Starring Shahrukh Khan and Kajol. In Hindi with English subtitles. Rated PG.
Released within a maelstrom of controversy in India that echoes the themes of the film, Karan Johar’s My Name is Khan is an unexpected achievement. The film reunites, Shahrukh Khan and Kajol, the pairing that have made Johar’s films box-office hits. While two of his earlier films were centred within the South Asian diaspora, this film is an altogether American story, set during a global moment.
Watch the trailer for My Name is Khan.
The film opens in an airport, the quintessential site for post–9/11 anxieties, where Rizvan Khan (Shahrukh Khan) is enduring the indignities of a full-body search. Khan is an Indian Muslim immigrant in the U.S. We learn that he has Asperger's syndrome, which precludes him from understanding subtext and nuance. Perhaps this is an asset in the new world order.
Khan is on a quest to tell the U.S. president that he is not a terrorist. This is, apparently, something that must be collectively clarified. He embarks on this mission after his wife Mandira (Kajol), in a fit of anger and grief, blames Khan for the hate that surrounds their multireligious family in post–9/11 America. Through his eyes, we see an alternate vision of America, and through a set of flashbacks, we learn about his childhood in India and the love story between him, his wife, and her son.
This is a multilayered, politically nuanced, and emotionally demanding film. There are places where Johar leans too heavily on melodrama. Yet he does reveal an American experience in which fear and suspicion are commonplace, and to which people of colour have simply adjusted. Mandira’s choice of anger over love is a metaphor for the larger societal choice of fear over respect for human dignity. This film imagines what could be if we collectively refuse to make that choice.