My Name is Khan: Review Roundup

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.]

And finally, if you’ve seen the film, enjoy this BRILLIANT comic by the talented Sahil Rizwan. Truly hilarious. I’m still laughing.

48 thoughts on “My Name is Khan: Review Roundup

  1. I am surprised MNK Review Roundup becomes a blog on SM. I beleive it is another bollywood movie…why so much hype…I can see SRK/KJ making hype for marketing…

  2. Okay. I cannot believe I am about to say one single WORD in defense of this movie, but, here goes: I can totally see an autistic person saying “funny-haired” about an African-American person if they were seeing one for the first time. My (autistic) daughter actually yelled, “Hey! Old lady! I like your brown shoes!” in a store the other day to a woman who, though white-haired, wasn’t actually old. A woman with burn scars on her face was treated to my (also autistic) son giggling and saying, “What a weird face.” Neither of these overtures, however, were received with anything like understanding or tolerance, despite the fact that they were from young children. (We live in a mid-size Tennessee town, 97% white; when we went to Charleston my son also commented, “There are a lot of brown people here.”)

    So while it is HIGHLY unlikely that a grown man who’d spent time going door-to-door in the San Francisco area had never seen an African-American (or his/her hair) before, and even more unlikely that they wouldn’t educate him quickly, and probably not at all kindly, on why he doesn’t get to say “funny hair,” I don’t think that was a stretch of characterization. I guess I’m not so much saying it to defend MNIK, which sounds egregious and which I have no wish to see, as I am kind of trying to send out a general plea for understanding of autistic people. :-)

    BTW, Sahil’s comic is a thing of beauty.

  3. Ajnabi not sure if you are aware of this but if not perhaps you may want to check this out for your children who have autism: “Clinical Effectiveness of Neurofeedback in Treating High-Functioning Autism or Asperger’s Disorder” http://www.drakeinstitute.com/clinical_effectiveness_autism_treatment.asp

    MNIK – reading those reviews, I couldn’t help but wonder if toned down their criticisms because this was a Bollywood film about discrimination in America. If the same film had been done by a white director and American film crew with the Indian actors would it have been received the same? I haven’t seen the film. I am not sure I want to because SRK is not a favorite for me. But hopefully some of my friends will and they will be straight shooting.

  4. It’s to be noted that unlike traditional Bollywood there’s no lip-sync song and dance here, it’s all background music

    Yes, that fixes it. It’s all good now.

  5. I don’t think that was a stretch of characterization.

    Thanks for sharing your personal experience, ajnabi. It’s refreshing to hear from others who actually deal with folks who have autism. It was the overall treatment of the African-American characters (Obama withstanding, but I suppose that’s because his character was only onscreen for all of a minute), that struck me as offensive. Not just Joel, but his mother and others in the community.

  6. While this film did have its fair share of problems, calling the African American character “funny haired” was the least of my problems with it. Because let’s be honest, he did have funny hair, regardless of his race. For a character with Asperger’s, like Rizwan Khan, or even someone “neurotypical,” but lacking social grace, to make this statement is certainly no huge stretch of the imagination if you ask me.

  7. “As an American-born South Asian”….just rolls right off the tongue. Seriously, you guys can’t be that insecure about your nationalities.

  8. @Razib- ur at it again :D logged onto SepiaMutiny after a long time- and there u are with your acerbic but bang on target statements ! LOL

  9. logged onto SepiaMutiny after a long time

    if you’re “logging on” to sepia mutiny, you’re doing it wrong.

    calling the African American character “funny haired” was the least of my problems with it.

    did don imus write the script of this one?

  10. Phillygrrl – thanks for this review, esp. since i wasn’t interested in seeing this movie because of the high likelihood that the aspergher’s element would be mishandled. helps to know that somebody with personal experience didn’t think so.

    Ironic that a film whose main goal is to decry the stereotyping of American Muslims itself stereotypes African Americans.

    but not surprising, no? indians often love to cry racism when they are the victims, but conveniently overlook or deny their own racist actions and tendencies. beyond these comments in the movie,one of the things that bothers me about many indian movies is the awkward portrayal of america and certain of its dynamics. esp.w/ karan johar – he talks so much about how he loves ny,usa etc, but then we have geographically illogical scenes (e.g. where one of his character steps out from their apartment in queens directly into grand central), or some terrible american accent voiceover(or idiotic dialogue given to american characters), or (maybe to avoid this), an entire conversation amongst non-desi college students in hindi (in the recently released kurbaan – wtf?).

  11. or (maybe to avoid this), an entire conversation amongst non-desi college students in hindi

    To be fair, this is not unlike how Nazi soldiers always prefer to speak English with German accents in American films.

    Or how Roman Emperors, for some reason, always speak the Queen’s English, even if it’s an American production!

  12. Now, this must have been the most annoying movie I have ever seen. It’s mostly a movie that reaffirms Indian stereotypes of the US. Wich perhaps is the only thing I can say in MNIK defense, you could see it as a payback for all, movies, books, news stories reaffirming western stereotypes about India.

  13. “To be fair, this is not unlike how Nazi soldiers always prefer to speak English with German accents in American films. “

    Also, as a kid I noticed all the ‘evil’ characters in cartoons have English accents…

  14. To be fair, this is not unlike how Nazi soldiers always prefer to speak English with German accents in American films.

    this must be because the nazis were subjected to what shilip astutely identified as our collective colonialization by america.

  15. (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.)

    I have not seen this movie, so I cannot presume the context…but there are PLENTY of religio-political functions and fundraisers in the US that would definitely deny entry to people with a MOOZlim name (or a sikh wearing their turban, or a butch-y girl, or any brown person with a beard).

  16. To be fair, this is not unlike how Nazi soldiers always prefer to speak English with German accents in American films.

    or speak english with a german accent. or speak english with an american accent. i saw the trailer for valkyrie and was extremely confused as to how these characters could all be german. basically, it looked like they just gave up bothering with even attempting to fill the void between actor and character. on the other hand, kurbaan was one of the few indian movies where an actor who grew up in india (vivek oberoi) was able to pass by with an acceptable american accent

  17. or speak english with a german accent. or speak english with an american accent.

    That’s actually relatively new and I praise Hollywood for it. If we’re going to have them speak English so American ears can more easily understand it, just let them speak English. Shakespeare didn’t write Julius Caesar in Latin did he? The point of a story is to, well, tell a story. I get accurate depictions of the real world every time I go outside and, for the most part, it’s kind of boring.

  18. That’s actually relatively new and I praise Hollywood for it. If we’re going to have them speak English so American ears can more easily understand it, just let them speak English. Shakespeare didn’t write Julius Caesar in Latin did he? The point of a story is to, well, tell a story. I get accurate depictions of the real world every time I go outside and, for the most part, it’s kind of boring.

    yeah, but in this case, its kind ofmessed up. They have the good germans speakin in american accents. The bad germasn speak in german accents. Hollywoods message (as always), white ppl who look and sound like us are good. funny lookin and sounding ferners bad.

  19. They have the good germans speakin in american accents.

    I did not notice that.

    Hollywoods message (as always), white ppl who look and sound like us are good. funny lookin and sounding ferners bad.

    To be fair once again. . . they were Nazis. Like. . . literally Nazis.

  20. To be fair once again. . . they were Nazis. Like. . . literally Nazis.

    sure. but having the bad germans speaking in german accents and the good germans speaking in american accents just isnt fair. sure. the nazis are german. but why not give the good germans german accents as well… is it because god guys are always american sounding?

  21. sure. but having the bad germans speaking in german accents and the good germans speaking in american accents just isnt fair. sure. the nazis are german. but why not give the good germans german accents as well… is it because god guys are always american sounding?

    Like I said. I didn’t notice this thing he’s talking about. I haven’t seen the movie in over a year, but from what I remember everyone but the fat guy, Goebbels, and the guard captain were speaking American and there were more bad-guys than just them.

  22. i am very confused. julius caesar had nazis??? or are you guys talking about kurbaan? tom cruise wasn’t in that, was he?

  23. Or how Roman Emperors, for some reason, always speak the Queen’s English, even if it’s an American production!

    Malcolm McDowell played a fine Caligula. Or were you referring to Night at the Museum?

  24. Honestly, I was bored. I went with two packets of tissue paper, hoping to cry buckets but not a tear wet my eyes. SRK is stupendous and the songs are great but the movie hovers between art house and Bollywood, is neither here nor there and there are so many flaws in the script that it made me cringe. It is long and tedious. For once Kajol has gone overboard. The message is important and needed to be told and commercial success has nothing to do with a film being excellent-this one is mediocre at best. SRK has his loving audience and good on him. I think Hollywood reviews have been kind because they still look at it as mainstream Indian cinema so it can get away with all the stereotypes in the world. Are all the 3+ stars in the reviews for the attempt or because the film is entertaining? Perhaps I am the only one who gave it 2 stars in my FB review. Oh well, I was just disappointed. Karan Johar can do better.

  25. I can totally see an autistic person saying “funny-haired” about an African-American person if they were seeing one for the first time.

    Hpw about “funny-haired” for a blond or red haired white-american person? Wonder why the director Karan Johar did not have the actor say that?I think it is pretty obvious that the director of this typically dumb indian movie is doing what too many other stupid desis do: pandering to white racism. He and his ilk ignore facts such as:

    1. The most famous indian of all time, Buddha, had “funny hair” as well, and so does the greatest indian spiritual personality since the Buddha, Sai Baba. Taka a look:

    http://www.saisathyasai.com/baba/Ex-Baba.com/images/saibaba-lg2.jpg

    1. Australian aborigines have “good” indian hair and they are treated far worse than africans by whites.
  26. I saw it, and it was good, but it wasnt worth the hype defitnetly. Furthermore, the movie portrayed African Americans to be really poor and that they live in shacks. That “town” that Mama Jenny was from looked like something from Uncle Tom’s Cabin or some Civil War era settlement or something. Yeah, that part kinda made me upset. Definetly didnt look like anything close to modern Georgia or whatever. So i guess its some more pandering to Black stereotypes yet again by Bollywood…

  27. Was this a comedy? Honestly, there are too many layers going on in this film to allow it to be coherent and therefore enjoyable – a protagonist with Aspergers, post-9/11 world, terrorism, religious and political debate, all somehow tied in with a greater “love story.” Johar should of stuck to one rather than try to intermingle all of these thematic strands that make the trailer come off like a parody. The tagline itself is hilarious.

  28. Furthermore, the movie portrayed African Americans to be really poor and that they live in shacks. That “town” that Mama Jenny was from looked like something from Uncle Tom’s Cabin or some Civil War era settlement or something. Yeah, that part kinda made me upset. Definetly didnt look like anything close to modern Georgia or whatever. So i guess its some more pandering to Black stereotypes yet again by Bollywood…

    Very disgusting to propagate a lie like that so shamelessly. But isn’t that par for the course in Bollywood?

    The reality is that the worst african-american neighborhoods in America look rich and modern compared to 99% of the neighborhoods in the Indian subcontinent, including I bet the neighborhood in which the director Karan Johar grew up. They all have indoor toilets, running water, fridges, stoves, reliable electricity, garbage collection etc which are luxuries very few indians enjoy. Yet this creep acts as if indians are better off than african americans!

    Here is a pic of Karan Johar, the bottom one with three females. The guy looks sooo sleazy…..

    http://im.rediff.com/movies/2009/jan/29spotted3.jpg

  29. My sister is an extra in the film..at the scenes shot with “President Bush” at UCLA…apparently she’s behind SRK but i couldnt find her…the scene moves way too fast.

  30. It really is quite the most terrible movie I have seen a long time. The first half is lachrymose, the second half is downright cretinous. I found its depiction of America to be offensive in its caricature, and the depiction of an African American family, well, the less said the better. What annoys me is how self righteous and worthy the director has been about this terrible, awful, stupid film.

  31. Wow Jasmine, I am proud of you for being honest. I have not seen the movie but this is exactly my expecation because of hype around the movie. I saw Kurban few weeks back and that movie did not make any sense…I wonder what is wrong with K Johar..too busy with silly TV shows now

  32. What is most egregious is the self-righteousness of it, including the pompous self importance that Karan Johar has been proclaiming. For a movie that is supposed to be about how stereotypes are wrong, it perpetrates stereotypes and caricatures of America and Americans and Black Americans without any shame at all. It is worthy and self righteous because it believes its proclaimed ‘humanist’ message can over ride the utter artlessness and cringeworthy melodrama of it all. Not to mention how they make him a man with Aspergers, to hit the audience over the head even more with lachrymose sentimentality. So that we can be even more heartbroken at his pure innocence in a world of cruelty, and making those dastardly Americans even worse. A remorselessly terrible film that thinks wagging its finger at you is what makes it ‘important’. Even the issues it does didactically touch on are ill thought out and egregious.

    Seriously, a cringeworthy film on so many levels.

  33. Please read an email forward, that may be what it is…but the truth of it will never be told as it is not “fashionable!” Ahh….the shame of scorn from the so-called secular…they get into a knot if someone accuses them of turning a blind eye to other atrocities. My name is not Khan, I am Mr Kaul

    I am not Khan. My name bears a different set of four letters: K A U L. Kaul. As those who know Indian names would understand I happened to be born in a family which was called Hindu by others. Hence, we were sure, we would never get a friend like KJ to make a movie on our humiliations, and the contemptuous and forced exile from our homeland. It’s not fashionable. It’s fashionable to get a Khan as a friend and portray his agony and pains and sufferings when he is asked by a US private to take off his shoes and show his socks. Natural and quite justifiable that Khan must feel insulted and enraged. Enough Masala to make a movie.

    But unfortunately I am a Kaul. I am not a Khan.

    Hence when my sisters and mothers were raped and killed, when six-year-old Seema was witness to the brutal slaughtering of her brother, mother and father with a butcher’s knife by a Khan, nobody ever came to make a movie on my agony, pain and anguish, and tears.

    No KJ would make a movie on Kashmiri Hindus. Because we are not Khans. We are Kauls.

    When we look at our own selves as Kauls, we also see a macabre dance of leaders who people Parliament. Some of them were really concerned about us. They got the bungalows and acres of greenery and had their portraits were worshipped by the gullible devotees of patriotism.

    They made reservations in schools and colleges for us. In many many other states. But never did they try that we go back to our homes. They have other priorities and ‘love your jihadi neighborhood’ programmes. They get flabbier and flabbier with the passing of each year, sit on sacks of sermons; issue instructions to live simply and follow moral principles delivered by ancestors and kept in documents treated with time-tested preservatives.

    They could play with me because my name is Kaul. And not Mr Khan. I saw the trailer to this fabulous movie, which must do good business at the box office.

    There was not even a hint that terror is bad and it is worse if it is perpetuated in the name of a religion that means Peace. Peace be upon all its followers and all other the creatures too.

    So you make a movie on the humiliation of taking off shoes to a foreign police force which has decided not to allow another 9/11.

    The humiliation of taking off the shoes and the urge to show that you are innocent is really too deep. But what about the humiliation of leaving your home and hearth and the world and the relatives and wife and mother and father? And being forced to live in shabby tents, at the mercy of nincompoop leaders encashing your misery and bribe-seeking babus? And seeing your daughters growing up too sudden and finding no place to hide your shame? No KJ would ever come forward to make a movie, a telling, spine-chilling narration on the celluloid, of five-year-old Seema, who saw her parents and brother being slaughtered by a butcher’s knife in Doda. Because her dad was not Mr Khan. He was one Mr Kaul.

    Sorry, Mr Kaul and your entire ilk. I can’t help you.

    It’s not fashionable to side with those who are Kauls. And Rainas. And Bhatts. Dismissively called KPs. KPs means Kashmiri Pandits. They are a bunch of communalists. They were the agents of one Mr Jagmohan who planned their exodus so that Khans can be blamed falsely. In fact, a movie can be made on how these KPs conspired their own exile to give a bad name to the loving and affectionate Khan brothers of the valley.

    To voice the woes of Kauls is sinful. The right course to get counted in the lists of the Prime Minister’s banquets and the President’s parties is to announce from the roof top: hey, men and ladies, I am Mr Khan.

    The biggest apartheid the state observes is to exclude those who cry for Kauls, wear the colours of Ayodhya, love the wisdom of the civilisational heritage, dare to assert as Hindus in a land which is known as Hindustan too and struggle to live with dignity as Kauls. They are out and exiled. You can see any list of honours and invites to summits and late-evening gala parties to toast a new brand. All that the Kauls are allowed is a space at Jantar Mantar: shout, weep and go back to your tents after a tiring demonstration. Mr Kaul, you have got a wrong name.

    A dozen KJs would fly to take you atop the glory – posts and gardens of sympathies if you accept to wear a Khan name and love a Sunita, Pranita, Komal or a Kamini. Well, here you have a sweetheart in Mandira. That goes well with the story.

    And you pegged the movie plot on autism.

    I wept. It was too much. I wept as a father of a son who needed a story as an Indian. Who cares for his autistic son, his relationship with the western world, his love affair with a young sweet something as a human, as someone whose heart goes beyond being a Hindu, a Muslim or a proselytizing Vatican-centric aggressive soul. Not the one who would declare in newspaper interviews: “I think I am an ambassador for Islam”. Shah Rukh is Shah Rukh, not because he is an ambassador for Islam. If that was true, he could have found a room in Deoband. Fine enough. But he became a heartthrob and a famousl star because he is a great actor. He owes everything he has to Indians and not just to Muslims. We love him not because he is some Mr Khan. We love him because he has portrayed the dreams, aspirations, pains, anguish and ups and downs of our daily life. As an Indian. As one of us. If he wants to use our goodwill and love for strengthening his image as an ambassador for Islam, will we have to think to put up an ambassador for Hindus? That, at least to me, would be unacceptable because I trust everyone: a Khan or a Kaul or a Singh or a Victor. Who represents India represents us all too, including Hindus. My best ambassadorship would be an ambassadorship for the tricolour and not for anything else because I see my Ram and Dharma in that. I don’t think even an Amitabh or a Hritik would ever think in terms Shah Rukh has chosen for himself. But shouldn’t these big, tall, successful Indians who wear Hindu names make a movie on why Kauls were ousted? Why Godhra occurred in the first place? Why nobody, yes, not a single Muslim, comes forward to take up the cause of the exiled and killed and contemptuously marginalized Kauls whereas every Muslim complainant would have essentially a Hindu advocate to take on Hindus as fiercely as he can?

    If you are Mr Khan and found dead on the railway tracks, the entire nation would be shaken. And he was also a Rizwan. May be just a coincidence that our Mr Khan in the movie is also a Rizwan.

    Rizwan’s death saw the police commissioner punished and cover stories written by missionary writers. But if you are a Sharma or a Kaul and happened to love an Ameena Yusuf in Srinagar, you would soon find your corpse inside the police thana and NONE, not even a small-time local paper would find it worthwhile to waste a column on you. No police constable would be asked to explain how a wrongly detained person was found dead in police custody?

    Because the lover found dead inside a police thana was not Mr Khan. No KJ would ever come forward to make a movie on ‘My name is Kaul. And I am terror-struck by Khans’.

    Give me back my identity as an Indian, Mr Khan and I would have no problem even wearing your name and appreciating the tender love of an autistic son.

  34. Yes, justiceforall, but how did you like Shayrukh Khan? Wasn’t he the complete package of kickass awesomeness? Woo-hoo!

  35. You are so right. How can a movie supposed to denounce prejudices and discrimination carry such a racist image of black people? Imaging black community according to stupid and false prejudices: they’re poor and still live like in deep south of 1902. So disappointing, I used to think this cast and filmaker were intelligent people … I won’t repeat my mistake. I would just like to add concerning the funny hair thing, if you really live in america the way the character seems to have been living, then you’re in touch with the media where you see black people (TV, press, internet, whatever). So stop this ridiculous excuse of him not having seen any black person yet, it sounds of really bad faith. When you want to decry stereotypes you make sure not to undertake them yourself com’on!