Call it the chocolatization of volatile civil discussion. You'd think chocolate is incompatible with politically charged conversation, but the harmony is surprisingly contagious. It helps that whatever causes the film is speaking for have one of the biggest champions that it could ask for, in this part of the sub-continent - Shah Rukh Khan, and all the multiple layers that come with his name and his celebritydom.
My Name Is Khan is a frank, no-nonsense take on the right to religious self-respect, a "fight of an individual against the state", and yet, as breezy as an audience full of heart strings might want it to be. And also, right "from the epiglottis", borrowing Khan's oft-repeated dialogue in the film.
Rizwan Khan (Shah Rukh Khan), is a victim of Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. Lack of social tact, the fear of loud sounds, and an incredibly high IQ characterize the symptoms of the medical condition. Brought up by a loving mother (Zarina Wahab) in the run-down by-lanes of Mumbai, the adult Khan sets out to the US to reunite with his brother (Jimmy Shergill).
America makes it easier to deal with the disorder since help is available, and his brother also assigns him a job - one that leads him to wooing a Hindu hairdresser, Mandira (Kajol). All is well, until the 9/11 attacks, after which its bitter repercussions are felt by Muslims all over the USA. The lives of Khan and Mandira change, too - and Khan is on a mission to win Mandira back. He had to tell the President that his name is Khan and he is not a terrorist.
In a way, MNIK's biggest flaw is its raison d'etre itself - the fact that it makes an aspiration out of someone having to prove a point to a head of state thereby acknowledging a certain imbalance of moral authority. Indeed, when you want to prove a point to someone it is either because he's a bully or because you think he's God. That the film's point-prover is differently-abled and a member of a worldwide minority community, further emphasizes the strain in the whole exercise.
Still, Karan Johar's treatment makes the flick stay away from dread, conspiracy and sweeping generalizations, and gives the whole experience a warm, winning feel. The end result neither makes you feel that a disadvantaged man is helplessly oppressed, nor is it a desperate sermon on Islamic identity. It is compellingly matter-of-fact - the dialogues are charged when they have to be, and yet, chatty, and the issues are probed gently yet firmly.
And those skeptical of watching an autistic Khan needn't be put off, because as the film moves on, the disorder merely becomes incidental to the script. MNIK is no thesis on Asperger's Syndrome - Khan becomes suspiciously capable of articulating his feelings in the second half of the film - but fortunately for the story, that isn't the point at all.
Karan Johar has immense help from everything - a nation of audiences waiting simply to watch Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, and the consistently successful on-screen couple that they make; a powerful musical score; and his trademark grandeur in cinematography. And to the credit of the first, the romance is fluffy yet mature, and conversation is refreshingly spontaneous.
Shah Rukh Khan's portrayal of an autistic man is slightly difficult to watch for those of us accustomed to a signature performance from the superstar, but this seems to be targeted at the awards. Kajol is all charm and whistle-worthy screen presence, as expected. Needless to say, their chemistry still does light up entire theatres.
Jimmy Shergill, Parvin Dabas, Zarina Wahab and Vinay Pathak are among the recognizable Indian faces in the cast. The rest are either TV personalities or foreign actors. In all, there's no dearth of good performances.
Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy craft uplifting tracks reminiscent of their work in earlier Karan Johar films, especially the Sufi influence.
The visuals are glossy, but the irony of it all is how exclusively American Karan Johar's films are getting by the year. MNIK is no different, being set entirely in the US.
Watch it - you don't want to be the only one in the world to have missed it.