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RDR DVD REVIEW: 'My Name is Khan'

Shah Rukh Khan in 'My Name is Khan'
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By Andrew W. Griffin

Red Dirt Report, editor

Posted: September 12, 2010

DVD REVIEW: My Name is Khan, starring Shah Rukh Khan (Fox Searchlight) 2010

OKLAHOMA CITY – With all the hoopla and hysteria over the so-called Ground Zero mosque and that clownish cult preacher down in Florida who threatened to burn a stack of Korans, I thought it was high time to sit back and enjoy a whimsical slice of Bollywood comedy concerning the tribulations of an Indian Muslim man named Khan.

Now, this film, My Name is Khan, now out on DVD, is not a brilliant film. It’s long – over two-and-a-half hours and in spots it flat-out lands face first onto the concrete floor. Such is the nature of brain-numbing Bollywoodia. This film could have been far better if about 40 minutes had been left on the cutting room floor.

Still, if you’re into films that are a mixture of Forrest Gump, Rain Man and a little dash of Slumdog Millionaire, you’ll dig My Name is Khan, which is directed by Karan Johar.

Rizwan Khan is played by Shah Rukh Khan, an incredibly popular Indian actor who some may remember was involved in a bit of a controversy last year when he claimed an airport body scanner at UK’s Heathrow allegedly took a photo of his naked body. Security personnel claimed to have asked Khan for his autograph –which he granted – on a print of this naughty image.

Was it a publicity stunt in advance of the release of My Name is Khan? It was never entirely clear. Regardless, one of the opening scenes in My Name is Khan shows our hero, who we discover suffers from autism (Asperger’s syndrome), in the San Francisco Airport being thoroughly searched by security in a back room. He’s a Muslim and they’re clearly giving him a hard time. When Khan tells them that he is trying to fly to Washington to see the president, he says he wants to tell the leader of the free world one thing – “My name is Khan. I am not a terrorist.”

We find out why he wants to tell the president he is not a terrorist over the course of this overly-long film that explains that Khan lived in India and was very close to his mother. His brother is a bit of an Islamic traditionalist and is also successful, moving to San Francisco, the same city Khan comes to after the death of his mother.

His mother, we discover, plays an important role in his development. During a flashback to the early 1980’s, when Hindus and Muslims were clashing, Khan repeats some negative things about religious factions and his mother corrects him, saying there are only good and bad people, not good and bad religions or beliefs. He takes this to heart when he comes to America prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

But before that awful event, Khan meets and falls for a beautiful Hindu woman named Mandira (played by the Indian actress Kajol) who is a hairdresser in San Francisco.

While his brother objects to him marrying a Hindu, Khan and Mandira do end up together along with her young son. She and her son take on the “Khan” surname and don’t realize the consequences that will have following 9/11.

In the meantime we see Khan take in the world at a distance. He is uncomfortable shaking hands or looking folks in the eye. It is suggested that he use a videocamera to help him cross the street, something that almost ends tragically as a Frisco streetcar barrels towards him. However, he is adventurous and his journey across America allows for the mirror to reflect how paranoia and fear took hold after 9/11 and how innocent folks were hurt in the aftermath.

The acting in My Name is Khan is decent. Despite the guy in the President Bush mask, attempting to look like President Bush, and the god-like nature of the Obama character (played by actor Christopher Duncan). It’s a bit much and plays into the whole “can’t we all just get along,” Hands-across-America mentality. The world is a bit more complex than that, but then, I should repeat, this is Bollywood.

All the while there is a growing anti-Muslim sentiment which is most noticeable after 9/11. Mainly white Americans are seen verbally attacking Muslims or vandalizing their stores and so-forth. And things get worse for the young boy who has a white friend who turns on him as the friend gets caught up in “Islamophobia.”

Sure, there is an example of jihadist-leaning Muslims at a radical mosque and Khan is unfairly imprisoned in Gitmo-like conditions. It’s all really exaggerated, it would seem. And then there is the issue of the geographically-challenged sets with southern California supposed to be Kentucky or what looks to be the low-rising mountains of India (looking more like something off the set of Apocalypse Now) standing in for coastal Georgia. And speaking of that, when Khan stumbles into the small, all-black town in Georgia, which is later hit by a Katrina-esque storm, the black characters almost seem like caricatures out of some 1930’s-era film. Perhaps they didn’t do their homework?

That said, the theme, it seems, is that with Islam and Muslims being the “other” in the eyes of the Western world, Khan is trying to get the message across that there is good and bad in all cultures and religions.

Something to think about as the media continues to thoroughly examine Islam and its place in American culture.

Grade – B-

Copyright 2010 West Marie Media

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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