Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Name is Khan and my 2nd half will frustrate and disappoint you

I have already read quite a few reviews and many people have already hit on the most important points in more cogent ways than I can so this will most likely devolve into more of a rant which is what I'm best at anyway. You've been warned...

As someone who watches a fair number of Bollywood movies, though I am still relatively new to Hindi cinema, I am much more likely to suspend disbelief than the mainstream American movie watching public. That being said, even I was physically cringing about 5 minutes into the second half of this movie.

Wilhemina, GA, if you exist, I never want to visit because you now represent a black hole of disappointment to me. From the first moment that funny hair Joel's voice assaults you, I was squirming in my seat. This boy? girl? (still not sure about that) was acting like he? was on stage in a warehouse and trying to get across to one audience member at the opposite end of the building. Over-acting doesn't begin to describe it. The music that played when the door opened to Mama Jenny' it a home or a Juke Joint out of The Color Purple? It just gets worse from there.

Hey KJo, if you can do English subtitles when the characters are speaking Hindi, why not have Rizwan (who speaks very good English) speak English in the church when he is having the big emotional scene talking about Sam and use Hindi subtitles on the screen? The way it is now, I was wondering where all the residents of Wihemina learned Hindi since they all seemed to understand what he said. Maybe Rosetta Stone has a radio program that they listen to on the wireless?

The interrogator?! Really Karan? He's the best American actor you could find? I happen to know that there are probably hundreds of thousands of members of the Screen Actors Guild who would have sold their grandmother for a paying role in a movie. I'll bet you a million dollars that 90% of them could have acted that part better than the hack you hired. But, you do this all of the time so why should I be so surprised. Did an American pick on you when you were a kid or something because you seem to delight in choosing the worst actors you can find to play the American roles in your movies.

"Bloody Paki????" The only time I have ever heard that is in Bend it Like Beckham which, guess what? Takes place in England where people actually say "bloody" and know that Paki is a derogatory term. You're right about one thing, most Americans know very little about the intricacies of relations between different factions in the Muslim world and relations between Hindus and Muslims, etc. thus they also have no idea what a "Paki" is or that that is insulting or that some people believe that there is a difference beween Pakistanis and Indians other than a national border. Cut it out KJo! You're smarter than that.

Also, a lesson for you, though it should be common sense, if you can get into a hurricane/flood ravaged area, you can get out of it and that's what we do. We evacuate people when we're able too. We also still have a National Guard present for national disasters even when we're fighting wars in multiple countries. Just last week they evacuated people from highways in the East who were stuck in their cars during the blizzard. Luckily those people didn't have to resort to eating each other and trying to build fires in their glove boxes which is presumably what would happen in your world rather than removing themselves from the situation.

Don't even get me started with the woman at the African Relief benefit. I would have maybe let it slide if she had told him the event was for specific church groups only...still offensive but not as much as "for Christians only." If we made a film that had some similar sweeping generalizations about Hinduism or Islam, there would be rioting in the streets. For an educated man, this makes Karan look like an ignorant bigot which is ironic since I think that was the point he was trying to make about some Americans and some Christians.

I'm sure there is more I could bitch about if I thought about it some more, dead floating bodies come to mind, but why nitpick when there are so many immense flaws to discuss? Instead, let me now talk about what I loved about the movie, because I did love the first half and, of course, SRK!! Shah Rukh's performance was an absolute delight to watch.

Now, I could watch Shah Rukh sit quietly and read a book to himself for 3 hours and be entertained but he really was even more wonderful than usual in this role. You could see that he put a lot of study into what he was portraying and that he was trying very hard to be respectful in his performance. He succeeded in spades in my opinion. I don't believe any other actor could actually make you fall in love in a romantic sense with this character. I wondered going into it if they would deal with the physical aspect of marriage or just ignore it. I have to give them props for dealing with it in a funny, sensitive, wholly appropriate and charming way. I also have to say that even as a man with Asperger's, Shah Rukh is so handsome and charming that he makes my toes curl.

The first half of the movie that concentrates on the love story between Rizwan and Mandira is beautiful and I had a smile on my face the whole time. I was totally taken in by all of it. The scene where he shows her the view of SF at sunrise and it finally all comes together for Mandira was magical. I read one review, written by a man, and he said it was unbelievable that a woman would want to marry Rizwan and take on another child. Not even addressing how offensive that is since Rizwan was clearly very capable of taking care of himself and Sam and Mandira, the reviewer must have also missed the part about Mandira's first husband being a slimy beast, idiot, bastard. When your first marriage is arranged and he emotionally abuses you for three years, then abandons you for another woman with an infant in a foreign country with no means of support and never even sees his own child and then you meet this pure hearted man who clearly loves you though he may not be able to say it, puts all of his being into caring for you and your son and and wants nothing more than to be with you and your son, why wouldn't you fall in love with him? I don't have a slimy beast of an ex-husband and I fell in love with Rizwan.

Kajol is my favorite Hindi film actress. From the first dance in the procession in K3G, I have been in awe of her vibrancy and the energy of her screen presence. I also happen to like that off-screen she doesn't give a crap what people think of her. I thought she was lovely as Mandira and I can't imagine another actress who could be Mandira more convincingly. That being said, she has a few moments where her talking too fast got on my nerves and was distracting from the scene and she had a couple of times where the lines just came out really badly. Even so, the scene where she prepares Sam's body was beautifully done and very powerful. I read a review by someone who said she was too filmi in that scene but you really can't be too filmi in a scene that deals with a mother losing her child. I've seen someone very close to me go through it and there is just no way you can overplay that kind of anguish. She was spot on.

There were some beautiful scenes in the movie. I particularly loved the scene of Rizwan sitting under an enormous Joshua Tree at sunset writing in his journal. These are the things that Karan excels at and his shots of San Francisco were likewise lush and beautiful. Unfortunately, someone also needs to tell him that there are no Joshua Trees in Kentucky and Death Valley can only consistently be used as a backdrop for Tatooine, not the entire United States.

So, overall, a very flawed movie that frustrates me to no end because the ingredients were there for a huge crossover success but the second half was just too ridiculous for words. Sadly, some important messages that maybe a lot of Americans should hear will get lost in the noise of preposterousness. I was actually very affected by the scene in the mosque. I thought it was well done without being too heavy handed but the mainstream American audience will miss out on it because no one involved in the making of MNIK could be bothered to fully commit and have some honest Americans on staff to tell them to cut out the bullshit. If I sound angry it's because I am a bit. I respect and love SRK, Kajol, Hindi cinema and, yes, even Karan, so much that I want them to be successful with non-Indian Americans too. I want the Western world to appreciate them as much as I do and this film could have done it if the second half had been as well done as the first. Instead, it went off the rails and turned into melodramatic mishmash of offensive stereotypes, filmi overindulgence and slap dash filmcraft. Shah Rukh deserved a perfect film for his perfect performance and he didn't get it.


Beth said...

Really all I can say is RIGHT ON!!! Also, how did I not remember that Rizvan's big speech in the Wilhelmina church was in HINDI?!?! Hilarious!

Christy said...

It's really a lot of verbal diarhhea. I can do better but Karan really pissed me off with this one. From now on may need to institute a 5 day cooling down period before posting review.

Anonymous said...

Just read this and yes the 2nd half left a lot to be desired in terms of believability
Yes I too winced at the reference to "Funny Hair" Joel (true he and the rest of Wilhemina were a stereotype...but Shah Rukh and Karan have explained it as relation to Indian comic I assume its the same here) and Mama Jenny (why are Christians in Bollywood movies always 'Jenny'? ref KHNH A Jennifer Kendal hangover(Shashi Kapoor's English wife). One of my black English friends didnt like the reference to Funny Hair and even the afro style wigs in Dard e Disco worn by Russian dance extras who had blacked up!
Yes the weakness of the hurricane plot is that if Rizvan and family and all could get into Wilhemina...why couldnt the residents get out? as for speaking in Hindi I think Karan forgot that Riz should have started in English and then melded into Hindi like Haseena does when she explains to the class why she reverts to wearing a hijab.
Anyway Karan is getting better and at least some of the American actors could act unlike the Director of the space centre in Swades or the corny nursing staff in KANK...I thought Obama lookalike and Sarah and Reese were good...Mark was the most wooden actor I have seen!....yes it was short of the perfect film for Shah Rukh but he made up for almost all the flaws.....I have watched the movie 11 times and I still love every second of him on screen!

Thelondongirl said...

well before this movie,( which i watched having no idea SRK was in it) I absolutely abhorred Srk. I thought he was hammy, corny, too much. I loved this film. I love it too because its the only film that my husband woke up and thoroughly enjoyed. its funny that one of your commenters ( is that a word?) said that a black english friend balked at the funny hair joel mark. that didnt do it for me. As a black British woman myself, what got me was the silly fat black mammy type woman at the airport. all too often black women ( especially dark skinned black women) are shown like slave mammies in Bollywood films, it exposes the shade-ist mentality present in India that just turns my stomach. So in a way mama jenny, though still fat and mammy-ish , being shown in a positive way, kind generous; didnt bother me as much.
yes the whole we shall overcome thing was lame, yes the Katrina overtone was also a bit overplayed. I will however say that though there is a National Guard in the Usa, it took them days to penetrate New Orleans, there were many stories of individuals going in and helping their friends and family. So though I take your point that if he could get in they could get out, maybe it was more about americas priorities when it came to blacks, and the slow response at that time
I fell for SRK in this film since then i have slavishly downloaded and watched over 2 thirds of his films that he has done over the last 20 years. I think he is to be commended because he started taking a risk and now as he is getting older he continues to do so, not being afraid to be cast in a negative role. there is a somewhat self referential element to his films of late, but he put his all into this film and he deserved a better director.