Not all Muslims are terrorist is the premise Karan Johar’s My Name Is Khan advocates. The onus to prove this contemporary adage lies solely on the shoulders of the film’s lead actor and protagonist, Rizvan Khan (Shah Rukh Khan). Post 9/11, Muslims in the USA are persecuted and looked down as terrorists. When the after effect and anger of people touch Rizvan’s own family and alienates him from his lady love, he sets out on a mission — to tell America and its President that, “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist,” a symbolism that not all Muslims are terrorists.
However, it can’t be any Muslim who could be accepted for the task or believed. It had to be someone with a childlike innocence who could generate enough empathy and, as he went ahead with his crusade, involve the mass of the land on the strength of not only his determination, but also his innocence. Ergo, the protagonist has the Asperger Syndrome or autism, a disorder of neural development, which affects social interaction and communication and causes repetitive behaviour. This may lead to an almost childlike behaviour, endearing the person so affected to people. So Rizvan has the inherent sympathy factor riding with his character.
Having migrated to the US after his mother’s (Zarina Wahab) death, Rizvan joins his brother’s business and sells beauty products from salon to salon. He comes across Mandira (Kajol) at one such salon. His honesty and simplicity wean over Mandira, a single mother, and they soon marry. Mandira and her son Sameer adopt the surname Khan and their life is full of roses till 9/11 and the terror attacks on World Trade Centre and other American locations. Muslims as well as others mistaken as Muslims bear the brunt of hatred and attacks from Whites. And, closer home, the Khans pay dearly for being just that, when Sameer is killed at the hands of a few American kids on the school football ground. Blamed and spurned by Mandira for her child’s death, he sets out to tell America and its President “My name is Khan but I am not a terrorist”. His chase to meet the President takes him across many states and cities of America, endearing him to people who come in touch with him. After much travail, an arrest and torture in lock up; it is then a single minded pursuit of a pair of cub TV reporters that win him his freedom and the ultimate goal.
My Name Is Khan is all about performances and just about everybody comes out tops with Kajol excelling in her transformation from a frothy fun loving single mother to a wife to a shattered woman on a mission to find the culprits who killed her child. Shah Rukh Khan’s efforts to portray Asperger Syndrome affected person is praiseworthy. Jimmy Shergill and Sonya Jehan are convincing. Zarina Wahab and Navneet Nishan give good support. Child actor Tanay Chedda is impressive. The American cast — all do their bit well.
Directorially, Karan Johar has been elaborate and leisurely, going into each nuance wanting to make it an intelligent film. Music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy follows the current rage, Sufi genre and plays mostly in the background. Shibani Bathija’s story is a researched work to make the protagonists character plausible. Dialogue, especially in the first half are witty and generally good.
All said, the film is a work of the makers’ conviction and its release against adversity, a triumph.