The Indian-made, mostly American set drama My Name is Khan, which opened Friday in India, the US and elsewhere. .
Here’s my review…
Bollywood storytelling, in all of its butt-numbing glory, is much in evidence in My Name is Khan, an India-to-America odyssey with a “How Others See Us” message.
A pleasant if politically charged love story between an Indian Muslim (Shahrukh Khan) who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and a Hindu single mom (Kajol), the polished production sometimes touches and amuses despite its naïve “love conquers all” script.
That absurd length is not the only Bollywood characteristic of Karan Johar’s film. It has lots of bouncy music, but little singing (“We Shall Overcome,” in English and Hindi), a generally chaste romance and high melodrama. But unlike Danny Boyle’s riff on Bollywood, Slumdog Millionaire, Khan shows that Bollywood unfiltered can be more vexing than engaging.
Rizwan Khan moves to San Francisco, a pathologically odd and shy man whose autism spectrum disorder is only diagnosed once he arrives. That doesn’t prevent his brother from sending him door to door, selling herbal beauty products.
A man leery of trying anything new, painfully awkward around people, who can’t make eye contact, prone to head-bobbing neuroses and repeating what others say, deathly afraid of the color yellow, as a salesman? OK. And naturally, he charms the gorgeous hair-dresser (Kajol, a dazzling beauty) and eventually wins her as his wife, Asperger’s be damned.
“I’m dying to cut your hair!”
“No no,” he says, taking everything literally, as Asperger’s sufferers do. “Don’t die.”
The tale is told in flashback as Khan writes in his journal to his lady love. In the present, he’s on a mission. Those rough weeks and months after 9/11, when people of many colors and cultures were suspected of terrorism, stretch into years of persecution. Khan feels the need to tell one and all “I am not a terrorist!”
There’s a real everything-but-the-kitchen-sink quality to this, as 9/11 segues into hate crimes, to being denied entrance to a “Christians only” political fundraiser, to unjust imprisonment and torture.
Oh, and there’s an epic Katrina-ish hurricane that hits Georgia and makes Khan a folk hero.
The longer My Name is Khan goes on, the worse it gets. The varied settings lead to geographical shortcuts, with the California desert around Joshua Tree passing for Kentucky, and a Georgia small town filled with singing black churchgoers looking right at home in the rainy Indian highlands.
The film’s Indian-centric TV newscasts (which everyone watches) and odd editing suggests it wasn’t designed for Western consumption.
But Shahrukh Khan’s Rain Man-by-way-of-Adam performance is consistent and affecting, and Kajol shows some range. It’s a good-looking movie with the polish that has allowed Bollywood to rival Hollywood in production values.
With Fox Searchlight releasing this film — and Aamir Khan’s daft, overlong dyslexia musical Like Stars on Earth now earning a big DVD push by Disney — it’s obvious that Hollywood wants Bollywood to import a Slumdog Millionaire-sized hit. My Name is Khan suggests that while the ambition, technical skill and acting talent is there, India’s writers are going to have to sit in an American cinema seat for a few hours, no breaks allowed, and structure their screenplays accordingly.
See for Yourself
My Name is Khan
one and a half stars out of four
Cast: Shahrukh Khan, Kajol
Director: Karan Johar
Running time: 2 hours, 45
Industry rating: Unrated, with profanity, innuendo