My Name Is Khan is without a doubt Karan Johar’s most accomplished work to date – powerful, moving and involving. Johar seemed to have learnt a lot from the previous feedbacks he must have got for his films. At times it was difficult to believe it was actually directed by Johar and written by Shibani Bathija, who finally proves her talent as a writer. The film is thoroughly realistic and the evident attention Johar paid to the smallest of details is commendable. The film does get sentimental at places, but it never goes over-the-top and remains fairly restrained and completely authentic, which makes the emotional impact on the viewer much stronger.
The film is traditionally a love story more than anything else, but the ever relevant message behind it is wonderfully conveyed through such terms as innocence and guilt, kindness and inhumanity, truth and untruth, justice and injustice, love and hate. All these antonyms intelligently swap places through the story of innocent civilians accused for no fault of their own post the 9/11 attacks. The result of this tragic incident made the lives of so many of them miserable. This was really tough viewing.
That’s where our hero, Rizwan Khan, is thrown. He suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, he’s different, he’s naive, he takes every word literally, but he is intelligent and talented, and his perception of life is as his beloved mother taught him: the world includes only two groups of people – good people who do good and bad people who do bad. This is so overly general yet so very true. The memory of his mother follows him always, and it’s easy to see why. The portrayal of Rizwan’s childhood is amazing. His relationship with the love of his life, Mandira, a young and vibrant single mother who works as a hairdresser and who ultimately agrees to marry him, is totally charming.
The narrative style is exemplary. The serious proceedings are flavoured with humour, romance and some wonderful songs. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy create another magical soundtrack and give life to the film with such tracks as “Sajda”, “Noor-E-Khuda” and “Tera Naina Re”. The fact that songs are playing only over montage sequences letting the actors no chance to lip-sync in a true Hindi film style, is appreciable but I, for one, at points really missed the glamorous and colourful numbers from Johar’s previous films, the more so as it stars Shahrukh Khan and Kajol after so many years.
The film clearly works better in the first half. It is much more simple, light and enjoyable. The later half introduces the post-9/11 America with all of its disturbing images of discrimination, mindless attacks and murder. Johar’s depiction of this phase is brilliantly done. From one side we have Rizwan who goes to tell the world of his complete innocence and his not being a terrorist, and from the other we see his wife Mandira who seeks justice post a very tragic incident of which she blames Khan himself.
Khan’s journey in the US is extraordinary. It unfolds in several episodes, each one presenting the different people he meets on his way: a motel owner named Jitesh, a lovely Muslim couple who offer him some food, a group of Islamists led by Faisal Rahman whom Khan reports to FBI in order to destroy their violent plans. The most memorable episode, however, is that of Mama Jenny and her son ‘Funny Hair’ Joel from the rural Wilhemina, Georgia, which is incredibly entertaining and heart-touching. The story of Mamma Jenny is moving, and Johar captures the spirit of the village and its people with skill. The gospel choir in the church singing “We Shall Overcome” is one of my favourite scenes in the film. That was unforgettable.
Well, there comes the acting. Shahrukh Khan’s appearance in this film in this kind of a role has been the subject of many discussions, and rightfully so. This is clearly one of his finest performances. He is phenomenal. It’s amazing to see him transforming from the biggest star in the world into a simple autistic man and playing it with such conviction. His mannerisms, body language, tone, dialogue delivery and his occasional breaks into timid and embarrassed laughs are all spot on and make his character extremely likable and endearing.
As expected, he is totally matched by Kajol, whose charismatic nature, easy charm, evident experience and strong screen presence all rally here into one heartbreaking performance that is replete with authenticity, maturity and strength. As Mandira, she looks incredibly beautiful and is as natural, intense and compelling as ever, playing the part with passion and depth and infusing it with energy and warmth. In some moments she outdoes herself. No, I’m not only referring to her powerful breakdown scenes (which are great), but also the many scenes showing her interaction with Khan. Note for instance the one in which she promptly decides to accept his earnest proposal. It’s one of their best moments together.
Johar selected a great supporting cast. Every actor, no matter how lengthy his character is, performs well. Zarina Wahab is outstanding in a brief but memorable role as Rizwan’s caring and loving mother. Jimmy Shergill is very effective as Rizwan’s brother Zakeer, who has always felt deprived by his mother because of his brother’s mental disorder. Sonya Jehan is superb as Zakeer’s wife Haseena and acts with grace. So is Katie A. Keane who plays Mandira’s friend, Sarah. Tanay Chheda is first-rate as the young Rizwan. Jennifer Echols is lovable as Mamma Jenny.
To sum it up, My Name is Khan is a fantastic film and an altogether worthy effort. It is fascinating, entertaining and it may definitely make you look at certain things differently. It is well written, directed and performed, and is beautifully shot. Deepa Bhatia’s editing and Ravi K. Chandran’s cinematography are also noteworthy. Kudos to all involved. Mr and Mrs Khan rock, I highly recommend you to see their story. 🙂 😦