Thursday, February 18, 2010

My Name is Khan: Featuring a Cast of Thousands (extras)

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.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

3 Idiots is Full of Laughter

I have been talking about Bollywood ever since I saw Asoka in 2002. I have induced some family and friends to see various Bollywood movies, so it was great to share watching 3 Idiots with a friend. Being a screenwriter, she is attentive to details, plot and characterization, so it was especially nice that she enjoyed the movie. We laughed out loud.
Students starting engineering school and their orientation and hazing open the movie. One student Rancho (Aamir Khan) is different from the others as seen in his refusal to bow to senior students pressure during hazing with a chemistry trick to thwart the process. Hari (Sharman Joshi) and Farhan Qureshi (Madhavan) and Rancho become friends and the movie follows their adventures.
The school administrator, Viru Sahastrabudhhe (Boman Irani) creates an tense atmosphere following his motto, “Compete or die.” Boman Irani is both comical and frightening as the aging administrator.
Humorous scenes of campus life are at times disrupted by serious scenes like when a student succumbs to the pressure of making good grades and long hours of studying by choosing to commit suicide.
The administrator holds up an ink pen and tells the new class, I have been waiting 32 years for that exceptional student to pass along this pen.
Rancho is different in the way he looks at the world. He challenges convention and asks  questions. His favorite saying is “All is well.”
Many of the musical interludes are delightful. The shower scene musical number is funny and light-hearted. Surprisingly, some music lyrics are in English.
Some of the students’ antics include crashing a wedding which is more than a funny scene because new characters are introduced and added to the storyline such as when Rancho points out to a woman, Pia, (Kareena Kapoor) who he thinks is the bride that her fiance is more concerned about money than people.
The end of semester ceremonies include a student speech which Rancho has altered to make it funny but the student, Chatur Ramalingam (Omi Vaidya), remembers the joke and is determined to retaliate.
As the students separate to go their own way, they vow to meet again in the future at the same place and same time.
When the Hari, Farhan, and Chatur meet again, Rancho has not appeared, so they go in search of him and find another story along the way.
In many instances, I felt I was seeing whole scenes from western movies dropped into this movie. With Rancho’s character I felt I was seeing Good Will Hunting, The Wedding Crashers, The Paper Chase, and Patch Adams. The emergency baby delivery scene was like watching Apollo 13. This movie was truly delightful. But, while movies often represent universal experiences, movies also illustrate unique perspectives and that is what I felt was missing. Or, in another way, Bollywood is reflecting the westernization of India’s culture. 
The movie is well-acted with beautiful and brightly colored cinematography, and delightful choreography. I enjoyed seeing the reunion of the Rang De Basanti actors, Aamir Khan, Sharman Joshi, and Madhavan.
This is the first time I thought Aamir Khan appeared to enjoy himself.