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Review of "My name is Khan"


15 January 2011

Early in 2010 this film was covered in Al Jazeera English’s “The Fabulous Picture Show” presented by Amanda Palmer. Although I rarely have time to watch it, that is my favourite television films programme, and has been responsible for broadening my taste; for example it is where I first learned about Atom Egoyan.

I missed "My name is Khan" at the cinema, but recently bought the DVD.

From the cover, this looks like a typical Bollywood film. The lead actor Shah Rukh Khan has made a number of love stories with the lead actress Kajol as his co-star, and it is directed by Karan Johar. However, this is anything but typical Bollywood.

Rizwan Khan (played by Shah Rukh Khan) is the elder son of a poor Muslim couple in India. He suffers from Asperger’s syndrome [Accessible version of Asperger's syndrome article] and sadly also loses his father at an early age. He and his brother are brought up by their widowed mother, but acquire an education. She teaches Rizwan that there are only two kinds of people in this world, good people who do good things and bad people who do bad things.

His younger brother Zakir emigrates to San Francisco, and sponsors Rizwan to join him. In San Francisco, Rizwan falls in love with Mandira (played by Kajol), a Hindu divorcee hair dresser with a young son, and marries her.

Their lives are eventually shattered by the anti-Muslim hatred that breaks out in America following 9/11, leaving Rizwan with a mission: to meet the president of the USA and tell him:

“Mr President, my name is Khan and I am not a terrorist.”

His journey takes him across America, and eventually he succeeds. I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot.

The film is 154 minutes long, and I never noticed, being glued to the screen. It made me laugh, and it made me cry. It is wonderful entertainment and at the same time refreshes your faith in the human spirit. The photography is excellent, bringing out the beauty of San Francisco and the American heartland. Shah Rukh Khan gives the best performance playing a person with autism since Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man”, and I could not say which of them does it better, the acting is so good.

The dialogue is English and Hindi with English subtitles. While I do not speak Hindi, my limited knowledge of Punjabi allowed me to follow most of the Hindi dialogue, but no foreign language knowledge is needed with the subtitles. For the hard of hearing or partially sighted, there is an option for English description, and also an option where all of the Hindi dialogue is described in English.

For me, there are two key messages from the film:

  1. Bigotry of the type displayed in the film by some white Americans after 9/11 is wrong.
  2. Regardless of the bigotry they may encounter, Muslims need to adhere to Islamic values. These require treating everyone with kindness, regardless of their religion, and also require affirmation of one's beliefs. It is quite inspiring when towards the end of the film, Rizwan Khan's sister in law arrives at the university class which she teaches wearing the hijab she previously removed as a result of religous hatred from non-Muslims.

I recommend this film to everyone. It is rated 12.



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