My Name is Judge Daniel Kelly, and I am not a nerd.
My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist.
I'm not particularly versed in Bollywood, but apparently the cast and crew involved with My Name Is Khan are kind of a big deal. Actors Shahrukh Khan and Kajol are two of the biggest stars to come from the country, and the director Karan Johar is regularly touted as one of the brightest home grown Indian talents around. If this is the case (and I haven't just been wrongly informed), then I can't see my relationship with Bollywood growing any tighter. If My Name Is Khan represents the finest of Indian cinema at work, the results are underwhelming. It isn't necessarily a woeful film, but My Name Is Khan is a fairly rough ride and one that takes forever to end.
Khan (Shahrukh Khan, I Found a Groom) is a Muslim from Mumbai, and a sufferer of Asperger Syndrome, a major form of autism. Khan follows his younger brother to America and there meets the beautiful Mandira (Kajol, Fanaa), the two quickly falling in love and forming a family with Mandira's young son Sam (Yuvaan Makaar). However, in the wake of 9/11, the family finds itself persecuted by wider society, and Sam is later killed in a racially motivated attack by a group of schoolyard bullies. A distraught Mandira decides that in grief she can no longer be Khan's wife, in anger telling him to leave until he has proclaimed to every American including the President that his name is Khan and he is not a terrorist. The earnest Khan then sets out to do just that, in an attempt to reignite his wife's happiness. Along the way Khan meets several characters and endures heaps of discrimination, but nothing stops him from trying to achieve his lofty goal.
Shahrukh Khan's performance sadly brings to mind a certain speech Robert Downey Jr. makes in Tropic Thunder. You know, about not going "full retard." It's a crude and offensive turn of phrase but sadly unavoidably true with My Name Is Khan, Khan overplaying the Aspergers element to a laughable and vaguely exploitative degree. It's a performance lacking in pathos or soul, instead Khan focuses on a series of twitches and some silly stammering. In comparison to Dustin Hoffman's beautiful acting in Rain Man, Khan's attempt just seems like an overcooked stream of nonsense. Much better is the genuinely watchable Kajol, who manages to find attractive warmth during the picture's opening act, skillfully using this to highlight her character's anguish and disintegration as the film progresses. It's a relaxed but poignant piece of acting, and one that allows the audience to gravitate toward the actress naturally. If these are India's two most prominent thespians, I was shocked by the gap in quality I saw between them.
The film is rather picturesque to look at, and Johar finds several moments of emotional intensity and inspiration within the material, but overall his movie is inconsistent and permeates an overly sugary tone. My Name Is Khan is for large chunks of its runtime extremely obvious and more than a little cheesy, a tonal misstep that takes some sting out of the picture's more serious moments. The finale aims for an uplifting sense of victory, but unfortunately it feels stale and lazily stitched together. Johar's movie takes the audience on a vast 165 minute journey, so for the payoff to be so slack is a disappointment. I did find particular sequences and subplots to be of interest, such as that in which a determined Mandira searches for her son's killers, but ultimately too much of My Name Is Khan hits a bum note for the entire enterprise to be classed a success. Also aggravating is the fact the property regularly references racial issues that plague modern times, but never actually musters much of worth to say on the topic.
My Name Is Khan struggles to deliver on its weighty ambitions, and with such an overlong running time it's hard to see many viewers willingly sitting down to absorb this noble failure. In many ways the picture feels like a TV movie stretched way beyond its natural length and with a frustratingly showy but unpleasant leading performance at its core. My Name Is Khan isn't completely without emotional clarity or moments of heartfelt sorrow, but the few instances available don't validate the rest of the bloated content on show.
The DVD provided by Fox was a screener, and so the video and audio quality probably isn't of the same standard as the final product. The extra content featured is limited, amounting to a series of potentially interesting but very short featurettes concerning the film. All the main protagonists are on show and some fairly intriguing stuff concerning Indian filmmaking gets discussed, but more would certainly have served this slight release better. The extras also reveal that the two leading thespians are something of a legendary pairing in Bollywood, having worked on numerous epic romances together. Johar speaks uncontrollably about how their chemistry is rampant and unstoppable; something that shocked me given how unremarkable their onscreen relationship appears in My Name Is Khan. Two amiable but rather forgettable music promos are also on the disc. I actually enjoyed exploring the small amount of content this disc has to offer, but for Bollywood novices like me, a little more might have gone a long way.
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