Though almost delayed by a decade and dozen films, Karan Johar touches the now-traditional theme of the aftermath of 9/11 and the victimized Muslim with simplicity and sensitivity in My Name is Khan . Within the range that the global-issue offers, the film still doesn’t attempt to go out of the world in its treatment, resorting to the regular conflicts already exploited in the genre.
But where Karan Johar succeeds is in making Shah Rukh Khan underplay his character like never before and mellow down the human drama with so much positivity that a film with a backdrop as intense as 9/11 ends up being feel-good. Just to give an instance of the optimism, when the naive autistic protagonist is given cold treatment in a torture cell, he offers to repair the air conditioner.
So you have Rizvan Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) suffering from what Dustin Hoffman experienced in Rainman – autism or more specifically Asperger Syndrome. He is intelligent enough to comprehend situations but too innocent to understand people. After the death of his mother in India, he shifts to US with his brother (Jimmy Sheirgill) and sister-in-law (Sonya Jehan).
Pyaar Impossible happens as Rizvan marries Mandira (Kajol), a divorcee with a kid. Post 9/11 attacks, Karan’s candyfloss treads on Hope and a Little Sugar track as Muslims are abused and attacked randomly in US. A tragedy alienates the couple as Rizvan sets on a journey that he believes would reunite him with Mandira.
My Name is Khan follows a storytelling pattern which is simple and comprehensible but at the same time remains one-dimensional for a major part until the reasoning behind Khan’s impractical journey is unveiled, late in the second half. Post that as the film focuses on his journey, the proceedings gain tempo with the narrative branching out into multiple sub-tracks. The less-evolved IQ of Rizwan with which he sets on an unwarranted journey that subsequently gains him global fame is evocative of Tom Hank’s Forrest Gump .
Of the several subplots, Arif Zakaria’s Muslim fundamentalist character, which is a clichéd replication of what Om Puri played in Shoot on Sight and Johar’s own Kurbaan , was too formulaic and absolutely avoidable. Especially so when the film abstained itself so considerately from touching terrorist intricacies! Also the thunderstorm in the pre-climax only dilutes the impact and could clearly have been averted. The entire supporting cast joining Rizvan in restoring the storm-struck village appears too fabricated.
One does feel that the climax is too idealistic, conflicts are conveniently resolved and the length is long enough that you feel having witnessed the rule of two American Presidents (like in the film). To connect it to contemporary times, the central repercussion of 2001 attack in the film is stretched till 2007. And can’t resist a trivial observation that while the director opts for two child actors to depict the progression of Rizvan Khan by hardly a couple of years, Rizvan’s son is played by the same child artist for more than half a decade.
Barring these blemishes, Shibani Bhatija’s screenplay has its heart in the right place. Notice the finer nuances in dialogues (written by Shibani Bhatija and Niranjan Iyengar) when Rizvan says ‘ Meri maa marr gayi kyunki unka dil zaroorat se zyada bada tha ’ or the one where he says ‘ Namaaz ke liye jagah nahi neeyat dekhni chahiye ’. One of the beautiful moments is when the inspirational desi track ‘ Hum Honge Kamyaab ’ is fused with its English counterpart ‘ We Shall Overcome ’ blending compositions with cultures.
Ravi K Chandran’s cinematography is outstanding. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music is pleasing and isn’t overdone. Sharmishta Roy’s art direction is decent but the flood-hit village could have been better designed than those tacky studio sets.
Clearly having its spotlight on Khan, Shah Rukh does a decent job in playing an innocent autistic Rizvan who is a mobile encyclopedia on jargons, repeats words in his speech, takes every spoken line literally and doesn’t directly confront any person. But one can’t deny that there’s a certain degree of Shah Rukh (the star) still visible in Rizvan (the character). Whether Shah Rukh is unable to completely get over his set image or Karan Johar wanted to retain certain level of Shah Rukh Khan in the character is debatable. But it’s still a safe bet because there is an endearing charm to the actor/character. His performances starts off as rehearsed but you soon adapt to his act.
It’s refreshing to watch Kajol after a while and she shows the same spunk in her act. The script, however, restricts the scope of chemistry between SRK and Kajol beyond a point as Karan Johar pushes the genre beyond romance. Everyone in the supporting cast from Jimmy Sheirgill, Sonya Jehan to Zarina Wahab are fair enough but have minimal scope. Tarun Mansukhani hams in the four scenes that he gets.
Like his placard that reads ‘Repair almost anything’, Shah Rukh Khan makes up for every minor inconsistency in the film. My Name is Khan is worth a watch on his name alone.