Subhash K Jha Revisits Karan Johar’s Finest Work 'My Name Is Khan' As It Completes 12 Years

He repairs almost anything, including irreparably damaged relationships . But this film about damaged lives needs no repairing. My Name Is Khan is an almost-flawless work, as perfect in content, tone and treatment as any film can get . The ‘message’ of humanism doesn’t comes across in long pedantic speeches . The film’s longest monologue has our damaged but exceptionally coherent hero Rizwan telling a congregation of Black American church-goers about his dead son .

And if that moment moves us to tears it’s because the emotions are neither manipulative nor flamboyant.It isn’t because Rizwan’s son Sameer perished in a racial attack. It isn’t even because Shah Rukh Khan delivers his life’s best performance in that moment of reckoning. Rizwan’s heartfelt rhetorics are not about changing the world with words. Born with a physical disability this is a man on the move. And boy, does he move!

In what is possibly the most touching testament on film to the spirit of world peace and humanism(lofty ideals to achieve in the massy-masala format but see how pitch-perfect Johar gets it) Rizwan takes off on a picaresque journey to meet the US President with a message that initially strikes us as being too naïve for reiteration.

But look closer. Some of life’s basic values have been lost in recent times. Writer Shibani Bathija’s seamless screenplay, arguably the best piece of writing since Rakeysh Mehra’s Rang De Basanti, recovers that long-lost message of loving your fellow humanbeing unconditionally without getting trite around the edges.

Sex and politics have nothing to do with it. It’s okay to hug your neighbour.

First and foremost My Name Is Khan is a wonderful story told with a flair and flourish that leave a lingering impact on the viewer. Almost every frame is composed with a mix of mind and heart creating an irresistible progression of moments so tender and forcible we’re simply swept away in the tides of the tale about a very special man who undertakes a very special journey.

My Names Is Khan opens with Rizwan boarding an American flight being frisked after a suspicious co-passenger hears him chanting religious passages. Before we begin to suspect this to be one more film on the persecution of the innocent Muslim, Karan Johar doing a smart and slick spin away from his trademark content and style, takes his hero on a journey that crosses several emotional,political and geographical borders before stopping with breathless integrity to say, life doesn’t go on…it changes colours and textures with the moral values that the individual chooses to confer on the life given to him.

Superbly scripted by Bathija with pithy outstanding dialogues by Niranjan Iyenger, the film is edited by Deepa Bhatia with just that much amount of time allotted to the character’s and their thought processes to make them appear warm humane and tangible without over-punctuating their presence.

Karan Johar always a master of overstatement, for once holds back. The silences in My Name Is Khan often speak far more eloquently than the spoken words.The relationships that the inarticulate Rizwan forms during the course of his life from child to husband to father to a political individual are contoured with a luminous lack of laboriousness.Whether it’s young Rizwan (played sensitively by Tanay Cheda) and his mother (Zarina Wahab, memorable in her brief appearance) or much later, Rizvan and his step-son(brilliant young discovery Yuvaan Makar) the traditional relationships are done-up in striking but subtle shades.We look at every moment in the film(even the clumsily-done flood sequences) as special because they are part of vision that goes far beyond the real of hop-in-hop-out entertainment.

The director swerves out of his comfort zone without the sound of screechy wheels . Karan Johar’s unconventional take on modern marital mores in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna faltered due to over-statement . In Khan he doesn’t try hard. The characters and their predicament as America gets increasingly suspicious and hostile about the Muslim presence, are portrayed with a lightness of touch that lights up almost every sequence.

Then there is Kajol to provide the kind of natural light to every frame that no amount of artificial light can supplement. As Rizwan’s Hindu wife Mandira with a smart intelligent son she has a distinctly secondary role to Shah Rukh Khan. She leaves a lasting impact as a divorcee and later an angry wife and grieving mother, as only Kajol can .

The scenes of courtship between Mandira and Rizwan work so beautifully because of the exceptional chemistry between the two actors. More than a strong political statement and moving message of peace My Name Is A Khan is a love story of a man who can’t express his love through words, only deeds. This is a film that Frank Capra would’ve made if he had lived long enough to see 9/11 happen.

The narration is carpeted with virtues, both invisible and visible. Ravi K Chandran’s cinematography captures the incandescent soul of the pure-hearted protagonist as effectively as the stubbornly unbroken spirit of unknown passersby on the streets of America.

Rizwan, we are told, is petrified of the yellow colour.The offending colour recurs with just a hint of insistence. Rizwan wears shocking pink because he hears Mandira’s buddy(Navneet Nishan) say it suits her. He proposes marriage and sex(in that order) at the most inopportune moments. He suggests Mandira have her dinner when she’s traumatized by grief. He wears his dead son’s shoes as he takes off to meet the President.Rizwan moves by his clock. But his tale is timeless.

Shah Rukh Khan doesn’t PLAY Rizwan. He becomes one with the character’s subconscious, portraying the man and his spirit with strokes of an invisible paintbrush until what we see is what we cannot forget. Undoubtedly this is Shah Rukh’s best performance ever.

This is no ordinary hero. And My Name Is Khan is no ordinary film. Long after the wary-of-physical-touch Rizwan has finally shaken hands with President Obama, long after the heat and dust of racial and communal hatred has settled down the core of humanism that the film secretes stays with you.Yes, we finally know what they mean by a feelgood film.

Speaking On Shah Rukh Khan’s nuanced rousing performance in My Name Is Khan, Karan Johar had said to me, “He did monumental research on his autistic character in My Name Is Khan. I was zapped by how much he knew on the subject. And he brought all the knowledge on the sets without any strain. He had written reams of notes on how he wanted to interpret his character. And to him it was no big deal. He’s ready to direct a film any time. He will be outstanding at it. His understanding of human nature and emotions can never be matched by me.I feel two hardworking talented people are bound to form a productive team. When these two people share a special familial camaraderie there’s bound to be very valuable emotions between them, and those emotions are bound to translate on screen. Shah Rukh and I work so well together because we care so deeply for each other in real life. Creativity compounded with brotherly love cannot go wrong. If you ask me, I’m happy piggybacking on his stardom. There can never be an ego between us . I know only too well that he’s successful way beyond what I can ever be . Stars don’t get any bigger than Shah Rukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan. Once a filmmaker accepts that the ego never comes in the way. I’m happy with the success God has given me. And I’m happy God has given me Shah Rukh to attain that success. There’re certain stars who glow much more brightly than others. That’s why they’re called superstars.Shah Rukh has been integral to my cinema from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to My Name Is Khan On a personal level he is family , friend and that elder brother I never had. Shah Rukh and I feel we’ve made a film we can be proud of. It’s the most uncorrupted uncompromised and honest film we’ve made. My Name Is Khan wasn’t easy. It’s the socio-political journey of Shah Rukh’s character Rizwan from the age of 4 to 40. In his journey Shah Rukh encounters major political upheavals from a communal riot in India to 9/11 in the US. But my film is not about any specific political event. Nor is it about the Asperger’s Syndrome.My hero is autistic. He couldn’t be neuro-typical because he had to see life with a direct honesty and clarity denied to normal people. MNIK is a super-hero film where the hero’s power is the power of humanity.

Like my movie said, ‘We’ve to be stronger than our fears, greater than our limits and more than just a name.’ More power to the force of humanity. I just believe we as Indians are such a strong force. We underestimate ourselves. There’s much power in the power of unity. …I was dealing with a subject which had a very strong message and with a character who wasn’t neuro-typical. The character of Rizwan(Shah Rukh Khan) had to be portrayed very sensitively. If you notice we never made the character’s autism the issue. The problem is not his autism but the quality of human beings we are. There’s an irony running through the film. You and I who are normal are cluttered and confused in our heads. And Rizwan sees life in black and white . Though he suffers from a medical condition he has an aspirational mind. And he takes us back to our roots to what he learnt as a child from his teacher and from his mother about there being good people and bad people. You can’t get any more simplistic. He knows no better. But I see Rizwan’s good-bad theory as a great comment on the divisive forces that try to divide us on the basis of religion, politics and communal. If we followed Rizwan’s guidelines as prescribed by his mother we’d possibly have a better world.For me the most favourite cinematic emotion is the triumph of the human spirit. If a film inspires you to better your life, you’ve succeeded as a director.”

About The Author
Subhash K Jha

Subhash K. Jha is a veteran Indian film critic, journalist based in Patna, Bihar. He is currently film critic with leading daily The Times of India, Firstpost, Deccan chronicle and DNA News, besides TV channels Zee News and News18 India.