A man travels across the United States on a quest. Along the way, he meets a variety of colorful characters and despite a possibly debilitating condition, manages to influence the entire nation for the better and win back his love. Sound familiar? Of course it sounds familiar, it’s the plot of Forrest Gump, err, My Name is Khan, which centers around a South Asian family torn apart after 9/11.
This past weekend, I braved the icy roads with members of my family and a rabid-SRK teenage fan from my church to go to a half-empty theater in Philadelphia and watch the movie I’ve been blogging about since September. As an American-born South Asian, I was curious to see how Indian director Karan Johar, whose prior experience consists only of making three romantic-comedy-type films, would portray America and especially the events surrounding 9/11. I came away with mixed feelings. On one hand, the child in me rejoices at the familiarity of SRK and Kajol cavorting onscreen in their old manner. I found Khan’s portrayal of Rizvan Khan, a Muslim American salesman with Asperger’s moving, (especially given my own experience with an autistic family member) whereas the hysterics of Kajol’s character Mandira, a Hindu single-mother, would have been more effective if underplayed. Then again, Bollywood movies have never been anything if not excessive and melodramatic.
Putting aside the inherent flaws in logic and the overacting, my biggest problem with MNIK was the many topics Johar attempted to squeeze onscreen. (Although one would think he could’ve managed it in three hours, really.) The first half of the film focuses on 9/11, then abruptly switches over to focus on Hurricane Katrina. And don’t forget the Islam. The Judaism. The Christianity. (There’s a scene where Rizvan’s character is denied entry to a political fundraiser because he’s not Christian, which I found totally implausible.) Johar’s attempt to tie up loose ends through Rizvan’s interactions with Presidents Bush and Obama falls miserably flat.
And then there is the racism. Rizvan’s character, perhaps because of his Asperger’s, is given carte blanche by the writers when it comes to interactions with the film’s African American characters. I flinched when Khan repeatedly called one of the major characters ‘funny-haired’ and found himself mothered by a happy-go-lucky Aunt Jemima-ish mammy archetype in the Deep South. Hey Bollywood, black people in America don’t live in shacks. And they certainly don’t need a savior vis a vis SRK. Ironic that a film whose main goal is to decry the stereotyping of American Muslims itself stereotypes African Americans.
But don’t take my word for it, check out the reviews from other places. WARNING: SPOILERS!
The New York Times writes “At its best “My Name Is Khan,” set mainly in America, is an affecting fairy tale about the perils of goodness.” [Link.]
MTV Iggy’s review states “You don’t see a Bollywood film for narrative coherence and logic, you watch in order to dreamily escape humdrum reality, to live vicariously through those larger-than-life stars as they lip-sync their passion, swirl in spangled saris, beat up the bad guys (dishoom! dishoom!), and after many tears and fateful near-misses, reunite happily.” [Link.] (They also did a great video interview with SRK in the back of a taxi cab in NYC that you HAVE to check out.)
Blogger Ramchand writes, “The songs lacked subtitles, and for those who need the subs, they’re losing out on a whole dimension here…It’s to be noted that unlike traditional Bollywood there’s no lip-sync song and dance here, it’s all background music, which has worked well.” [Link.]
Variety says “This riotously overstuffed and enormously enjoyable drama races forward with incredible drive as its Muslim protag seeks out the U.S. president to give him one message: “My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist.” [Link.]