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My Name Is Khan

Lead Actors: Shah Rukh KhanKajol
Genre: Drama

Launched amidst fanfare and controversies alike, My Name is Khan or MNIK made enough news to grab eyeballs right in the first week creating some sort of viewership record (at least in North America). For the common Bollywood buff, the low-key shoot, low publicity did generate a certain amount of pre-release curiosity, but the bigger reasons must be Shah Rukh-Kajol pairing almost after a decade and Shah Rukh’s portrayal of an mildly-autistic person, suffering from Asperger’s syndrome.

The film comes from the KJo stable, so should have good amount of melodrama - Myth, busted. MNIK provides a great platform for Shah Rukh and Kajol’s reel romance to come of age. Their recent movies in the last 2 years or more haven’t portrayed any candy-floss romance, or pre-wedding blues leading to their unification. The story of the movie touches upon the family as a whole, and how a man and woman co-exist in a marriage, a person’s beliefs and their determination to keep their partner happy. A mildly-autistic Rizvan Khan grows up in India in a lower-middle-class Muslim household with a widowed mother and a younger brother, Zakir. Sibling Zakir constantly feels overshadowed by love of the mother for her elder, autistic child, and later leaves to US for a better life. Rizvan, who’s inherently smart is home-schooled by a local Parsi gentleman. While he learns science and arts from his teacher, mother gives gyaan on ethics and moral science.

With mother passing away, Rizvan who’s socially inept needs to be taken care of, and leaves to the San Francisco to live with his brother. Zakir is now a dealer of beauty products and asks Rizvan to help out by being a salesman. Zakir is already married to a Muslim woman, Rizvan, although new to the city, readily takes up the job and meets Mandira, who’s a stylist at a beauty parlor. They become friends, learn about each other more and eventually fall in love. Mandira is a divorcee and has a son from the previous wedding. Rizvan always walks on the line drawn by his mother, has little regard for social boundaries; proposes to marry Mandira. Although Zakir is not happy about the Hindu-Muslim betrothal, Rizvan moves in with Mandira and her son and they form very healthy relationships. All this, pre-9/11. In this meantime Mandira’s son Sameer is killed in a racial attack at school. Mandira accuses marriage with Rizvan being the reason for this consequence. Rizvan, who does not understand racism, fails at pacifying Mandira who in a fit of rage asks him to go prove to everyone, including the President of US that he’s innocent although a Muslim. Given his strong determination, Rizvan pursues this journey while Mandira tries to track the killers.

Being a big star outside of the movie world too, the image of confident individual is a great impression on the common folk. For a change, in MNIK, you’re not experiencing SRK’s star power; he has played a character with inabilities and phobias. His acting experience of 2 decades, being the midst of socially-powerful personalities in real life, and his inclination towards being a people-person shows very clearly through the character of Rizvan Khan. Rizvan has 5 main traits: (1) phobia of anything loud – noises, colours, fights, nagging, crowds (2) intelligence/ common sense + confidence(3) sense of humour (4) being 'human', love for peace (5) strong ethics (6) a secular yet devout Muslim.

SRK has displayed the above traits with great hand-eye motions and physical gestures. He had earlier stated in press that an actor’s checklist should comprise walking the walk of the character before anything else. SRK has nailed it with Rizvan’s body language and gait. Sometimes comical, the character reminds some of us of Mr. Bean. Rizvan has some speech issues, uses double-words yet speaks clearly with good deal of knowledge and vocabulary. SRK’s ‘trademark’ has been emotional scenes with some amount of weeping, but Rizvan is a diametrically opposite character who emotes his sadness through words since crying is his one of his disabilities. Rizvan is a stone when he loses people dear to him, but again it’s his inability. The movie has bits of tongue-in-cheek adult humour which is tastefully done. Rizvan moves confidently well with people he likes and in these scenes it’s as if SRK is being himself. Lastly, an attribute of SRK is to be the man in love. It shows, it grows. Rizvan does not have an ego, loves Mandira and just wants to see her happy. All through the movie, he sticks to his values and wants to prove that being human is the most important thing in life.

Kajol as Mandira is very refreshing. Her character is secondary to SRK’s given the storyline and purpose of the characters. Mandira is a single mother who’s seen quite a bit quite early in life. Along comes Rizvan who sweeps her off her feet with his simplicity, perspective about life, selflessness and a way with people. Mandira is a compassionate person who’s happy about most things in life. She’s is very happy after forming a family with Rizvan and son, Sameer. It’s known Kajol can do comedy and drama with equal élan. Her excitement for life, her interest in a beauty-salon career and a need for love, her sociable nature are all very visible. Kajol’s chemistry with SRK is worth noticing and is as magical as their DDLJ days. Scenes after Sameer passing away required Mandira to be a melancholic self, who is lost in negative thoughts and just wants to hold a grudge against Islam. Kajol’s scenes before Sameer’s death are probably more memorable than the others, probably because her smile and happy expressions make a bigger impression on the viewer.

The other characters are Zakir (Jimmy Shergill), Haseena(Sonya Jehan) and Sameer (Yuvaan Makaar). Jimmy has held his own in scenes with SRK too, but seems like a forgettable character, same is the case with Haseena who has interesting screen presence in the introductory scenes but fades out quickly. Sameer is present here and there with limited dialogues to mouth, but his screen presence has been adequately used to move the story along. Parveen Dabas, Arif Zakaria, Zarina Wahab have smaller roles but scenes with them are significant milestones in the story’s lifecycle. Especially commendable are the American actors Katie Keane (Rizvan’s neighbor Susan) and Jennifer Echol (Mama Jenny) who share great camaraderie with Indian actors.

Karan Johar or KJo has officially stepped out of his comfort zone with MNIK. This movie is not candy-floss, and at the least does not have an agenda for the actor and actress to ‘become one’ at the end. MNIK has a bigger message to deliver and it’s about crossing boundaries and religions to be more human. The story and screenplay are by Shibani Bathija. The movie begins with development of Rizvan’s character from his childhood and some of recent past with Mandira before landing onto the present. Rizvan is an intelligent person who can earn money repairing things and is confident of fending for himself. Rizvan believes in the importance of praying, and the gesture of being of help to others in need, and that’s how he earns admirers. KJo has done his research, used the right types of props and sets for the movie and has sketched a phoren land without the audience having to question the authenticity of events or life in US. In terms of screenplay, there may be a few superfluous scenes here and there – may be the birthday scene, praying scenes, knowledge-discussions between Rizvan and Mandira and few others which necessarily don’t add momentum to the story. But scenes where Rizvan’s praying or religious chanting is viewed suspiciously by frightened locals are well-portrayed. So are the scenes where Rizvan is detained for checking by Homeland Security or at the prison. Rizvan and Mandira don’t break into a song every 30mins (at all) and the movie has a realistic feel with songs in the background helping to propel the story. The story somewhat feels like a Forrest Gump, but at least our man has a specific mission!

Characters like the press folks, Dr. Rahman, etc highlight the storyline very well. Scenes where Rizvan helps hurricane-hit Wilhemina, GA are not so great, but the message is clear. Better editing probably was needed to illustrate how Mandira believed Sameer’s death was due to a racial attack, just because the investigation officer called it so based on type of wounds (?!!). Also unjustified is the sequence where Rizvan is being released from prison and Mandira shows up (after deciding 'hate' is not good), but leaves without meeting him or asking him to stop the meet-the-president journey. Dialogues by Shibani and Niranjan Iyengar are very today and have some US slang. Rizvan is all words, and the dialogues (with fillers/double-words especially) have accentuated SRK’s appeal. Some quips from Rizvan, some sarcasm from Mandira but overall good dose of emotions without too much melodrama.

Ravi K Chandran is a seasoned Cinamatographer who has vast experience in filming successful mainstream Bollywood movies. Key to good screenplay is an intelligent visual and Ravi knows it far too well. Rizvan’s body movements were very important to be captured to show his mood and the long-range/short-range shots are appropriately timed. Capturing the hurricane scene, the beautiful home communities of California, the streets, the people, the landscapes, the highways, the President’s public meets, all accentuate life in US and help the viewer not to forget that this is happening in the US. Couple of areas of improvement could have been Sameer’s death scene (hit by a ball?!) and the Hurricane scene. The story only required the viewer to have focus on actors’ expressions and dialogues but Ravi C has gone beyond his scope of responsibilities. Excellent work with capturing faces and expressions overall.

The musical score/background by Shankar, Ehsaan, Loy is slowly catching up. The songs are not picturized per se; they just begin playing with story moving ahead. Songs of MNIK are either romantic or highlight the determination of an individual who wants to prove that being a Khan is not an offence. The background score when Rizvan is happy, or when Rizvan is thinking, or struggling are well-crafted and makes the viewer empathize with the plight of conditions.

The journey of a mildly-autistic individual to meet the President only to say that he’s not a terrorist can sound silly. But given the nature of Rizvan’s character, his hope in positivity and a secular belief puts him on the brink of many life-changing events and the President himself takes notice! Overall, MNIK leaves us with a message that it’s important to love our people, and treat everyone with respect. We all deserve a good life and only WE can make it happen.

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