My Name is Khan - a very unique and timely film


My Name Is Khan (India, 2010)

Seen: Monday, 26th April 2010 (cinema)
Director: Karan Johar
Cast: Shahrukh Khan, Kajol
Production House: Dharma Productions, Red Chillies Entertainment
Plot: Rizvan Khan has Asperger’s syndrome (a form of high-level autism). Despite that, he manages to move to the United States and make a relatively normal life for himself there. He falls in love and eventually marries Mandira - a Hindu and a single mother of one. They have a happy life together, but post-9/11 his religion becomes a big issue in their marriage. After a huge argument, Rizvan sets out on a journey to meet the president of the United States and tell him that his name is Khan and he is not a terrorist.

Scene from the Film

Or you can watch the whole making of featurette, which this clip was chopped out of :) Much better than the promos IMO ;-P

Rating: +2 (Adored it)
This one was extremely difficult to rate… There are parts of it that make me so ridiculously awed that I could easily argue even a +3 (the opening airport sequence for example), but there are large parts (a lot of the last third of the film) that I was very disappointed with *sigh*

Impressions In Short
It’s a very unique film in many ways and I think very much worth seeing.
Watch out for which version of the film you’re watching. I *think* Poland got the re-cut version for the US market, so this review might differ significantly from some of the others which are up on-line. Even the imdb plot description doesn’t quite line-up with what I saw. In my version Rizvan did not have much interaction with a psychologist named Radha. I think there’s about one scene with her and it doesn’t impact the plot much. AFAIK in the Indian version the whole hurricane subplot got a lot more attention (I’m actually glad that this version didn’t have much of it cause the little bit of it that stayed in the film was one of its weakest moments IMO).

More About the Film
As far as I’m concerned, this is a topic that should have been broached years ago by American filmmakers. It really is a long overdue movie. I’ve been racking my brains to remember another film dealing with this specific subject matter i.e. how 9/11 effected the lives of Muslims in the US and the hate crimes against Muslims that followed, but I cannot think of even one. While there have been many films about Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terror and many of these did empathize with Muslims on some sort of level, I don’t think this specific issue has been brought up in a mainstream movie before. Why is it that in over 8 years, to my knowledge, no Hollywood studio has broached this topic and why was it Bollywood that got to the subject first? Having seen the film, I’m not surprised that Fox snatched up the distribution rights in the US (and in many other Western markets). The subject matter is so current and yet so completely untouched that I think there is potentially a lot of interest in it (no other Indian-produced film has done this well in the Western box office before, which speaks for itself I think).
Onto the film though… Technically, it’s absolutely stunning. I was in love from the first shots. Hollywood, Bollywood or whatever else you compare it to, you’re not going to find many films that are shot and edited with such quality and beauty. I suppose it helps that the kind of shots and editing they used are totally my favourite kind of aesthetics ;-P So I may be a bit biased here. The opening shots have particularly stuck with me. I loved how the camera followed Shahrukh through the airport - the tracking shots, the quirky angles from below, the close-ups on his legs and (as is usual with Bollywood) they make you wait before they finally show his face. The way they had him queueing for the boarding checks was awesome as well. The expression on the face of the lady standing in front of him was priceless.
Basically, as far as I’m concerned, any lover of good cinematography and editing should go to see the film for the technical side alone *grin*
Shahrukh was interesting. It’s quite a different part for him. I’m not sure how well it’s going to hold out on the small screen cause he is a bit exaggerated at times, but not as much as I feared he would be and on the big screen his performance works very well - I got very involved with his character and the character’s feelings (which I think is quite some feat considering how emotionally removed Rizvan is).
My main bug with his character is that IMO what he was playing wasn’t Asperger’s, but a condition somewhere else on the autistic spectrum (I’m not sure this was his decision though cause the same was true of the kids who played younger versions of Rizvan Khan - they were all very consistent in how they played it). I’m no specialist on autism of course, but it’s my understanding that Asperger’s is a very mild form of it. While it may impair people’s ability to live normally, to an onlooker it’s not immediately apparent that the person has any sort of mental disorder. Some examples of real-life people with Asperger’s can be seen here, here, here and here.
I felt that what Shahrukh and the kids were playing was definitely somewhere on the autistic spectrum, but it wasn’t Asperger’s specifically. They were just too obvious about it. Still, whatever Rizvan Khan’s specific condition was, the film works well just the same. I just wish they hadn’t called it Asperger’s.
In fact, as long as one doesn’t get too hung up on the name tag, I felt that Shahrukh and the kids did relatively realistic portrayals of autism. And it wasn’t as exaggerated as the trailer would suggest (the trailer somehow managed to cut up the material to make it look as hammy as humanly possible ;-P it really wasn’t that bad at all).
I’d go as far as to say that this was one of the better portrayals of autism that I’ve seen on film. Pretty much the only portrayal of autism that I’ve seen that really looked genuine to me was DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?. Everybody else has always looked a bit fake to me, but I think Sigourney Weaver in Snow Cake and now Shahrukh in My Name is Khan are my number twos. Not so much because they didn’t exaggerate (and yeah, Shahrukh is probably the more exaggerated of the two), but because they played “the character” rather than “the disorder”. It’s a common trap that - people get so hung up on the autistic part that they forget that autism is a condition, not a personality. And in case anybody’s wondering - yes, I have seen Dustin Hoffman in Rainman and I thought he was way more exaggerated than Shahrukh and got way less of the physical mannerisms right ;-P
Anyway, just to finish off the obligatory Shahrukh gushing part (although I’m not convinced that I am gushing ;-P I’m merely writing way more about him than most people would want to read ;-P), as much as Karan Johar always casts SRK as his male lead no matter what, I feel that in this case the choice was spot on.
For one thing, Shahrukh has this sort of rushed and weird way of speaking quite naturally, which suited the part (people with autism often have slightly strange speech patterns). But perhaps more importantly, he’s long specialized in parts that deal with obsession. Whether he plays obsessive lovers or obsessive murderers, you’ll find that a lot of his most popular characters have an obsessive streak. As one of the symptoms of autism is a tendency to fall into very narrow and weird obsessions, he’s an absolutely perfect fit :)
But there were also aspects of the part which were against SRK’s nature. Rizvan doesn’t like to be touched, especially by people he doesn’t know very well. Shahrukh, on the other hand, must be one of the most touchy actors ever - touch has long been a large part of how he expresses himself on screen. And also, Rizvan’s reactions to other people’s feelings and moods are very limited because of his condition, whilst SRK is extremely reactive. Whether you watch him in a film or during an interview, he very quickly reacts to even the smallest change of tone or mood of the other person. Watching him without two of his most basic tools was both very interesting and very weird to me. I felt he did falter on this a bit - they’re such natural forms of expression for him that there were moments when it seemed to me that he was slipping up and using them. Nonetheless, this performance proves that even without some of his major tools, he’s still got loads to offer. He’s a much more complete actor than people give him credit for.
Now onto Kajol *grin* Cause seeing Kajol in this was also quite a treat. I think she was cast even better than SRK was, if that’s possible ;) Mandira is a very good-natured, stubborn and secure woman, who knows what she wants from life. I think most people can already see Kajol suiting the part from this description.
But the greatest thing about Kajol in the part is that you don’t doubt for a second that Mandira could fall in love with Rizvan. Kajol has always seemed very direct and brutally honest to me. There is nothing fake about Kajol and she seems to expect the same from others. And in a way that’s why Rizvan feels like such a natural fit for her.
Because of his condition, Rizvan is as brutally honest as you can get *grin* The way Kajol played Mandira and the kind of sense of humour that both Kajol and Mandira share, you can totally see why she might fall for him.
If the romance between Rizvan and Mandira had felt in any way fake then the whole film would have fallen apart. Making it convincing was very much Kajol’s job and she was terrific :) Plus, of course, there’s the legendary Kajol-SRK chemistry and I actually thought it worked better than ever :]
On the other hand, surprisingly enough, if you ask me who was more hammy - Kajol or SRK then the answer is Kajol all the way ;-P And I know I’m not alone in this because I read some people on the IMDb boards saying the same thing :] Most of the time it didn’t bother me, but there were a couple of emotional moments when it did.
But having said that, I was very impressed with the argument between Rizvan and Mandira (which is rather pivotal as that’s why Rizvan sets out on his journey). As melodramatic as that scene is, there’s not a false note in it. It’s really intense and genuine.
And now, finally a few words about the plot… The core plot of the film is fantastic. It’s basically just a man, who tries to meet the president of the United States to tell him he’s not a terrorist. As Rizvan doesn’t realize how loaded his message is, the film avoids any sort of preaching. It’s beautifully simple and so to the point.
The way the film was grounded in American reality was beautiful as well. Parts of it are like a love letter to San Francisco (and how refreshing to have it happen in San Francisco rather than New York, Los Angeles, Washington or Chicago ;-P). The way they have major historical events i.e. Barack Obama’s election and Hurricane Katrina happening in the background was great too.
Another strength of the film is the portrayal of human relationships and all kinds of small observations about people and situations. But then I think this has always been Karan Johar’s forte.
I could list a lot of small scenes and moments that I think are gush-worthy, but that would make the review even longer, so maybe I should just get to the critical part ;-P The main problem with the film is that it falls apart in the second half. A lot of people have mentioned this (I think even SRK has, actually ;-P). Without spoiling to much, there’s a moment after which everything starts being too over the top and Rizvan becomes too heroic. I’d be curious to see the Indian cut. I have a feeling it might be even worse than the cut I saw *sigh*

Yes, definitely. I think that anybody who loves cinema should see this because it is quite simply unique. Both in terms of subject matter and style - there just isn’t anything else like it (and if there is then please tell me cause I would really like to see it ;-P).

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