An Indian Muslim man with Asperger's syndrome takes a challenge to speak to the President of the United States seriously and embarks on a cross-country journey.An Indian Muslim man with Asperger's syndrome takes a challenge to speak to the President of the United States seriously and embarks on a cross-country journey.An Indian Muslim man with Asperger's syndrome takes a challenge to speak to the President of the United States seriously and embarks on a cross-country journey.
The film is traditionally a love story more than anything else, but the ever relevant message behind it is wonderfully conveyed through such terms as innocence and guilt, kindness and inhumanity, truth and untruth, justice and injustice, love and hate. All these contrasting terms intelligently swap places through the story of innocent civilians accused for no fault of their own post the 9/11 attacks. The result of this tragic incident made the lives of so many of them miserable. This part of the film is unpleasant viewing even though it is one-sided and not entirely credible.
That's where our hero, Rizwan Khan, is thrown. He has Asperger's Syndrome, he's different, he's naive, he takes every word literally, but he is intelligent and talented, and his perception of life is as his beloved mother taught him: the world includes only two groups of people - good people who do good and bad people who do bad. This is so overly general yet so very true. The memory of his mother follows him always, and it's easy to see why. The portrayal of Rizwan's childhood is wonderful. His relationship with the love of his life, Mandira, a young and vibrant single mother who works as a hairdresser and who ultimately agrees to marry him, is totally charming.
The narrative style is exemplary. The serious proceedings are flavoured with humour, romance and some wonderful songs. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy create another magical soundtrack and give life to the film with such tracks as "Sajda", "Noor-E-Khuda" and "Tera Naina Re". The fact that songs are playing only over montage sequences letting the actors no chance to lip-sync in a true Hindi film style, is appreciable but I, for one, at points really missed the glamorous and colourful numbers from mainstream films, the more so as it stars Shahrukh Khan and Kajol after so many years.
The film clearly works better in the first half. It is much simpler, lighter and more enjoyable. The later half introduces the post-9/11 America with all of its disturbing images of discrimination, mindless attacks and murder. Johar's depiction of this phase is quite flawed though as a film it works. From one side we have Rizwan who goes to tell the world of his complete innocence and his not being a terrorist, and from the other we see his wife Mandira who seeks justice post a very tragic incident of which she blames Khan himself. Sadly most American characters are portrayed as stereotypes, especially the teenagers, although it's forgivable within the context of the film.
Khan's journey in the US is enjoyable. It unfolds in several episodes, each one presenting the different people he meets on his way, all quite caricaturish: a motel owner named Jitesh, a lovely Muslim couple who offer him some food, a group of Islamists led by Faisal Rahman whom Khan reports to FBI in order to destroy their violent plans. The most memorable episode, however, is that of Mama Jenny and her son 'Funny Hair' Joel from the rural Wilhemina, Georgia, which is incredibly heart-touching despite being stereotypical to the core. The story of Mamma Jenny is moving, and Johar captures the spirit of the village and its people with skill. The gospel choir in the church singing "We Shall Overcome" is one of my favourite scenes in the film.
Well, there comes the acting. Shahrukh Khan's appearance in this film in this kind of a role has been the subject of much attention, and rightfully so. This is clearly one of his most challenging roles. He is really good. It's amazing to see him transform from the biggest star in the world into a simple autistic man and play it with conviction. His mannerisms, body language, tone, dialogue delivery and his occasional breaks into timid and embarrassed laughs are all spot on and make his character extremely likable and endearing. This is not his best performance, but it's interesting and more than anything, he still manages to be a star, which is a good thing.
As expected, he is totally matched if not surpassed by Kajol, whose charismatic nature, easy charm, evident experience and strong screen presence all rally here into one heartbreaking performance that is replete with authenticity, maturity and strength. As Mandira, she looks incredibly beautiful and is as natural, intense and compelling as ever, playing the part with passion and depth and infusing it with energy and warmth. In some moments she outdoes herself. No, I'm not only referring to her powerful breakdown scenes (which are great), but also the many scenes showing her interaction with Khan. Note for instance the one in which she promptly decides to accept his earnest proposal. It's one of their best moments together.
Johar selected a great supporting cast. Every actor, no matter how lengthy his character is, performs well. Zarina Wahab is outstanding in a brief but memorable role as Rizwan's caring and loving mother. Jimmy Shergill is very effective as Rizwan's brother Zakeer, who has always felt deprived by his mother because of his brother's mental disorder. Sonya Jehan is superb as Zakeer's wife Haseena and acts with grace. So is Katie A. Keane who plays Mandira's friend, Sarah. Tanay Chheda is first-rate as the young Rizwan. Jennifer Echols is lovable as Mamma Jenny.
To sum it up, My Name is Khan is a nice film and an altogether worthy effort even if not a particularly good film in and of itself. It is interesting for the most part, quite entertaining throughout, and it may definitely make some look at certain things differently. It is well performed and is beautifully shot. Kudos to all involved in the technical area. But above all, it works because of Mr. and Mrs. Khan, who steal the show and take over the film itself and the faulty script. Watch it for them, I recommend you to see their story.
- May 1, 2010