Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rain Man, Forrest Gump, and Khan

My Name is Khan is a Bollywood film about stereotypes. Bollywood is not a real place but is the nickname for the film industry niche in India famous for stylized song and dance fantasy confection. Bollywood is headquartered in Mumbai, known in a previous incarnation as Bombay.

Khan, a Muslin immigrant to California from Mumbai, has Aspergers Syndrome autism, which is characterized by symptoms that include avoiding to make eye-contact but verbal skill often marked by unedited bluntness and literalism easily misunderstood, as when Khan sets off all the alarms at the airport when he says to the Homeland Security Officers he is going to Washington, D.C., to tell the President, “My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist.”

Khan falls in love with the most beautiful, intelligent, and charming Hindu girl in California, a single mom as a result of an arranged marriage that did not work out. A successful entrepreneur beauty shop operator, she agrees to marry Khan. About this time, you begin to figure out this film is a fairy tale and fable.

This movie caught my attention as I browsed the rental shelves of the Blockbuster store in Atlanta on Ponce de Leon Ave. and Barnett St., the only Blockbuster within a 45 minute drive that is not in the process of closing and liquidating its stock. Since then, I found it listed by Redbox, which has a half dozen vending machine locations less than 10 minutes from my house. Redbox rentals are $1 per night. I guess that's why Blockbuster is The Incredible Shrinking Video Store.

My Name Is Khan, directed by Karan Johar, stars Shahrukh Khan and Kajol, Bollywood royalty who reunite for the first time in nine years. Khan’s portrayal of the film’s autistic main character will inevitably bring to mind Dustin Hoffman as Rain Man and Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump, in whose respected company the Bollywood iternational superstar holds his own. Life for Khan’s Khan is not, however, a box of chocolates.

"Khan is one of a handful of Hindi films about Indians living in a paranoid, post-9/11 America, and there’s something fascinating about looking at this country through a Bollywood lens,” according to The New York Times. The Hollywood Reporter stated My Name Is Khan is, "a film that delves compellingly into Americans' anti-Muslim hysteria" as it tackles "a subject American movies have mostly avoided -- that of racial profiling and the plight of Muslim-Americans.”

After 9/11, Khan’s family is crushed. His beautiful bride’s son dies in an incident of teenage racial bullying. Khan embarks on a coast-to-coast, border-to-border pilgrimage through the United States, as if in desperate search for America. He carries a sign hand written with the message, “I can fix almost anything.” He finds an anti-American group in a mosque he visits. He confronts them as going against the teachings of Islam, and he turns them in. Additionally, he throws stones at them and calls them “The Devil,” a scene alluding to a ritual throwing stones at the devil as part of the Hajj, one of five Pillars of Islam, the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims who are physically and financially able. Among other things, the Hajj commemorates the Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismael, as commanded by Allah. Because of Ibrahim’s obedience, Allah accepted sacrifice of a lamb in the place of Ismael.

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