Monday, February 15, 2010

Movie Review - My Name Is Khan (MNIK)

Years ago (I think maybe 5) I read a book called The Tipping Point. The book discusses how small, seemingly insignificant events, actions cause things to become fads, movements and yes, perhaps even phenomenons.

A great example is the recent election of Barack Obama - a fairly unknown guy who came literally out of nowhere and won an election that had been called in favor of Hillary before it had even been conducted. But this didn't happen over night, there were a series of small dots that got connected, events that took place before that one final moment that began the snowball effect which ended with him going from being ‘the guy who stood against Hillary’ to The 44th President of The United States.

That moment is what the book calls The Tipping Point. The one all important event/action where everything comes together and things start growing exponentially, where small increments in efforts lead to disproportionately large returns.

Today I think the world in general is tired of war (I know I am), of bloodshed, of misery. We've had a pretty tough past few years, with the recession and job losses topping it all up rather cruelly. We are witness to open racial attacks and rampant religious discrimination. Wars are being waged, entire mountains are being bombed to dust and the world is rapidly getting polarized into Christianity versus Islam.  This is terrible.

Put yourself in the shoes of muslims being subjected to 'random' searches at the airport every time they try to take a flight to somewhere, even if it is a domestic destination.  People eyeing you suspiciously every time they are around you or calling you ‘Paki’ under their breath but not softly enough for you to not hear them. We have all heard or been part of discussions, whether wittingly or unwittingly, where people would say:

'Everywhere there is unrest in the world, muslims are at the center of it. It is how they are. Ye log aise hi hain

Go back to your school days -  2 people bullied you an ate your lunch or didn’t let you play cricket and you felt so angry and upset that you probably punched them in the face. That was just 2 people. Muslims today have the whole world literally ganging up against them - some openly, others subtly but its there to see. If you are faced with relentless oppression, discrimination and widespread dislike, what are you going to do? I'd be pretty pissed. and if you think about it, our nation was pretty pissed years ago and we fought back to say this is wrong, we will not stand for this and asked the british to get the fuck out of our country. We call it the struggle for independence, a struggle to create our own identity. Islam today fights not for a country but for its global identity, an identity that has been turned into ‘Islam = Terrorism’ and stereotyped muslims as hardcore terrorists with bombs in their pockets, shirts and bloody hell even underwear.  We are ganging up on them and we shouldn’t be. This isn’t the 5th grade and we shouldn’t all collectively be playing the role of the class bully.

That is exactly the message Karan Johar and SRK try to bring about with this wonderful and, dare I say it, sweet, film. The hero, Rizwan Khan (SRK), is a brilliant (think rancho, 3 idiots) but autistic guy who falls in love with a single mother - Mandira Rathore (Kajol), a hairstylist who dotes on her only son from her previous marriage with a guy who was ($*$*$ *#$&*&$*4 $%$  $*&$&^&^&*#$@ - her words not mine) They end up getting married and Rizwan moves out of his younger brother’s house (who doesn’t accept his marriage to a non-muslim) and moves in with Mandira. Post 9/11 their son is killed in a racial attack in the school which leads Mandira to throw Rizwan out of her life because she blames him, his religion and her decision to marry him as the reasons for her son‘s death -

“He died because he was a Khan. Had he stayed Rathore, he would’ve been alive”

When she tells Rizwan to leave her, and go away, he asks, in his infinite innocence, ‘main waapas kab aaoon Mandira (when should I come back, Mandira)’ and she says that come back when you have told the whole world that you are not a terrorist, that my son Sam (Samir) was not a terrorist, and if you can’t do that, go tell the President that you are not a terrorist - maybe he can tell the world and only then can you come back.

This starts Rizwan’s journey across the U.S to meet the President and give him this message. In between he gets subjected to the usual airport search, discrimination at a motel and even imprisonment for shouting “My Name is Khan and I am not a terrorist” - a not so subtle dig at the idiotic levels of paranoia coursing through the world - people getting arrested even if they are saying ‘I am NOT a terrorist’.

Ofcourse, since this is a Karan Johar movie, it all ends happily with him meeting the President and returning home accompanied by his wife while becoming the poster boy for the real everyday people who are muslims and are against terrorism as much as the next guy, perhaps even more because it is due to them that ALL muslims have got a bad name.

SRK is his usual awesome self. He plays the autistic guy with aplomb and manages to really give the feeling of bottled up emotions coming out in actions and not words. Some people told me this is Shahrukh’s best movie since Devdas - which is a tall claim since we had Chak De in between. I haven’t seen Devdas but I can tell you this is SRK’s best performance ever. You cannot help but love Rizwan Khan - whether he is reciting from his encyclopedic knowledge of everything or innocently telling their dinner host that the chicken is so bad she should never make it in her life ever again, or when despite being Autistic, he becomes a salesman for his brother’s products - while never lying and telling the customer that the brochure says you will get this in 7 days but we are lying, it will take 10 days. He is at once clever, funny and innocent.

Equally impressive was Kajol - an actress whose on-screen histrionics I have never quite been able to fathom or bear, leave alone like. But here she is wonderful and the performance is mature. I wish she would act this awesomely every time. The SRK-Kajol chemistry is legendary and it shows through in every scene even if they aren’t in there together. Really, it’s brilliant. The rest of the cast does a good job but the movie is about these two and they do take up most of the screen space.

But beyond the acting and the commerce, I think what this film does is bring this subject on the table and makes it relatable, maybe even personal in some cases, so the next time someone talks about terrorism, they remember this movie and hopefully SHUT UP about equating Muslim’s to terrorists.

In an ideal world, we would listen to Rizwan’s mother and believe and internalize that the world has just 2 kinds of people - those who do good and those who do bad, there is no other difference between us. But even if it cannot achieve that all encompassing goal on it’s own, I desperately hope it becomes that seemingly unimportant incident that sparks the movement, the fad, the phenomenon and becomes the tipping point.

Go watch this movie.


  1. Finally a decent review that understands the sentiments behind the movie. Its well written and I hope you continue writing reviews.
    My favourite scene is in the Mosque when he throws the stones...that is quite a layered response - firstly, the moral of the story is that it was Satan who had tested the saint. Then in the film, it is the doctor who is giving the wrong message leading others astray that is called Satan. And didnt people used to 'stone' criminals.

    Glad you enjoyed the movie mate...will follow you on twitter! :)


  2. Thanks man :) Glad you liked the review :)
    I totally agree. That scene is one of my favorites from the movie.

    But there is another layer to the depiction.
    When the muslims do the hajj pilgrimage to mecca, one of the rituals they perform there is throwing rocks at a depiction of Satan.
    The depiction was earlier 3 pillars but has recently been replaced by long walls.

    Just thought you'd be interested to know :)