My Name Is Khan is about the lonesome journey of an intelligent Muslim man, (diagnosed with the Asperger's syndrome) to meet the President of the United States of America, in order to deliver a message; ‘My Name Is Khan and I am not a terrorist’.
The basic storyline is extrapolated in such a manner that Karan Johar has skillfully and remarkably packed so much to accommodate an array of themes, which are interwoven between the plots that you’ll find it hard to decipher which one you are currently watching as the movie is so intelligently and maturely made.
Rizvan Khan’s (Shah Rukh Khan) upbringing as a child (Tanay Chheda) to an adult follows a series of events where his mother (Zarina Wahab) does whatever in her capacity to give him the best education possible either formally or informally to grow up into a good person one day. His brother (Jimmy Shergill) who goes for higher studies in the US and ultimately after becoming successful, decides to sponsor him. Rizvan’s stint in his new country is initially marked by funny and also sad moments before he meets Mandira (Kajol); a Hindu single mother who works in a hair dressing saloon.
After seeing Mandira and learning about her troubled personal life in the past, Rizvan decides to marry her and subsequently Kajol falls in love with Rizvan in the cutest imaginable way. However, the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks changes the equation in the couple and Rizvan embarks on a mission to prove a point! How Rizvan accomplishes his mission and how far he goes to retain a promise, due to his strict upbringing is the story of My Name Is Khan (MNIK).
The director takes a big leap in story telling and gets his hands dirty by making a movie where multiple messages reach the viewers in a very subtle channel – Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) and the themes.
Karan Johar indirectly conveys to the audience message themes which are touching many of our lives, irrespective of whether it is inextricably connected to the main theme of the movie or not. From the opening scenes till the end of the movie, motherhood has been portrayed with so much realism, love and tenderness. The maternal instincts are so strong in the storyline, that it forms the crux of the story. Although terrorism is the principal theme as every angle is broadly looked from this point of view, it is the ‘mothers’ which compel most actions, leading to the events. The early scene where the child SRK is taught by his mother whether there is a difference between a Muslim and a Hindu touches your heart immediately. The pain of his mother whose son (Jimmy Shergill) flies to the US for further studies and her resulting acute loneliness without her child is showed on screen with sincerity and panache.
The motherhood theme is further explored in greater details though the bubbly Kajol’s love for his son (Yuvaan Makaar) in the day-to-day relationships. Karan Johar goes an extra mile ahead and perfectly develops this mother-to-child relationship in a unique perspective never attempted in Bollywood with a Black American and a White American family in separately impressive scenes. The morale comes down to: Being a mother is a lifelong duty which is carried out only with love and a mother will do everything for her child; whatever it may be.
My Name Is Khan also delves deeper into the psychology of the Muslims who feel being targeted unnecessarily in the US after the 9/11 events and even they strongly condemn the attacks; they have practically no control over the spread of false propaganda about their religion. Islam is respectfully depicted with its values and the story shows how a marriage (Rizvan and Mandira’s one) between a Hindu and a Muslim is possible. In addition, the writers bravely accommodate specific scenes showing how to find acceptance socially in a country where there is a wrong perception about one’s own religion, which is being targeted rigorously by the media and a certain section of the population. They are filmed with so much realism, that some viewers might find themselves in certain of these situations.
My Name Is Khan also explicitly shows how people jump to conclusions about a religion without even thinking that each religion has its long history, sacred values and much more. In a much broader context and frank manner, Karan Johar tackles taboo issues such as, after the September 11 events, people decide to engage socially or professionally with you depending on your name and religious views.
It also portrays how a minority of the population reacts spontaneously to news headlines, some with violence (racial attacks) and some with menace without violence, as they fear their motherland are being occupied by non-trustworthy people, who can harm their future. This also extends the fact how a small minority can unfortunately be seen as a majority by the outside world.
Historical events such as the Hindi-Muslim riots in 1983 in India, the September 11 attacks and the 2008 Presidential Election in the US are added in the backdrop to further elevate the storyline and render it more credible.
Karan Johar merits worldwide applause for his sensitive and honest story telling. Definitely, the director has matured (beyond expectations!) and has made a movie which is so realistically portrayed by the characters. His attention to details is exceptional as well as running multiple themes in parallel. On a side note, the mature side of Karan Johar, after Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (KANK), which touched on the theme of infidelity, here goes bluntly into marital sex for two scenes. The scene with the newly married Rizvan and Mandira in bed on their honeymoon is hilarious and the subsequent scene connected to marital sex is shown in a true fashion and will surely leave some viewers speechless.
Despite belonging to an upbeat genre, Karan Johar has not neglected the comedy aspect and this is where he proves that he is an ace director. Making the audience laugh in such a serious movie is a risky business and he succeeds in a terrific way with the regular use of “one-liners”, even in tense situations. This has been carefully thought as Rizvan cannot properly deliver long dialogues. The humor is dry at certain places and ranges from mature to sophisticated in certain scenes and yes, there are plenty of them! Be aware that Karan Johar does not have any Johnny Lever type of jokes. Intelligent jokes and catchy punch lines are more common in the script without vulgar or double meanings.
The performances are, in some cases, the finest to date from those involved.
SRK’s return after Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, is simply outstanding and a class above. His facial expressions, dialogue delivery and behaviors are first-class and he carries the movie on his shoulders till the last frame. Due to the disease, he repeats many of his ending sentences and some of them are done deliberately to joke around. A grim, moody and determined Rizvan is a revelation of SRK’s talent, which was not unknown to us, but was not extracted with such sincerity and professionalism.
Actually, it is his first movie where you hardly see him, in a lip-synchronization mode for the songs; as all the songs are in the background! The smallest details are taken into consideration and it is also probably the only movie of SRK where you’ll see his toe nails and a close up of his hair. But he still keeps his killing smile in certain scenes. The character of Rizvan will take some viewers a little bit of time to adjust, but in the end, you’ll fall in love with him and you’ll find yourself together with him on his journey, without even realizing it. This is what Shah Rukh Khan is capable – an actor with a volcanic talent which mesmerizes you even in the most banal scenes.
Kajol is terrific in her role as the hair dresser, the single mother and the wife. She looks natural in all the scenes and even appears with little make-up in some of them; increasing the reality of the dramatic scenes. If you’ll fall in love with the character of Rizvan after a little time through the movie, then expect an immediate connection with Mandira in the first scenes itself. Needless to comment on the chemistry between Rizvan and Mandira; it is still alive!
Jimmy Shergill is effective in his few scenes, Sonya Jehan as Jimmy Shergill’s wife receives a meatier role and leaves an impression. Vinay Pathak as Jitesh is loveable in his short role and leaves a smile on everyone’s face when most needed in the end, to calm our nerves. Navneet Nishan is adorable in her short role too. Arjun Mathur, Parvin Dabas, Arif Zakaria, Yuvaan Makaar and Zarina Wahab are all equally excellent in their outings.
Music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy (SEL) is mainly used in the background as interludes in certain places, with constant pauses, to allow for further scenes to develop, before picking up again. Overall, all the songs remain situational and the music only aids in moving the story ahead. ‘Tere Naina’ is the compulsory Karan Johar-Shah Rukh Khan track and is wonderfully shot and gets repeated twice! ‘Noor E- Khuda’ receives an acclaimed picturization, which brings tears to the eyes. ‘Sajda’ is equally good and happens at the right time. Lyrics by Niranjan Iyengar capture your attention, while the background music by SEL is relevant.
Costumes by Shiraz Siddiqui and Manish Malhotra are tailor-made for all the protagonists with Shah Rukh Khan mainly dressed as the stereotype patient with a shirt, blue jeans and a pull-over before gradually moving into black thick jackets when he goes on the mission to meet the President. Nothing flashy at all! Kajol’s costumes' designs are excellent and she looks really beautiful in the sarees as well as the Western clothes, especially with the long black boots! Strong colors such as black, blue, pink, yellow and white are methodically used throughout the movie to represent the various moods of the characters. Farah Khan’s choreography is top-notch!
Ravi K. Chandran’s cinematography is excellent in capturing the scenery of San Francisco, Los Angeles, the Arizona Desert and many more locations within the area. Shyam Kaushal and Spiro Razatos professionally handle the action scenes, even though some of them go over the top, especially in the last parts of the movie. Sharmishta Roy is again fabulous in the Art direction. Niranjan Iyengar and Shibani Bathija’s dialogues are apt for the theme and have some powerful lines, following the terrorists attacks such as ‘Get out of my country!’, ‘Allah will understand it. These people won’t!', and ‘Khan or Khanna’.
Interestingly, product placement (brand marketing) in the movie is also common with a popular brand of shoes being “advertised” similar to 30 seconds spots several times without any reason or connection to the story, but which is done professionally! (Remember Yaadein (2001) by Subhash Ghai described as the fiasco of product placements!)
MNIK briefly shows the American Dream and displays that if you work hard in this country, you will succeed. At no stage, the US is shown in a perspective which will hurt diplomatic relations.
Now despite award-winning performances and a solid script, MNIK also contains some minor flaws.
The nexus which leads to the mission of the main protagonist to meet the President appears weak in relation to the serious themes being showcased in the movie. Propelled by unforeseen circumstances, which consequently act as a trigger for Rizvan Khan’s mission, actually happens at a stage where the compelling character is heavily in despair, confusion, anger and frustration. An intelligent person like Rizvan Khan accepts the challenge, without even discussing it further with the character, when he is earlier strongly portrayed as someone who is not easily categorized as a ‘Yes Man’. The writing could have been tighter to make the scene more logical and convincing. Instead within minutes after the discussion, he gets ready for his mission.
The story is very intelligently dragged into a natural calamity in a town where Rizvan Khan had an early connection and helps in a rescue effort. Agreed that the follow-up to these scenes form a pivotal part of the storyline, but shorter scenes without the natural disaster (and its special effects) would have made the movie more believable.
The accumulated frustration of a Muslim man goes a little bit "filmi" in the end, and could have been better handled. The mission to meet the President is depicted as a hard and a long journey with too many bumps, when he had the chance to arrange for a meeting in some earlier scenes, if he had tried. However, all these above scenes are handled meticulously, that it becomes so hard to realize the logic sometimes.
My Name Is Khan is a mature movie, made for an audience who’s looking for a meaningful and partly realistic cinema, without the entertainment quotient. I must admit that it’s an intelligent movie, which has been thoroughly researched over the years and magnificently executed in its entirety. Karan Johar has made a movie for an international audience, which connects with everyone in the most sensitive way. The treatment of Islam, terrorism and motherhood opens the road for other themes to be explored deeper. It is foremost a movie on humanity, mankind, migration, love, hate, relationships, forgiveness, cultural ignorance, media, children and GOD. Whatever be your religion, your faith and your values, MNIK clicks and touches your inner emotions. Go and watch it!