So this week’s movie is My Name Is Khan.
People have been recommending this to me since it came out so now I’ve finally watched it!
It was hard for me to pull together all my thoughts into a cohesive narrative, so instead I’ve just listed a lot of the things this movie brought up for me. Be warned, there are major spoilers here!
It’s always a little uncomfortable watching an actor portraying a disability they don’t have. I feel a little…weird… about Shah Rukh Khan playing a man with Asperger’s. It wasn’t exactly mild either. I’d be surprised if someone in real life with those symptoms wasn’t given a diagnosis of full-on Autism. My husband noticed that the movie has a Forrest Gump feel to it and I’d have to agree. A man who is abnormally honest and straight-forward goes on a journey changing the lives of those around him. So yeah. I’m still not sure how I feel about the portrayal of AS. I’ve long believed that characters with disabilities should be played by actors who have those disabilities. Even though every person’s experience is different, a person who has an experience of AS will bring a more honest and complex performance. Still, SRK is a very talented actor and does a great job losing himself in a role.
9/11. Yeah. Wow. That’s a pretty defining moment in American history.
As with many Americans, I can remember exactly where I was at the moment I heard. I had just interviewed for and gotten my first job, as a shelver at a campus library. I didn’t realize I needed my passport to process my paperwork, so I went back to my dorm to get it. I returned to the librarian and her face was ashen. She had just heard on the radio. At the time we all still thought it was an accident.
I was living at college with no TV. Other students gathered around those who had a TV to watch the news, but I didn’t. This was the days before Facebook, but I knew I would get all the info I needed from others.
It was ten years before I saw the broadcast of the image of it happening.
My reaction was not as black and white as many others around me. My first thought was that to say “the world has changed” was awfully self indulgent. There are places in the world where attacks like this happen frequently. Now that it happens to us, suddenly the world is different? We replayed and obsessed over this wound while our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world have dealt with much worse with much less fanfare. That rubbed me the wrong way.
The other thing that bothered me was all the “United We Stand” signs. I’m all for unity. But this wasn’t unity. This was an implied duality. “United We Stand Against You.”
This movie walks an interesting line, both showing the incredibly unfair treatment that Americans who are Muslim have faced since 9/11 while also showing the grand capability of the human heart.
I loved all the moments of interfaith kindness. Not surprisingly, the white people were oblivious to Rizvan’s plight. It was Hindu journalists who noticed that what he was shouting in the crowd near the president was that he was not a terrorist. It was Hindus who sought justice for him. After white people kept dismissing the story, it was a Sikh who helped carry the message far enough to get the story noticed. (And, side note, Parvan Dabas is just as cute, if not cuter, than he was when I first saw him in Monsoon Wedding!)Then the Christians in Georgia who are kind to him and who he is later able to help.
The movie really brought home for me all the ways that innocent Muslims were made to pay for the actions of some crazy people that they had no connection to.
I’m sure it was just Mandira’s grief speaking, but she’s a fool if she thinks Sameer’s last name had anything to do with his death. I can tell you for sure that 99% of white Americans have no idea that Khan is a Muslim name. They can’t tell the difference between someone from Pakistan and someone from Iran. Sameer was targeted because of his skin color, not because of his name.
I loved the sister-in-law character. She was so kind to Rizvan right from the start and she was able to figure out what his issues were. She continued to see him even after her husband boycotted his relationship with a Hindu woman. The brother says, “They’re different from us.” Are we, though? When it comes down to it, Mandira and Rizvan don’t seem very different at all.
I loved the scene of Rizvan and Mandira each worshiping in their own way in the same room. So sweet!
The actor who played Barack Obama did not look anything like him!
I loved the part where Rizvan schools the other worshipers at the Mosque. He hears a man arguing for hatred and violence and Rizvan is not afraid to call him out on it and to insist on the interpretation of love.
I respect that Rizvan prays no matter what. When other Muslims express fear about praying in front of non-Muslim Americans at the bus stop, Rizvan is not afraid. He doesn’t let other people’s perceptions and fears stop him from being true to himself and his faith. Sadly, when he prays for comfort while locked in prison, it just makes him look like an extremist.
The really big question I’m left with is…
Is morality as simple as Rizvan’s mother explains? She says that a good or bad person has nothing to do with his religion or ethnicity or creed. It is all to do with his actions. A good person does good and a bad person does bad.
For me, I acknowledge that I’ve been called a moral relativist and I have a lot of trouble declaring anything good or bad definitely! But I really do think it is not quite this simple. It’s a good guideline, certainly, but people who do bad things often do them because they think they are good things.
Who decides what’s a bad thing and what’s a good thing? Rizvan seems confident that he can always tell what’s a good deed and what’s not. Sometimes it’s not that black and white, though.
We’re all the heroes of our own stories and there’s very few of us who do bad things for the sake of being evil.
That said, the guideline I use for myself is that it’s a good thing if it brings an increase in love and kindness to the world.
For next week, the movie will be a little more cheerful! We’ll do Swades, which I always recommend to people as a great starter Hindi movie. It’s been a while since I saw it, but I think it will be interesting as a way to look at the experience of an NRI (non-resident Indian, i.e., Indian citizens living abroad such as in America) and the contrast of America and rural India. Plus, see SRK in a very different role!