Monday, March 29, 2010

My Name Is Khan

Upon release, the film broke opening box office records overseas for an Indian film. It was the highest-grossing film in its opening weekend overseas and had the highest opening day overseas for a Bollywood film. It is also the second-highest worldwide grosser in its opening weekend, behind 3 Idiots, and the third-highest net collections in the first week for a Bollywood film. Within four weeks, the film crossed the INR 700 million mark in India and became the first film of 2010 to do so. The film also created a new box office record for a release in the first quarter of a year (January to March), breaking the previous record set by Race. It is also the second highest-grossing film to be released in the first half of the year (January to June), behind Krrish.

Rizwan Khan (Tanay Chheda) is a Muslim child who grew up with his brother Zakir and his mother (Zarina Wahab) in a middle class family in the Borivali section of Mumbai. Rizwan is different from the other children and no one, including his mother, can understand why. However, he has certain gifts, particularly a special ability to repair things. His difference leads to special tutoring from a reclusive scholar and extra attention from his mother, all which leads to a heightened level of jealousy from his brother Zakir, who eventually leaves his family for a life in the United States .

Despite this resentment, as an adult Zakir (Jimmy Shergill) sponsors Rizwan (Shahrukh Khan) to come and live with him in San Francisco after the death of their mother. It is at this time that Zakir's wife, Haseena (Sonya Jehan) diagnoses Rizwan as having Asperger's syndrome. Rizwan also begins to work for Zakir and in the process he meets a Hindu woman, Mandira (Kajol) and her young son, Sameer or Sam (Yuvaan Makaar), from a previous marriage. Mandira is a hairdresser by profession. Despite Zakir's hostility to the match, they marry and settle down in the fictional town of Banville, where both Mandira and Sameer take Rizwan's last name as their own. They also live next door to the Garrick family. Sameer is close to their young son, Reese (Kenton Duty and Michael Arnold) while Mark (Dominic Renda) is a reporter and Sarah (Katie A. Keane) is a friend of Mandira.

The Khan's perfect existence gets disrupted, however, after the September 11 attacks on the twin towers in New York City. Mark goes to cover the war in Afghanistan and dies there. At the same time, the Khan family begins to experience post 9-11 prejudice in their community and Reese begins to turn against Sam as well. One afternoon, an argument between them turns into a racially motivated schoolyard fight between Sameer and a number of older students. Reese tries to stop the fight but is held back and Sam is beaten so badly that he dies. A shattered Mandira blames Rizwan for his death stating that Sameer "died only because his name was Khan." She then tells Rizwan that she no longer wants to be with him. When he asks her what he has to do to be together with Mandira, she tells him that he has to tell the people of the United States and the President that his name is Khan and that he is not a terrorist .

Rizwan thus sets out on a journey that takes him from one US state to another, in order to first meet President George W. Bush and later President-elect Barack Obama. During this quest, he travels to Wilhemina, Georgia and befriends Mama Jenny and her son Joel. Later, in Los Angeles, he prays in a Mosque and overhears violent rhetoric from Faisal Rahman (Arif Zakaria). He reports this to the FBI but there is no response at that moment. Later, while waiting in a crowd to meet President Bush and repeating again and again, "My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist," Rizwan is arrested and placed in a prison by police who misinterpret his statement.

While in the prison he is tortured as a terrorist suspect and meets the psychiatrist Radha (Sheetal Menon) who believes he is innocent. He is later released after a media campaign by some Indian student reporters Raj (Arjun Mathur) and Komal (Sugandha Garg) and Bobby Ahuja (Parvin Dabas), who prove his innocence by unearthing his attempts to inform the FBI about Faisal Rahman. After his release, he returns to hurricane-hit Wilhemina to help Mama Jenny and her son. His efforts attract media attention and numerous Muslims come to help as well. At the same time, Reese confesses to Mandira and reveals the identity of the boys who beat up Sam. She informs Detective Garcia (Benny Nieves) who has been assisting her on the case, and Detective Garcia arrests them.

After they are brought to justice, she joins Rizwan in Georgia. At the moment she arrives, Rizwan is stabbed by a follower of Faisal Rahman and is rushed to the hospital. With Mandira's help, Rizwan survives and meets President-elect Barack Obama (Christopher B. Duncan) who tells him: "Your name is Khan and you are not a terrorist . "
My Name Is Khan

This is the typical maudlin dramatic farce where unnecessary side stories are woven to get the 161 minutes of film. For example the section where Rizwan is stabbed was necessary for the character development in fact it neither affected the direction of the movie before the incident or afterward and was simply a reset button technique.

At times it seemed the screenwriter had very little knowledge of how things are done in the USA. Take for example the return to hurricane-hit Wilhemina where the first set of reporters and then the whole brigade of volunteers come wading in chest high waters carrying their supplies on their heads with dead bodies floating by. Well we are a civilization that craves its capital and high tech mechanical devices. If the victims (204 according to the story) was not actually airlifted by helicopter they surely would have been rescued by some boat and taken to safety until the water receded. Reminds me of a live news cast where the reporter is in a boat doing his report and a couple of people just happen to walk by with the water actually about knee deep.

I also doubt that any Mosque in the US would be that concerned about Hinduism and so the rant about Hindus was just for the Indian audience-I can assume. The time frame is also strange in the sense that the screenwriter still thinks that violence against Muslims is still an issue and the few reported cases was in the few months afterwards and nearly all died down after a year. Here we are to assume that 9 years later we have rampant animosity is hard to match with reality. Not that it was going to be unbiased to the two Presidents, it seems to paint the former President Bush as not helping the situation and I credit him with lessening the animosity actually.

Overall a fine film although again I am sure my copy was boot-legged...

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