My Name is Khan is a film that comes tantalisingly close to perfection but misses out due to a mixture of a disappointing third act over simplified view of the world. Nevertheless it is an excellent film, telling the story of a pre and post-9/11 world through the eyes of Indian’s living in
Rizwan Khan (Shahrukh Khan) is a mildly autistic Muslim man who moves to
the death of his mother in .
There, he meets and falls in love with a Hindu woman Mandira (Kajol) who works
as a successful hairdresser in India . The film is split into three very distinct
acts with the first being an often light hearted, cute and funny look at
romance, tolerance and love. Khan says that the western world views history in
two epochs; BC and AD but he would add a third, 9/11. Following 9/11 the lives
of the Indian characters, whether Sikh, Hindu or Muslim change for the worse as
racial profiling, racist attacks and xenophobia takes hold thanks to the
anti-Muslim hysteria of the post-9/11 world. There is an appalling tragedy
around the halfway mark which sets up the third act in which Khan travels San
Francisco to meet
the President and tell him “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist”. America
The film is at times incredibly funny, wonderfully sweet and depressingly sad and manages to switch between these states many times. The story is engaging and despite being a long film (over two and a half hours) it never feels boring or tiresome. It is a little predictable at times and at others, frustratingly over simplified but on the whole, wonderfully entertaining. One of the great strengths is that the film shows the audience the world from the point of view of normal Americans who happen to have a different religion or skin colour than ‘the norm’. Sadly no matter what religion they are, they are referred to as ‘Packies’ or ‘Terrorists’ and even endure unimaginable hardship as a result. The film goes to great lengths to present the view that there are only two types of people in the world - good people and bad people. This is completed in a simple but effective way through the good deeds of Khan. The film also draws parallels between African Americans and Muslims to show the racial intolerance faced by both communities. Using Hurricane Katrina like scenes, the two communities are able to come together with mutual respect and high regard.
As well as the themes of tolerance and religion the film also studies autism. There is a disclaimer before the opening credits which states that the central character has a mild form of Asperger Syndrome and every effort has been made to portray this accurately while not making light of the illness. I think that the film managed this very well. It isn’t afraid to enjoy a laugh at the illness but it never does so in a cruel way. Khan’s intelligent but sometimes childlike view of the world is the driving force behind the film as he doesn’t see people as black, white, Christian, Muslim or whatever. He sees them as good or bad and it was a clever device by the film makers to use in order to put forward their ideas.
Shahrukh Khan is sublime as Rizwan and fully deserves the awards which were bestowed upon him. This was the first Bollywood movie I’d ever seen but it’s no wonder he is known as ‘The King of Bollywood’. The beautiful and talented Kajol is also excellent as love interest Mandira. Both performances help propel the form and give it the emotional and comic edge which helps to push it above the mainstream tearjerker movies. Something else which stands out is the music. I’m a fan of Indian music anyway but here it matches the tone perfectly, changing with the peaks and troughs in the plot. Both my girlfriend and I were tapping our toes from start to finish. The soundtrack is available to buy and I highly recommend giving it a listen.
As good as the film is there are a few problems. At times the plot and ideas are far too simplified and also sometimes a little biased. Personally I don’t mind a little bias on the side the film lands on but it became far too obvious. Another disappointment was the noticeable product placement for a popular sports brand. My main problem came with a scene very late on and due to its importance I don’t want to give much away. What I will say is that despite being a major news item and huge disaster I found it odd that people from all over the US were able to get ‘there’ before emergency services. This sequence was also one of the scenes which were most obviously biased in favour of the Indian characters.
Overall My Name is Khan is a well made and interesting film with a solid message at its core. It is well acted and features plenty of laughs as well as scenes which will make people (my girlfriend) cry. What’s frustrating is that with just a little more effort it could have been one of the best movies I’ve seen in ages but a few bad decisions let it down. Even so, it is a film which I recommend wholeheartedly to anyone who hasn’t seen a Bollywood film before. As an entry film I doubt there are many better. My Name is Khan is a film which successfully teaches its audience a lot about Islam and tolerance and I’m glad I finally saw it.