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  • Published 13.02.10

Rarely in Bollywood comes a performance so spectacular that the movie takes a backseat and you sit back in wonder. And when that performance comes from a person you have been watching for the last couple of decades, going through the motions with a dimpled smile and outstretched arms, the wow factor is multiplied manifold. Say it from the epiglottis or say it from the heart — yes, his name is Khan... Shah Rukh Khan.

What a challenge it must have been for the man who has become king armed with his dreamy stare and impassioned speech to suddenly lose the emotions from his eyes and voice. But there is so much power in that deadpan gaze, so much simplicity in that passive speech that you root for Rizvan Khan from the moment he announces in the first scene — I want to meet the US President and tell him, my name is Khan and I am not a terrorist.

But My Name Is Khan is not about Rizvan Khan. Just like Forrest Gump was not about Forrest Gump. It’s the mirroring of the times, of wounds deep and fresh, through the eyes of a man whose autism — Khan has Asperger syndrome, a high-function variety — makes him take things as they are. Without bitterness or sarcasm.

From the Hindu-Muslim riots in 1983 to the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, from the Iraq war to the Afghanistan war, Khan is witness to it all. He doesn’t understand the hate around him and tries to evaluate his immediate surroundings through the lines of the Koran and the words of his Ammi (Zarina Wahab). From the time Ammi drew the explanatory hangman sketches in his notebook, Khan’s world is divided into only good people and bad people.

One such good person Khan encounters is the beautiful Mandira, a divorcee with a son. He doesn’t understand love. He passes off his “seene mein ajab si dard” as a chest congestion. But he senses a fear of losing her, of not being able to be close to her. He comes up with a solution. “Marry me”, Khan tells Mandira and goes into loop mode till she asks him: “Marry me?”

When a Rathod becomes a Khan in post-9/11 America, someone has to pay for it. And when a tragedy becomes too personal, someone has to find the answers. So, it’s left to Khan to clear his name, restore the identity of his community and win back the love of his life. For that he undertakes a journey, a journey that will bring him home.

The lighter and tighter first half of My Name Is Khan sets up the world of Khan just right but it is in its exaggerated ambitions in the second half that the film loses the plot somewhat. What was an intimate story of a beautiful mind trying to cleanse the system is unnecessarily blown up into a media-driven fable of a superman riding on sympathy.

But the intentions of Karan Johar’s fourth film are so noble and the points it makes so relevant that although it takes 160 minutes for Khan to meet the US Prez, you can’t help but cheer for him when he does blurt out those words.

My Name Is Khan doesn’t look and feel — though it sometimes sounds, thanks to the sugarcoated background score — like a Karan Johar film. That he chose not to write the screenplay was not just because he didn’t want to repeat the romance of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai or K3G but perhaps also because this subject didn’t demand his melodramatic sweep.

And in being one step removed lies one of the most important personal achievements of Karan Johar. As the Madame Bovary writer Flaubert had said: “An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.”

Also, isn’t it enough that Karan got Shah Rukh and Kajol together in a movie again? You must have been reading and hearing critics chattering about screen chemistry from eternity to here. Well, this is it. Chemistry really doesn’t get any more organic than this DDLJ duo. They are so so good together that KJo and Co. must have even put some of their outtakes in the song sequences. There are also those classic scenes out of nothing at all which would find space in the hall of SRK-Kajol fame. Definitely the one where she proposes to him and he starts laughing in embarrassment. Together, their name is love.

Kajol on her own is fantastic. When has she not been? Watch her cry in her two back-to-back “big scenes” and try to deny that lump in your throat. Yes, yes, a hanky, not popcorn, is your best friend at a My Name Is Khan show.

But it is the Khan who makes the movie. A perfect balance between laughter and tears, emphatic at times, empathetic at others, this is a star act by an actor born out of a star. Studied, consistent and honest, Shah Rukh can and he does. Yes, this is his best.

Mounting a film has always been Karan’s forte and My Name Is Khan is no exception. Ravi K. Chandran shoots the film with verve, on the road and in the house. The Shankar Ehsaan Loy soundtrack suits the film well. Tere naina and Sajda work as the Sufi ballads but it is Noor-e-khuda which emerges as the hauting theme of the journey.

My Name Is Khan has conscience and courage and two heartfelt performances. It can try your patience a bit but it will not leave you untouched. Don’t miss this one!


In one of his first interviews on MNIK, Shah Rukh Khan had told this reviewer — in his BMW from his Bandra bungalow Mannat to the Yash Raj Studios in Andheri last summer — on how he had created Rizvan Khan...

It’s come out well... main khud ke baare mein badhaa chadhaake nahin bolna chahta. I am playing an autistic person, so it’s very different for me. It’s not a very serious film. It’s a Forrest Gump kind of a film. You feel bad for this guy but there’s a lot of positivity in the film. Like a person who is not well can look at life so positively; why can’t everyone do the same?

It’s not about a disabled man’s fight against disability. It’s a disabled man’s fight against the disability that exists in the world — terrorism, hatred, fighting. I only do films with a subtext... I know normally my films don’t look and feel what I think about them. Because I am very clear that films should entertain.

My Name Is Khan is also about Islam and the way the world looks at Islam but we are not taking any sides. We are only trying to say that there are only good people and bad people. There are no good Hindus, bad Hindus, good Christians, bad Christians. Either you are a good person or a bad person. Religion is not the criterion, humanity is. The tagline we have put in the film is: “The first superhero with only one superpower — humanity”.

Playing an autistic person in My Name Is Khan is so supremely satisfying that I don’t want to work on any other movie for the rest of the year. Arrey yeh bahut hai! I am so happy doing it. I did a lot of studies, a lot of research.... I had done a play about autism with Barry John where I worked with an autistic kid. So when my writer and director in My Name Is Khan sat with me, I gave them 25 more pages of research. I gave them more references... four different physical manifestations of autism.

The eyes are very difficult to do. When you see me in the film, you will be shocked. To me it’s very difficult. With 100 people around you, to get those unfocussed, dead eyes is very difficult. Then I am saying dialogues with those eyes without expressing. I had to practise those eyes in my bathroom for 10 days before I got it right. Now I am teaching my children... pushing the eyeballs up, they stay there, then I go cock-eyed and then they go blank. Very difficult, very fulfilling.