As we are now ending the month of April, and with it, Autism Acceptance Month, this will be my last post for now in which I review a movie that deals with autism or characters with autism. And for this, I have decided to take a look at “My Name is Khan”, a Hindi film that I have heard a lot about, and the second Bollywood movie I have ever seen. (My first Bollywood film was “Three Idiots” and I loved that one as well.)
Just a note before we proceed, I’m not extremely familiar with Bollywood films, so I am not going to be able to compare this film to the usual tropes of Bollywood cinema. However, I can say that I have enjoyed the two Bollywood films I’ve seen, and I’m looking forward to watching more of the kind in the future. (Recommendations anyone?)
“My Name Is Khan” is a 2010 film directed by Karan Johar, was screened in the 60th Berlin International Film Festival, and broke records by grossing high in the overseas box-office. The film also starred two big Indian stars, Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol.
The film , which is partly told in flashbacks, tells the story of an Indian Muslim named Rizvan Khan (Shah Rukh Khan). As a boy in India, he knew that he was different but brilliant, and after arriving in San Francisco as an adult, thanks to his sister-in-law, he discovers that he has what is known as Asperger’s Syndrome. While there, he meets Mandira (Kajol), a Hindu hairdresser and divorcee with one young son, whom he falls in love with and subsequently marries. However, years after 9/11, a tragedy befalls the small family prompting Mandira to tell Khan to leave and to come back only when he has told the President that his name is Khan and that he isn’t a terrorist. Khan then embarks on an epic journey, in which he ends up touching the hearts of many in his quest to repair his relationship with Mandira.
One of the things that I do love about Bollywood films is the music, and while this film was less musical than “Three Idiots”, I just adored the traditional music that was in this film.
The acting in this film was just amazing. Khan and Kajol not only shine as individual actors in this film, but their chemistry together is both believable and electric. Kajol was definitely able to showcase her range in this film, and I definitely do want to see more of her films in the future.
Khan was amazing as the titular character, and while I do think that some depictions of his Asperger’s Syndrome was a little over the top at times, I think he did an amazing job in embodying Rizvan Khan.
There were definitely moments that threw me off a little bit, what with the Asian preference of getting American actors that make it seem campy, and some scenes that you just knew couldn’t have happened in that area or it seemed to obvious that that was a studio set, but all in all, it didn’t detract from the emotional journey I went through with this film.
In the end, this film isn’t just a film about someone with Asperger’s or about a Muslim man, it’s a film that tries to teach us that no matter what our differences are, we are all still people, and the only thing that makes us different is whether we do good or bad, as Khan’s mother always told him. With a different kind of protagonist and a different perspective of the after effects of 9/11 on the Muslim community in America as a whole, this movie is refreshing, and well worth your time. Just be ready with tissues, because this film will definitely make you cry.
Now, you know the drill, there will be spoilers from this point on!
One of the reasons that makes this film stand out of the crowd is the difficult subject matter and the fact that it gives us a perspective of what Muslim American felt after 9/11, and mind you that Sameer’s murder and Khan’s epic journey happened seven to eight years after 9/11. However, despite all the hatred that Khan faced, although he also didn’t really concern himself with that, he still continued practicing his faith openly, and never stopped being kind to others when they needed his help. I also thought that it was admirable that Mandira and Khan both practiced their own belief systems openly with each other and that it wasn’t really a big deal for them until 9/11 happened.
I loved the journeys that Mandira, Khan, Hasina (Sonya Jehan) (Khan’s sister-in-law) and Zakir (Jimmy Shergill) (Khan’s brother) went through in this film.
For Hasina, thanks to Khan, she was finally able to gain the courage to wear her hijab again at the school she taught at after that incident in which her hijab was pulled from her head. For Zakir, even though he resented the fact that his mother paid more attention to his older brother, in the end, he needed his older brother’s support, even if it just meant that Khan comforted him in his time of need.
For Mandira, her emotional journey was all about loss and grief, and how that can give way to anger, just how most Americans became afraid and angry at the Muslim community due to what happened. However, it was that anger that almost drove her and Khan apart, something that Sam himself wouldn’t have wanted. Interestingly enough, Sam never once resented Khan and never resented the fact that he had a Muslim sounding name.
For Khan, his entire journey started from when he was a boy. He was fortunate enough to have loving people around him who recognized what he was capable of doing, gave him tools to help him cope, and gave him the tools to be able to be independent. Because of this, he was able to have a family and become happy. During his journey, he showed his resilience of character, and I also think that through this journey, he was also somehow able to heal emotionally from the tragedy that had befallen his family. I also love the fact that he knew that he wasn’t able to be the best dad to Sam, but I do think he was able to be one to him as he did help him, bought him shoes, and was there for him when need be.
I mentioned earlier that I felt that the portrayal of Asperger’s traits and some mannerisms were too over the top. However, I do also recognize that there be cases in which they do behave more over the top like this. Also, I have just realized that many others may have found me as weird as Khan as I don’t repeat words and phrases, but I openly talk or mutter to myself, especially when I’m out alone. The Asperger’s traits that are shown here are stimming, echolalia, aversion to bright colors and sounds, difficulties with eye contact, refusing to be hugged or touched, lack of personal boundaries, and difficulty socializing with others. He also takes things quite literally, and has a fixation on repairing things.
As mentioned earlier, the only gripes I have with this film is that there were some sequences that seemed like it was done on a sound stage, American actors who weren’t that good, and I did feel that Sam’s death was too quick, and that Mandira pushing Khan away was a little bit out of character, but needed to be there.
I also loved the Indian music in this film, and all the beautiful and lush colors that were present during Mandira’s and Khan’s wedding.
All in all, this is definitely a film that is worth your time, especially as this film reminds us that in the end, we are all just people, and that everyone deserves to be treated with love. With regards to Asperger’s, this film shows us that giving aspies the right tools to be able to survive and be independent is the way to go, and of course, it helps if aspies are in an environment that properly nurtures them.
Have you ever seen “My Name is Khan”? What did you think of it? What did you like or not like about it? Have you enjoyed this little series on Autism in Film? Would you like me to do this again and what movies would you like me to cover in that regard? Let me know in the comments below!
Image Source: Official My Name is Khan Facebook Page