My Name is Khanâ€¦and I am not a terrorist. It is these very straight forward words that define the pivotal moments of human emotion that are captured by director Karan Johar in â€śMy Name is Khanâ€ť. That expectations are high for this film, is an understatement, as Karan Johar is currently at the top of the Bollywood directorial ladder. The same can be said of his two lead actors, Shah Rukh Khan as Rizwan and Kajol as Mandira. The film is a love story set against the canvas of loss that fuels the fires of our darkest dreams and deepest emotions. It is also a smart and intellectual commentary on how religion can be abused and how it can be dangerously fatal to stereotype someone whose background happens to match the few individuals who terrorize the rest of the world.
The story itself begins with Rizwan stopped at the airport by security who profile him as a would be terrorist simply because he is reciting religious verses while waiting on line to board his flight. The uncomfortable humiliation of being thoroughly searched when one is innocent is shown through the autistic eyes of the lead character. Itâ€™s within these first few minutes that we find out that Rizwan is on a mission to meet the president of the United States, the only problem is that a world of lost love, bigotry, and fear is threatening to get in the way, and will have to be overcome.
The filmâ€™s narrative moves backwards as we are shown Rizwanâ€™s tender upbringing by his mother (in a sensitive performance by Zarina Wahab) wherein we learn that he doesnâ€™t like to be hugged, is unable to express his emotions fully, is smarter than the people around him, doesnâ€™t like loud noises, and doesnâ€™t understand the hatred that is caused by the fire of religion. A couple of years later, his younger brother (the good one), comes to America and gets married, sponsoring Rizwan and bringing him over to America after their mother dies (as he explains, â€śShe died because her heart was too bigâ€ť). Rizwanâ€™s innocence and inability to lie allows him to work for his brother as a door to door beauty salon product salesman. It is this job that brings him face to face with the woman he falls in love with, Mandira (Kajol). He is a Muslim autistic man, and she is a Hindu single mother. Two people who come from completely different worlds, bridged together by the purity of the lead characterâ€™s love. They laugh, they share beautiful moments together, and get married, but happily ever after is tough to hold onto when the tragedy of the terrorist attack of 9/11 brings them into the reality of a harsh world.
The rest of the film focuses on the tragedy of stereotyping Muslimâ€™s as terrorists, the loss of oneâ€™s heart, and the burning fire of a quest to regain the trust between Rizwan and Mandira. Oh and along the way, viewers are taken on a roadtrip with Rizwan on a journey straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting (watch out for Vinay Pathak in an amusing cameo). A tale of heartbreak and triumph that starts in San Francisco and ends in Georgia, with a couple of presidents thrown in for good measure.
"My Name is Khan" is a lyrical poem that takes the viewer on a roller coaster ride of emotions, some of which are very difficult to face for anyone, let alone for Shah Rukh Khanâ€™s lead character Rizwan. Thereâ€™s no doubt about it that Shah Rukh Khan is the powerful emotive force that drives this film ever so forward to its conclusion. His portrayal of the autistic lead (suffering from Aspergerâ€™s syndrome) is sensitive, innocent and never becomes a caricature as so often occurs in Bollywood films that focus on a disabled person. He stays in character throughout the film, always maintaining the nervous mannerisms of an autistic person. One can feel that he has put his heart into this role, and never once do we see him shifting into that all too familiar SRK pattern of acting. Yes, the character at first seems like an amalgam of Dustin Hoffmanâ€™s character in the â€śRain Manâ€ť or Tom Hanks in â€śForest Gumpâ€ť, but as the movie unfolds, Rizwan , the character, comes alive as a unique character with a unique voice. Little touches like Shah Rukh Khan not looking directly into anotherâ€™s eyes, tugging on his hair during stressful moments, the tilting of his head and the innocence conveyed in his walk, all add to the actorâ€™s well rounded portrayal.
Matching him step for step is Kajol. Their chemistry is palpable, and mesmerizing. They have both come a long way from â€śBaazigarâ€ť to â€śKaran Arjunâ€ť to â€śDilwale Dulhania Layjayengeâ€ť to â€śKabhie Kushi Kabhie Ghamâ€ť to â€śMy Name is Khanâ€ť. She is without a doubt, one of the finest actors to grace the silver screen. Her natural grace and charm and ability to convey extreme happiness and (later in the film) extreme sadness hit the viewer with a force that can move the most hardened of hearts. Her character, Mandira, is not a bitter single mom struggling to survive, but rather a vibrant woman full of hope for the future, both for herself and for her son Samir. You believe in the two leadâ€™s characters, and thatâ€™s what sets this film apart from the rest.
The story and screenplay by Shibani Bathija for the most part, holds together very well. The sign of a good writer is they she/he is able to juggle the various threads of the plot and give each character the room to breathe within the confines of a story that leads to a satisfying conclusion. She is able to pull this off with her detailed screenplay realistic dialogues (with co-writer Niranjan Iyengar). There are no filmi or cringe worthy moments. The entire film is kept grounded by the screenplay that is firmly held in realityâ€™s grip.
Shanker, Ehsaan and Loy provide the songs (highlights are â€śSajdaâ€ť and â€śNoor E Khudaâ€ť) and background music. Johar wisely drops the flashy musical numbers, instead letting the music play upon the often times fragility of the emotions being expressed on screen. The songs have a spiritual connotation and have lyrical depth (by Niranjan Iyengar). Their background score is supportive and non-intrusive resulting in some memorable instrumental interludes. Special mention should be made about Bombay Dub Orchestraâ€™s stringsâ€¦as the sound of those violins convey the struggle of the lead character very well. Farah Khan choreographs appropriately. The camera work by P.S. Manushandan captures the world around us in a magical manner with frames that are colored with natural hues.
People have called this a crossover film. I tend to think that this is a film that touches on basic universal emotional themes. You may be one religion or another, from this country or that, hate or love one another, but at our heart we are and always will be human. Remember, and say it along with Rizwan (Shah Rukh Khan), â€śMy Name is Khanâ€¦and I am not a terroristâ€ť. By the end of the film you'll understand the complexity of human emotion in those words and youâ€™ll leave the theater feeling like youâ€™ve just seen a film that matters.