Movie Review: My Name is Khan

February 15, 2010

Autism reminds me of Mark Haddon's masterpiece fiction The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, where the protagonist - a 15 year old autistic child - embarks on an adventure to find the killer of his neighbor's dog. An autistic life with an impaired social interaction and restrictive communicative abilities is often subject to being misconstrued as mental retardation.

My Name is Khan is an extraordinary story of an autistic individual trying to harness his limited capabilities, his child-like intellect that makes him travel across America to meet the President and win back the love of his wife. All of this happens while tensions are running high post 9/11 and individual muslims are victimized to being associated with terrorism. Rizvan Khan (SRK) is one among them, who is detained at the San Francisco Airport on the pretext of his Islamic surname - Khan.

In the real world, Shah Rukh Khan himself and Kamal Hassan have been afflicted by the anything-Islamic-is-everything-terror syndrome. SRK in Newark and Kamal Hassan in Toronto have been detained in the past because their surname sounded "suspicious" and so were "potential terrorists", let alone a possible number of unknown individuals who had to go through this.

The movie is very unkaranjoharly, and the most striking aspect is the simplicity of the story and its fluid narrative. It is often the lack of knowledge that hinders the natural existence of a person with autism. We are so used to the natural rhythms of our sensory impulses, that an understanding of this rare other side is sure to make you feel empathic towards those suffering from it. Niranjan Iyengar has certainly done his homework in understanding the autistic ways of communication - devoid of emotions, extremely factual botched with repetitive behavior. Not to mention, SRK's rendering of Niranjan's dialogs are delivered to perfection.

Kajol plays Mandira, the mother of the child that becomes a victim of campus racial abuse during the post 9/11 chaos, also Rizvan's wife, and is at her vintage best. Years of break of cinema has not dithered her charm and expressions any bit, and she puts together another memorable performance.

In a world that associates Karan Johar with sentimental family soaps and tearful climaxes, My Name is Khan only goes to show that K Jo is capable of dealing with complicated topics like Autism, 9/11 and terrorism and can still manage to present the story as a simple no-frills movie that is both entertaining and moving.

Kishore is a techie based in Bangalore. When he's not writing software, he spends his time writing himself out trying to understand the perfection of reality. Read his musings over life, nature, music and the art of living at Dayswork.
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