“Repair Almost Anything.” Rizvan Khan, the protagonist of the film holds out a placard after he runs out of money during his long, arduous, circuitous journey to meet the President of the United States of America to tell him just one thing: “My Name Is Khan and I am not a terrorist”.
In the post 9/11 world when the west particularly began to judge the whole basket by a few bad apples and put a whole community under the scanner because of their religious orientation, Rizvan Khan, the man who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, the man who can’t stand loud noises and stark colours, the man who’s scared of venturing into places he isn’t used to and can barely cross a road without the risk of being hit by a speeding vehicle, trudges through the length and breadth of the US and braves racial discrimination, arrest, and even torture at the hands of the authority only because he’s driven by deep love for his estranged wife Mandira (Kajol) from whom he parted with the promise that he won’t return till he’s met the President. It’s the tale of the triumph of this indomitable spirit of the protagonist of My Name Is Khan, incredibly played by the ever-surprising Shahrukh Khan, that touches you, moves you, makes you cry, gives you goose pimples, and enlightens you with its message.
Karan Johar, the czar of popcorn romances, leaps into a new territory and delves into a serious subject without totally slithering out of his old skin. While the first half of ‘My Name Is Khan’ is as good as it could get, the film slides onto a downward slope at many points in the second half, when the old K-Jo kicks in and hyperbolizes the drama and overplays the emotions. Old habits truly die hard. But thank goodness for Shahrukh Khan, the man at the centre of it all, who comes up with an awesome performance that doubtlessly ranks as his best till date. There’s not a trace of the swashbuckling, flamboyant Khan with the lofty brow and quivering lips we’ve seen repeatedly in the actor’s past films. His Rizvan is a gauche, retiring, shy, blushing man who drawls out his lines in a constant monotone, walks with a stiff gait and barely makes an eye-contact with other people. Giving SRK ample support without ever becoming central to the film is Kajol, ravishing and riveting as ever.
Writer Shibani Bhatija has clearly researched the Asperger’s syndrome well. SRK’s mildly autistic character in the movie takes everything literally (for example, if you were to tell him to go to hell, he will actually ask you its address); he is scared of crowded places and certain colours, yet he’s gifted with an almost exceptional intellectual genius. He has a tendency to repeat the words he’s heard but is unable to express his own emotions well. Mostly, he doesn’t get lost in niceties. In a scene where a couple in a bus offer him a bite of their lunch, Rizvan actually takes all there is in the can, leaving the couple to nibble on the only bit they luckily pre-empted before making the offer. Or take that scene where a hostess, a next-door neighbour, asks Rizvan, “how’s the chicken?”. “Not very good,” is his reply. No words minced and saying it as it is.
Apart from the fine strokes in etching out Rizvan’s character, the story traverses an expansive canvas and touches upon a number of issues like the communal riots in North India’s heartland or the racial profiling at the airports of the US or the spitfire fanatics who try to incite youth with their distorted interpretation of verses from the holy book or the discrimination that Muslims face in their everyday life abroad. And all through this stride, the movie holds out one message loud and clear - that of love and compassion. The beacon holding out this message is Rizvan. Beyond the labels of religion, he sees people as just good or bad.
Kudos to Karan Johar for making this brave attempt but how one wishes he had reined himself in during the second half. The flood sequence and the sub-plot involving Mama Jenny and funny hair Joel in Wilhelmina, Georgia, were totally dispensable.
Music by Shankar Ehsaan Loy and cinematography by Ravi Chandran is top-notch. Jimmy Shergill (as SRK’s younger brother) and Sonya Jehan (as Shergill’s wife) come up with fine performances.
But my salutations to the man who breathes life and soul into the movie - the King Khan. And I say it as much from my epiglottis as from the heart.