My Name is Khan

Reviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 03/17/10 18:14:21

"Please, Mr. Johar…Your Name Is Karan, And You Are Not An Activist!"
1 stars (Total Crap)

Wait! Did I read the name of Syd Field there, the guru of screenplay writing, as a story consultant? Wait! Are those muted colours that Ravi Chandran has chosen to bathe his frames in? Wait! Is that an effectively scored segue-way from the opening expository shots and scene of the film into the protagonist’s flashback? Wait! Is that a restraint of melodrama that I sense in the treatment of the autistic child and his relationship with his mother? Wait! Is Karan Johar, he of la-la land fantasies and a few other private fetishes, going to make me eat my words? Is Karan Johar really going to make a serious film, and make it seriously work?

Wait! Is that 1983 I see listed as the year when Hindu-Muslim riots took place in Mumbai? Praise the lord; everything is fine with the world again. Karan Johar is still the clueless kid who’ll never grow past puberty. For a while there, he had me fooled. He had me believe that there was more to him beyond his Riverdale understanding of romance and Cosmopolitan view of adult relationships. But for a man who feels more comfortable setting his world in Manhattan and Frisco than anyplace beyond Juhu in Mumbai, I should have known better than to be led to believe better of him than he’s given reason to. Still sitting in his ivory tower then, where the riots in Mumbai apparently take place in 1983 and not 1993 for that would mean that Shahrukh’s Rizwan would be a decade younger than what he is and would hence have required a younger actor than Shahrukh which would be completely unimaginable and defeating the purpose of a K-Jo film, Karan Johar sets about this greatest of his cinematic endeavours- to convince everyone that he’s finally come of age and grown up. Of course, as it turns out by the end of the film, and as it did by the end of his previous Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (Never Say Goodbye), it is a teenaged exercise of checking for facial hair every morning in the bathroom mirror.

So you have Shahrukh Khan playing a man with Asperger’s. Why? Because it wouldn’t be grown up to have him playing Rahul again now, would it? And while the handicap does present Shahrukh to play a character for change than just play his trademark charm, it adds nothing to the story in terms of metaphor or subtext. If I pressed myself really hard to read something into it, it would be that a liberal Muslim is so because he is unable to react emotionally as normal Muslims do and is hence smarter for that. That he gets to channel Dustin Hoffman and also get nominated come year-end for a host of awards is the other reason behind his having the said syndrome. And then there’s Kajol who screams, screeches and overacts her way through the film ensuring that she denies Karan Johar any attempt to break away from melodrama or be subtle. Subtlety comes as unnaturally to this woman as monogamy to Tiger Woods. If ever there is someone who can make listening to nails being scratched against a glass surface a proposition worth considering then it is Kajol employing her lungs to their fullest.

So the socially challenged Rizwan meets the single-mom Mandira and they get married. I must admit that Karan Johar and his writers make this plausible enough by adding a nice psychological touch to the foundation of their relationship. Mandira doesn’t so much accept him for her husband as much as she takes him on as a second son, a sibling to her child. There is a lovely scene where she tries to control her little kid and Rizwan at the same time. There are other moments, like when she comes home and finds them both playing with their X-Box’s. Their relationship makes the first half decent, and it would have perhaps been a far better film to see the relationship between a normal woman and an autistic man. But then that would again rob the film of its primary purpose- to allow its protagonist, and by extension Shahrukh, a journey across America, the America that Karan Johar conjures up, to emerge as a hero. And what a journey it is!

So after having been shooed off by her wife to get a seal of approval from the President of the United States (if only all wives demanded this little) and only then return, Rizwan sets off on his journey- a journey that is financed by his ability to put science to everyday use. Oh, didn’t I tell you? Rizwan is good with machines and knows how to employ hard scientific facts to practical usage like using a cycle to draw out water from a flooding building, etc. Wait! Is he autistic or is he an ‘idiot’? Anyway, in a second half that has already derailed and gone off course, the film takes a further detour into Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Rizwan ventures into a make-believe Georgia town in the South where the African-American folks act and behave in a manner that made me wonder if Rizwan had time-travelled as well! Straight out of a 50s film then, Mama Jennie (stereotypically Big Momma) and her son Funny Hair Joel (oh, come on) offer Rizwan shelter and women’s dressing (don’t ask why…I’ve heard there are extended outtakes with Shahrukh in multiple women’s wear shot exclusively to be a part of Karan’s personal bedside collection!). In return, he mouths an eulogy that makes those present sing an acapella to the tune of Hum Honge Kamyaab (We Shall Overcome)! Rizwan is back on his journey following this WTF diversion. But there are plenty more WTFs in store, including one that causes him to return to Big Momma’s ole town and rescue its people from a hurricane that is curiously dangerous enough for locals to be unable to get out of it but just enough for outsiders to get in! So there are no army choppers in sight to rescue, but enough choppers to cover the rescue operation engineered by Rizwan that puts his earlier bicycle use to greater effect! See how it all comes around! Ain’t it a clever screenplay? This is what you get for hiring Syd Field.

I wonder whom they hired to get a group of terrorists dumb enough to discuss their plans in broad daylight in a mosque no less! Or were they unafraid because they believed that every Muslim is a terrorist anyway? Johar’s imagined United States is also full of snarling white Americans, except an odd beautician at a salon or so. Maybe this is Karan’s way of saying that beauty is not just skin deep! Anyway, to proceed with Rizwan’s journey (aren’t you following it and rooting for him?), he now has popular support as well. So there are random insertions of members of the Asian Diaspora legitimizing Rizwan’s agenda to meet the President. “What’s wrong in wanting to meet a President?” they question. Nothing, except I’m not sure if we elect Presidents to take house-calls on every husband who’s been shooed off for whatever reason.

Wouldn’t it have been better if Johar would have just made a film about a man who loses his wife’s out-of-circulation Gucci purse at the airport and is admonished by her to never return until he gets it back, and his journey takes him across the fashion world till he meets Gucci in person only to proclaim My Name Is Khan, And I’m Not Straight!

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