My Name is Khan…

I am not a film critic. So do not expect dissections of camera angles, technique, script loopholes, dialog, set design, editing and all that blah! All I can comment on, is my own personal experience and that depends on a lot of factors unrelated to the actual movie itself! Company matters! Mood of the moment matters! Personal history matters! The quality of Popcorn matters! And so does air conditioning! Oh don’t laugh! You try sitting through  a marathon 4 hours of KANK without the AC – agony!! KJo movies are never to be watched without an AC people 😉

So, to this movie, which has created such stir in our neighboring state of Maharashtra. I enjoyed it! Uh huh – yup I did! Finally KJo and SRK manage to make a movie that has a story worth telling (definitely a first!), isn’t peopled with stereotypes (well some) and doesn’t bring on nausea from all the mush! The word that comes to mind is balance – I thought this movie had a good balance of commercial Bollywood (provided by the much-hyped SRK – Kajol re-pairing after a long hiatus) and interesting cinema (a good story). Could it have been better – Much! Can’t everything? But it’s a good effort and for once I wasn’t tearing out my hair in frustration over inane dialog and over-the top emotions – hallmarks of previous KJo movies!

Enjoyed the opening sequences – found them quite gripping and was interested in the main character right away –  eager to hear his story. My favorite scenes in the whole movie are those that have Zarina Wahab in them 🙂 As mother to the autistic Rizwan, she is superlative giving a finely nuanced performance. I wish she had a longer role! Am I glad KJo chose to cast her and not his standard mother – Kiron Kher, a fine actress though she may be! Her scenes with SRK are the highlight of the movie for me – she brings out the best in her son, she teaches him, nurtures him, loves him and is fearless on his behalf. Enjoyed her scene with Mr. Wadia the Parsi teacher, where she convinces him to give her son a much needed, well deserved break. I guess the family unit touched my heart because it was reminiscent of my own in a way…I felt for Jimmy Shergil – the normal younger brother who feels neglected and unloved and is resentful of his mother’s preoccupation with her older, needier son. I know what that feels like first hand. It’s not easy to admit, for fear of appearing uncaring and unloving of one’s much adored, even revered sibling, but it does happen and it is hard.

After his mother’s death, Rizwan and the movie shift to the US. We are introduced to Kajol and her son Sammy (great young actor!) and the love story begins…not a bad one as far as love stories go and thankfully none of the sappiness made famous in KJo’s previous flicks! It is refreshing to see a divorced, successful, single mom living it up in San Francisco and enjoying every bit of it! The lady has oodles of spunk and later in the movie, to his misfortune and our horror, we see that her son has it too! She also by the way has a fabulous coat wardrobe 😉  So after the mandatory song and dance (toned down though it is) he proposes, she capitulates, they move into the requisite suburban paradise and All is Well 😉 The obvious, ‘Muslim man marries Hindu girl’  angle, is never in your face, just conveyed through the normal fabric of this multi-racial family, where Sammy receives daily blessings from a ‘puja’ thaly, and the holy Quran. It’s almost normal.

Enter 9/11. And of course everything changes. It’s been 9 years and I still stare in suspended disbelief every time I see those towers come down! I honestly don’t know how this could have happened, how we as a people could have let this happen in our lifetime! Baffles me every time. The whole post 9/11 scenario is scarily familiar – I was on my first visit to the US and we were at the Niagara Falls, having arrived on 9/10. Eerie it was – watching those buildings collapse, those people jump, all those innocent lives – lost, like so much dust in the winds. And the silence that followed was worse – chaotic streets, flames everywhere, a nation stunned, initial inaction followed by ever increasing, all consuming paranoia. A sad, awful time…one of collective and personal tragedy.

I thought the movie did a good job of telling the collective story through a personal tragedy. The falling out of best friends Sam and Reese after Reese’s father’s death in Afghanistan and his lashing out at Sam. Sam’s efforts to make him understand and the tragedy that follows – like so many others – like 9/11 itself – utterly avoidable. Death scenes are hard for me now…and this one is particularly heart-breaking. The scene where Kajol is bathing her son’s still body, imploring him to come back is gut-wrenching…all I could see was my brother’s still form on his bed. And yet 9/11 is also the catalyst that unites the two estranged brothers – Zakir & Rizwan. I like that this was handled with minimal fuss.  The family is understandably torn apart after Sam’s loss and Mandira banishes Khan, giving him a task of Herculean proportions, if he wishes to have a life with her in the future.

The rest of the movie is dedicated to Khan’s journey – interesting in bits and pieces, as he tries to meet the US President and repeat his mantra, “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist.” I particularly liked the sequence in the mosque, where Rizwan explains the Quran and states a simple yet fundamental truth – The path of Islam is the path of Love. Amen! I thought the second visit to hurricane-hit Georgia could have been more tightly edited and perhaps avoided altogether, but hey – just my opinion!  Also the flip-flop of Mandira’s character is astonishing and convenienly manipulated to say the least. Totally out of character for the woman she seems to be in the first half! ‘I love him – I hate him – no wait – I love him again!’ KJo is at it again – anything for a happy ending 😉 And so to the end – after a stint in jail as a terror suspect (nicely done), and the whole of the US rooting for him (can’t take Bollywood out of KJo that easily 😉 ), our man is back with Mandira, who is ready to forgive and forget, now that Reese has led her to her son’s killers. Together they meet President Obama (an extremely sorry looking body double) and are duly honored. Of course, in true Bollywood fashion, the President who had initially left the venue returns (for no good reason other than KJo made it so!), so this meeting can take place and Khan and his wife walk right through the barriers, invited to do so by the Secret Service – again – suspended disbelief 😉

And so the journey ends in lover’s meetings 🙂 A good journey for the most part! SRK is good, but for me his best performance so far on film is Chak De and that hasn’t changed. My gold standard of an autistic character is Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man – unforgettably brilliant! Yes, I have high standards – so? I thought sometimes the effort of playing the character showed on screen – but I am glad that SRK is tapping into his acting skills. Long overdue! Kajol is not a favorite, but she’s a good actress and she’s her usual competent self in this movie, surprisingly understated and managing to tone down her screechy dialog delivery that turned me off in KKHH & K3G. Jimmy Shergil is alright in his miniscule role but the actress who plays his wife is very good indeed! Sammy is a doll and as mentioned before Zarina Wahab is excellent! The music, by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, especially Noor-E-Khuda, is pretty darn good 🙂 And the city of San Francisco provides picturesque locales, another requisite of KJo movies! I enjoyed the narrative script, in the form of Rizwan’s journal, well written, with wry wit and humor.

All in all, an enjoyable experience, made all the more so, cause I went prepared for a mindless KJo caper and was pleasantly surprised. Borrowing from Rizwan’s ammi, I would put it like this, “There are only two kinds of movies in the world. Good movies and bad movies.” This is a good one 🙂 Kudos!

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