Rizwan Khan, afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome, sets out on a historic journey to meet the US President, when his world takes a somersault after 9/11. His wife, Mandira, meanwhile tries to cope with her grief and come to terms with the new racially-divided reality.
Ok, let's get this straight from the very beginning. It's Khan, from the epiglotis (read deep, inner recesses), not `kaan' from the any-which-way, upper surface. In other words, it's the K-factor -- Karan (Johar) and Khan (Shah Rukh) -- like you've never seen, sampled and savoured before. My Name is Khan is indubitably one of the most meaningful and moving films to be rolled out from the Bollywood mills in recent times. It completely reinvents both the actor and the film maker and creates a new bench mark for the duo who has given India some of the crunchiest popcorn flicks. This time round, it's a whole new mantra for the two moguls and the Indian movie industry per se which might henceforth go something like: My name is Bollywood and I'm not just an entertainer. I have a whole lot to say and I'll say it in style....
The high point of the film are its performances. Shah Rukh Khan's Rizwan Khan and Kajol's Mandira cannot easily be forgotten and you end up carrying them out of the audi with you. As is Zarina Wahab's Ammi who articulates an almost perfect prototype of the perfect Indian as Shah Rukh Khan's mom: completely rooted in her culture and yet, completely secular. Add to this the film maker's eye for detail which not only sweeps across contemporary history, but also creates startling vignettes with scenes that question, challenge, debate and debunk established myths, and you have a cinema that inspires, moves, motivates and forces you to think. All this, even as it entertains. For, nowhere does the film get heavy or pedantic, despite taking on the arduous task of telling you, in plain terms, that tolerance is the indispensable virtue for the 21st century which can have no place for fundoos, regionalists, communalists, casteists, gender, class and cultural chauvinists. Let them all rest in peace while the rest of the world moves forward.
But more than everything, it is the searing simplicity of Karan Johar's narration that scintillates. Choosing a protagonist who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome seems to be a deliberate move on the part of the film maker and it works like a master stroke. One of the most seminal scenes in the film entails a young Shah Rukh (Tanay Chheda) turning back from his balcony, spewing the hate-filled abuses he's just heard in the streets below which are getting violent and bloodied with an ongoing communal riot. His mother takes him in, draws a match stick figure with a stick and another with a lollypop and asks the young Rizwan to pick out who's the Hindu and who's the Muslim from the picture. Can't tell...both are the same...the stick man is bad, the lollypop man is good...mutters Rizzu. And that remains the most important lesson of his life which a mumbling, fumbling, awkward, socially inept hero carries like a golden talisman through his monumental life. One which simply says: the world is divided into good men and bad men. Period. No other differences matter. Isn't that a lesson we'd like everyone to learn. And if it means getting back to the basics, to mum's bedside tutorials, so be it.
My Name is Khan unfolds essentially as a love story. Rizwan, the boy-with-a-difference, grows up with his mother and younger brother in the back alleys of Mumbai. He is forced to join his brother (Jimmy Shergill, rightfully jealous with all the attention his elder sibling gets) in the US and sell his beauty products as part of the family business. On one such business meet, he meets up with the spirited hair dresser, Mandira who happens to be a single mom too.
Needless to say, he wants to move in with Mandira and her 13-year-old son, Sam, urging her to marry him and convincing her he won't take too much place because he's thin and undemanding. Cute! The entire love story proceeds like a dream: full of beans and beauty and before you know, it's tragedy time. The world discovers a new dateline -- 9/11 -- and hurtles towards divide and doom. Rizwan and his family are forced to bear the brunt of racial prejudice in an intensely personal way that brings down their citadel. Time for the handyman who "can repair anything" to move out on an impossible journey that hopes to end with setting the world right. All this, while wife Mandira devilishly battles her own demons and society fights its own ills.
The film takes on an expansive canvas: 9/11, post 9/11, racial abuse, draconian homeland security laws, a hysterical US jurisprudence, hurricane Katrina....Yet, it rarely loses focus -- just here and there, post-interval -- and remains primarily the story of a good man who wants to live in a good world with good people around him. The film is brimming over with scenes that relentlessly move you to tears, not because they are sad, but because they are uplifting, inspirational and just sometimes heart-rending. Performance-wise, this undoubtedly towers as Shah Rukh's best act. He never once loses grip on his character, despite the mannerisms, the awkward body language and the distinct speech style. Definitely, this one's a few miles ahead of even Tom Hank's Forrest Gump. Kajol's Mandira is a complete winner, with the actor pitching in such a restrained act in one of the most difficult scenes of the film, she simply blows you away. Zarina Wahab is unforgettable in a cameo and the kids are super. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's music score is apt, while Ravi Chandran's camera captures San Francisco like never before. But eventually it's Rizwan Khan who walks out with you, branding all the fundamentalists as 'Liars' and telling all those who doubt his integrity: My Name is Khan and I am not a terrorist, a non-Mumbaikar, or an unpatriotic Indian.
A word about
Performances: Shah Rukh is stupendous, Kajol mesmerising, Zarina Wahab moving and the kids -- Tanay and Yuvaan -- are brilliant. Not once does Shah Rukh lose his grip on the distinct character who has a distinct body language and a completely unchartered emotional graph.
Direction: Karan Johar comes of age. He tells a complex story with sparkling simplicity, without forgetting that cinema is primarily meant to entertain.
Story: Karan Johar and Shibani Batijha's script is expansive, covering several events that have made headlines in the recent past. Yet, it essentially remains a moving love story that moves you no end.
Dialogue: Niranjan Iyengar and Shibani Bathija have demystfied contemporary strife with polish, restraint and research.
Music: Shankar-Ehsan-Loy's audio track is brimming over with soulful, uplifting tracks like Noor-e-Khuda.
Cinematography: Ravi K Chandran creates a dreamy San Fransisco on canvas even as his Mumbai remains so real, so downtown, so back-alleyed.
Styling: Manish Malhotra and Shiraz Siddiqui go cosmo and chic with Kajol and nerdish with SRK. Perfectly apt.