whatever she has been expected to do, she has done a good job. Shah Rukh Khan is in one of his worst performances. So much that if I am given a choice to meet Mr. S.R. Khan, I would tell him, “Mr. Khan I am Samvartha and I request you to take voluntary retirement from Bollywood, for pure artistic reasons and for the greater common good. And I am of strong belief that when people (and also critiques) say My Name Is Khan is good, their judgement is relative to Mr. Johar’s previous films.

24 February 2010

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