This movie illustrates why I love Bollywood movies. They make such an effort to express the emotions in complex situations and make me want to know more.
I am going to talk about the movie’s highlights and not the whole story because I think that would give too much away.
SRK’s onscreen entrance was not as dramatic as his entrances have been in the past; this set the tone for the movie. The opening scenes at airport security certainly recalled SRK’s 2009 detainment at a U.S. airport. The scenes were humiliating.
Gradually, SRK’s character, Rizwan Khan, develops as you see him mutter and roll small rocks in his hand repetitively. While security’s check on Khan showed no security flags, they ask him where he is going. “I am going to meet the President of the U.S”, Khan replies. He tells the officers, “I want to tell the President, My Name is Khan and I am not a terrorist.” The officers are not amused.
As Khan’s trip takes him across the U.S., he keeps a diary and the audience learns about his life, his marriage and the sad fallout of the 9/11 in the backlash against innocent Indians, particularly Muslims.There are many scenes with diverse populations that it is truly a cast of thousands.
Tanay Chheda, the young actor from Slumdog Millionaire, plays the young Khan. Khan’s mother (Zarina Wahab) treats Khan with love and acceptance and she finds ways to help her son. She coerces an educated man to tutor her son when Rizwan has trouble in school because of his autism.
During the 1983 riots in India when Hindus attacked Muslims, Khan’s mother taught her son that Hindus and Muslims were not different, telling him that there were only two kinds of people, good and bad. Rizwan becomes a repairman. He is good with mechanical things and can fix almost anything.
His brother, Zahir (Jimmy Shergill) is jealous of his mother’s attention to Rizwan and when Zahir goes off to college in the U.S., he stays there after graduation and his mother never gets to meet his wife. After their mother dies, Zahir brings Rizwan to the U.S. to live with his family in San Francisco. Zahir sells herbal beauty products and gives Rizwan a job as a door-to-door salesman.
Rizwan has a highly functional form of autism called Asperger’s Syndrome. Eventually, you get used to his odd posture, his canted head, his avoidance of looking directly at people, his phobias, his habit of repetitive language and his disjointed conversations. You see his intelligence, his sense of humor, his honesty, his spirituality, and his attempts at socialization. During his travels as a salesman, he encounters Mandira (Kajol), a hair stylist. Mandira is Hindu and Khan is Muslim. Though Rizwan is awkward, he manages to sell her shop some of his products.
Rizwan falls in love with Mandira and finds ways to hang around her. Mandira is intrigued by Rizwan but does not show any real interest in him. Rizwan lets Mandira know he is aware that she is a divorced, single mother. Rizwan is not romantic, the closest he comes is when he wears a sweater in the color that Mandira likes. At one point, he asks her to marry him but she tries to laugh it off. They make a bet, she will marry Rizwan if he can show her something about San Francisco she has not seen. Over time, after many attempts, Rizwan finds something Mandira has not seen and they marry. Sam, Mandira’s young son, reluctantly accepts Rizwan as his step-father then more like a brother.
After 9/11 occurs, while the Khans’ entire community is saddened by events and you see scenes of shared community grief, soon Indians are being harassed and attacked. These scenes give you a sense of what is like for Muslims and Indians from children to shopkeepers, to professionals post 9/11.
Rizwan has a difficult time with emotion but he voices expressions of concern and love when he states that Islam’s prophet, Mohammed, said “the death of one innocent is equal to the death of humanity.” Rizwan and Mandira share a song, “We Shall Overcome” which becomes the movie’s theme.
A tragedy strikes the Khan family... and out of anger and fear, Mandira sends Rizwan away. In her anger, she tells him to go to the President of the U.S. and tell him, “My Name is Khan and I am not a Terrorist.” The movie is about Khan’s travels in his attempt to do as his wife asked. The story then becomes one of separation and forgiveness.
There many touching scenes like when Khan prays outside a bus stop. Khan has been tracking the President’s itinerary and follows him in his attempts to meet him. Along the way, he is helped by other people and he helps others as well. Also, Khan encounters ugly situations as well. Try to imagine what various disasters seem like to a person with autism.
I knew the movie would be sad. It made me cry and I don’t like to cry in public. There were many subtle and not-so-subtle character studies as various characters and scenes portray moments in the U.S.’s recent history.
Even though I felt, again, that many scenes from several western movies were dropped into this movie, maybe I should look at them as tributes like they are in Bollywood movies. Because the storyline and acting exceeded any cliche is why I can forgive them.
Oh and ok, except for a few familiar gestures, I forgot that Rizwan was SRK; I think that is called acting.
It will be interesting to see what future movie ideas Shah Rukh Khan and Red Chilies Entertainment choose to pursue. My Name is Khan is a modern, realistic, well-researched movie. It has a mature storyline with many fully developed characters.
Since I began watching Bollywood movies, I have watched how a movie industry has struggled to define its changing audiences, and struggled to grow technologically and thematically such as with the ongoing debates over Bollywood’s traditional use of song-and-dance routines. While I support Bollywood’s ever-changing search for a new magic formula, my personal hope is that there will always be “masala” movies from Bollywood.
Director: Karan Johar
Cinematography: Ravi K. Chandran
Art: Sharmishta Roy
Screenplay: Shibani Bathija
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, Zarina Wahab, Jimmy Shergill, Tanay Chheda, Parvin Dabas and more.