In a film industry that has gained worldwide renown for being all about the song and dance, it is but natural for material to be recycled. And unlike the west, which despite its many flaws has both an admirable respect for the concept of copyright and conscience enough to credit a remake, over here, we just call it “inspiration”. After the shameless rip-off of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (Dostana, 2008), which coincidentally was a huge commercial success, Karan Johar had a very good last year as producer, rolling out two strikingly dissimilar but similarly fresh films in Wake Up Sid and Kurbaan. He continues his roll this year, with his own directorial feature My Name is Khan, and ignoring his glaring shortcomings as a director, needs to be applauded for this effort to at least find new settings and formats for the retelling of his trademark love stories.
Similar to the first person narrative style of his directorial debut, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, My Name is Khan is a story heard through the tongue of the Asperger’s-afflicted Rizwan Khan, who journeys across half the world and then through the breadth of another continent, to say as we’ve all heard or read somewhere, “My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist”. After watching the uninspiring trailers, and the edited, overly precious shots of Shahrukh playing Khan, I did not walk into the cinema expecting much from this seemingly gimmicky film. I walked out surprised though, and pleasantly for the most part. In a polarized world, where the line of demarcation is clearly becoming religion even over race, the intent of MNIK is noble. To its credit, unlike the also well intentioned Delhi 6 last year, this film manages to build on its premise more effectively. In a nutshell, the story is in the form of a question: Are the world and its inhabitants so far gone that you are not allowed an individual persona that may be separate from your religious affiliations?
My Name is Khan has many stories, and many Khans, in spite of what the titular protagonist may have you believing. There is Raziya Khan, the mother who brought up her son believing in him with faith and pride, and who ignored the rest of the world as she single-handedly taught him all that is right and just, even till her death. There is Zakir Khan, the under-appreciated but well loved younger brother, and Haseena Khan, his college professor wife, who are traditionalist Muslims but loyal family. There are Mandira and Sameer Khan, the mother and son who find a place in their lives for another, who seek love and happiness and the feeling of home. And there are the thousands of unnamed people, who in brief moments of time, Johar introduces us to, if only to show us the impact this Khan has on them. Independently, most of these stories, and most of these people, are interesting, but together, in this ambitious screenplay written by Shibani Bathija, none of the stories develop to real fruition.
I like to start with positive attributes, and this film has those in abundance. Like I’ve said multiple times before, the biggest success of this film is its intention. It’s pure and it’s refreshing. The casting is unusual for a Johar film (aside from the lead pair of course), and most of the supporting cast does a fine job. Zarina Wahab, a departure from the Kirron Kher and Jaya Bachchan mould of Dharma Production mothers, is very effective in her enthusiasm and both authentic and endearing in her manner. Jimmy Shergill is amongst the most underachieving of contemporary Indian actors (he was apparently a de facto choice after the actor originally cast for the film was denied a visa), and even though this isn’t his shining moment, he clearly needs to find a film where he can shine. Navneet Nishan is the cliché of the horny old woman/man Johar enjoys injecting into his films. The clear standout, though, is Sonya Jehan. It took me a while to place her as the actress who started out her career as the lead in Taj Mahal, but she is stunning, and a very gifted actor. Even in the few scenes that she has in the film, she will hopefully catch the eye of someone with a good script and a good role, ‘cause she has the looks and the acting chops, and deserves a shot.