My Name Is Khan

Well, I guess I asked for this. In the first ever democratic vote to decide what I review inbetween big new releases, a title I didn’t even offer as an option wins. Plus-get this– there are no superpowered beings in this film! Or even any (guilt-free, enjoyable) explosions! It’s just a guy doing stuff. Rubbish.

My Name Is Khan (2010)

So, yes- a review of a film I would never have thought of had it not been for Facebook and a nagging sibling. I don’t usually “get” Bollywood films. I’ve seen a few, and whilst always impressed with the cinematography, never found them to be properly engaging. This is a shortcoming on my part however, as saying I don’t like Bollywood films is like judging a whole bag of Revels on the three coffee ones you tasted. So anyway- My Name Is Khan, which is not (unfortunately) a prequel to the best Star Trek film (other than the reboot). (Man, I love brackets!)

“Good people. Bad people. No other difference.”

The story is this: Risvan Khan (played by Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan or SRK to his fans) suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and is detained at San Francisco International Airport after his various tics and behaviours are deemed suspicious by airport security. In the interview room, he declares he intends to meet the President and clearly state to him: “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist”. We then flashback and learn all about Risvan and how exactly he came to be in this predicament. The story is pretty good, keeping my attention ’til the end of its considerable two and a half hour runtime. I thought Shah Rukh Khan was truly brilliant as Risvan, giving us a compelling, semi-realistic (certain aspects of the Asperger’s are exaggerated for cinematic purposes) performance. The film wouldn’t have been as half as good without him as his performance charms in the good parts and holds the film together in the weaker parts. One named wonder Kajol is also fantastic as love interest Mandira. She’s just very, very good. Can’t think of anything more to say.

Right, now here’s where I get to work the ribs of MNIK, pick up on some problems I had with it and walk away feeling like a big man. The film has a tendency to lay things on too thick, creating a mawkish, unbelievable atmosphere that spoils the overall quality somewhat. It’s a shame as often, these unsubtle moments are preceded by decent, affecting scenes. The one specific example I can think of where Risvan is in a church in Georgia, reminiscing about a recently deceased person (don’t want to spoil it, being super vague). It’s a touching moment as his unfocused eyes start to shimmer with tears as he’s remembering the good times. This is then ruined by a kid standing up and singing “We Shall Overcome” before being joined by the whole congregation. This doesn’t just come out of nowhere as the song does have some significance to Risvan, but fuck me, is it a mood wrecker. Later on in the film, Risvan becomes a mix between Forrest Gump, Rain Man and Jesus- a direction which didn’t gel with me.

9/11 plays a big part in MNIK and it does feel somewhat justified. The film focuses on the treatment of Muslims post-WTC attacks and raises some important points about racial profiling. Trouble is, thanks to the film’s leanings towards overdoing and overstating, some of these points are lost in the drama of it all. It’s a hard point to explain, but there’s a moment where a motel owner chases some punks after they smash his window in a misguided attempt at retribution for the attacks. He runs out, shotgun cocked and starts shouting after them about how there’s a difference between him and the extremists and the like. This little rant goes on for a bit too long and it started to feel like the film was lecturing me about the evils of mistreatment. I understand why it’s in here, it’s just the film can be subtle and effective when it wants to be and this was just an immersion-breaking soapbox mounting.

As I said, the film is effective in parts. An example of this is the romance between Risvan and Mandira. It’s funny, believable and done very well. I was charmed by all this and the little comedic touches here and there made me smile like a simpering chick-flick devotee. However, after the nicey-nicey aww! stuff and around the point of a properly sad event, I once again became aware of my testicles and focused my critical eye back on the film. MNIK is a film of two halves- the first, a decent, touching romance and the second, an issues-heavy quest. There’s almost an audible crunch as the film changes gears, but it’s forgivable. The music is also beautiful and even made me enjoy montages again, something which I assumed ruined forever by that Team America song. The film is also genuinely funny at times, with SRK showing a great sense of comedic timing.

“Yellow, yellow, dirty fellow.”

My Name Is Khan is a decent film. It’s too heavy with the dramatic dressing (in this analogy, the film’s a salad, by the way), often trying to hard to tug at the ol’ heartstrings (the analogy’s over now) but there’s a decent story, two powerful lead performances and some fantastic moments to keep you entertained. It tested my patience with the approach to some of its messages and its feckin’ runtime, but all was good by the end.

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