Saturday, February 13, 2010

My Name is Khan

Karan Johar's latest offering is painfully bad. On three previous occasions I had watched his movies and left with a confused aftertaste. Yes, I never thought that K2H2, K3G or KANK were delightful, but they entertained and despite myself, I liked them somewhat. That basic bollywoody Indian in me at some deep and dark level appreciated the rona, dhona and gana. And the dramatic, filmi moments were well, dramatic and filmi and I could live with that. MNIK is another story altogether. It was, I was told to my perturbation, a reflection of the maturation of a previously juvenile film-maker, an attempt to narrate a serious tale. Then I was reassured that nothing much had changed: it was a love story more than anything else. Then Bal Thackeray decided to offer some free publicity for the movie. Some thought it would be a patriotic thing to watch. Rubbishing that, I checked it out, just as I would any other big ticket Bollywood fare.

Rizwan Khan tries to get on a flight in America. Something is different about him. He arouses suspicion. But he is checked and let go of. Thus begins a journey through the country to try and find the President as he writes his past in his diary, tracing his journey from Mumbai to San Francisco. Khan, it turns out, is born with Asperger Syndrome, something that is explained to us, annoyingly, in bits and pieces. He grows up with his mother's love, moves to the new world, learns to live in a new city, falls in love, marries and settles down. The world shakes as the twin towers collapse, and the little lives of the Khans bear the brunt. Rizwan sets out again, an even more confusing (and attemptedly endearing) journey this time. It is a movie clearly inspired by Forrest Gump (that absolute gem!), but the inspiration is at a very shallow level. The themes (Autism, Muslims in the post 9/11 world) are global, but again too shallow. The lack of depth is reflected by the somewhat jumpy shifts, the story moves from scene to scene without really connecting the dots.

There are a few saving graces, but too few. Noteworthy positives are the cinematography and the acting in general, but the music leaves little impact. Shahrukh Khan has acted well, and provides enough "innocent" moments for his fans to go, "aww...he's so cute, he's so sweet...!" (yuck!), but well, he is still Shahrukh Khan. Neither the director nor King Khan can resist the impulse to portray the star rather than the character. Just as well. It might have saved their skins, for I don't think anyone else could have got away with playing a character so superficially. I have respect for Shahrukh Khan. He has presence, talks amusingly and gives the impression that he is a smart person. But I hope that he wakes up and decides to involve himself in the screenplay rather than float insensibly astray.

Kajol is good, but her character, and hence the plot, a little improbable for a woman who loved her husband even after being awakened to the dangers of his surname. The side cast including the children, the white actors and the black actors deliver neat performances, but they are mere pawns in the attempt to evoke artificial bollywood-type emotions, rather than characters who flesh the story. Another thing bothered me: The American Government is shown to be not much better off than the Indian Government. Civil liberties are flouted with ease. Disaster struck villages in Georgia are left to the mercy of Rizwan Khan and family from San Francisco. How then, in the grand scheme of things, is it still a fitting climax that his moment of glory is his audience with the American President who condescends to pick him up from the crowd and then patronizes him uglily?

Karan Johar: Your movie is bad even by your poor standards. It fails to entertain. If you want to grapple with serious issues, make an effort to deal with them properly. If you just want to tell a story, do so. Don't make a pretence of doing both while doing neither. I look back at what I put myself through, and while it could have been a reasonable film, there are way too many contrivances. Your movie is unconvincing, fake and just not told well enough. Two stars for you.

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