As Autism Acceptance Month is coming to a close, I will also be bringing my first Autism in Film series to a close. I had a difficult time choosing what my last film for this month’s series would be, but ended up choosing “My Name is Khan”, a movie that I have actually heard about quite a lot.
“My Name Is Khan” was released in 2010, and was directed by Karan Johar. It was screened in the 60th Berlin International Film Festival, and broke records by grossing high in the overseas box office. In fact, it remained at the top until another favorite movie of mine, “Three Idiots”, replaced it in 2011. The movie also starred two of India’s biggest stars, Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, who reunited in this movie.
The movie follows Rizvan Khan (Shah Rukh Khan), a Muslim Indian who grew up in India knowing that he was different but brilliant. After his mother’s death, he joined his younger brother in San Francisco. There, Khan’s sister-in-law realized that he had Asperger’s Syndrome and got him a diagnosis; while his brother put him to work selling beauty products. While working, Khan met Mandira (Kajol), a Hindu hairdresser and divorcee with a young son, with whom Khan falls in love with. The two end up marrying despite their religious differences, and everything is good, until tragedy struck the small family seven years after 9/11. Because of this, Mandira told Khan to leave and not come back home until he has told the President that his name is Khan and that he isn’t a terrorist. So, taking her words to heart, the man who can repair almost anything set out on a journey in which he ended up touching the lives of others, as he tried to meet the President in order to fulfill his promise so that he could repair his relationship with Mandira.
Interestingly enough, this movie tries to tells us that it doesn’t matter what we are, what matters is that we are all people in the end; and that everyone deserves kindness, love and respect. In that regard, “My Name is Khan” delivers a powerful message, while showing audiences a new perspective in post-9/11 storytelling, the perspective of the Muslim American.
The movie itself was good, and was able to illicit the right emotions from its viewers all the time. The acting and visuals were good, and Kajol and Khan’s chemistry with each other was nothing short of electrifying. The music also was just something else.
My only gripes were that some of the actors made it seem a bit campy, and you can tell which part was done on a sound stage.
With regards to how Asperger’s Syndrome was shown here, I thought that his portrayal was a little bit too over the top, but then again, as not all cases are the same, there could be others who manifest their traits like that as well. However, even though it was over the top, I could relate to his reactions and freak outs especially when there were loud noises around him. However, I do think that Khan did a great job to the point that he was able to truly embody this character.
I also like how the movie showed us that aspies can be empowered when they are in a loving and nurturing environment, one that gives them the necessary tools for them to survive. It also showed me that even though he may not be able to provide as a normal husband or father does, he does fulfill his duties in other ways.
All in all, in terms of its humanistic message and what it does want to say about Asperger’s, I think that this film is a powerful and wonderful one, and well worth your time. Just make sure to bring tissues, because you will be crying through this one!
Now, before we move any further, this is a warning to turn back as there will be spoilers!
From the very start of the movie, you could already tell that Khan was very different. As a young boy, you could see that he had a knack for anything and everything mechanical, and that he had a brilliant mind, yet he hated loud noises. Aside from this, he had echolalia, an aversion to the color yellow, didn’t like to be touched or hugged, and was uncomfortable with eye contact. In fact, the only way he could make eye contact with people was through the cam corder that his sister-in-law gave him after she recognized his symptoms and encouraged him to get an official diagnosis.
I love that despite that, he was still able to make a living doing something that most aspies would find difficult doing as selling beauty products meant that you would have to interact with others on a daily basis. However, he pulled it off by trying all the products, and engaging in role play to practice the company spiel.
And it was this single minded tenacity that allowed him to go against all odds and win back Mandira’s heart by keeping his promise to her.
Mandira’s and Khan’s love story was just amazing, and in a way, it also gave me a little bit of hope. Mandira supported him, understood and was patient with him, but she never saw him as anything different. And what was even more amazing to me is that Sam had no problem with it either. I love that Khan does say that he realizes that he might not have been able to fulfill the ordinary duties of a father towards Sam, but I feel that he did a good job in being Sam’s father. He supported him, understood him, was his friend, and was there when he was needed.
As someone on the spectrum, I am a little bit scared of that day when I do have to come clean to a potential romantic partner that I am an aspie, but seeing a story like this reminds me that at the end of the day, we are all people, and it does give me hope for the future.
I also love how this movie shows us that Khan was able to survive and be independent because he has always been around loving and caring people who nurtured the best things about him and gave him the tools he needed in order to succeed. They didn’t spoonfeed him, just gave him the right push that he needed.
I still think that Khan’s portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome was a little bit over the top, but then again, maybe I look that way as well as I do have a habit of talking or muttering to myself when I go out alone.
I also liked how they showed how he stimmed here, as he liked to move several pebbles around in his hand.
In the end, “My Name is Khan” is a wonderful movie with a twofold message- that people are all the same and deserve the same love and respect; and that aspies will succeed especially if they are in a caring and nurturing environment that gives them the tools in order to succeed. The portrayal may have been a little bit over the top, but I think it’s still better than portrayals of yesteryear.
Have you seen “My Name is Khan”? Did you like or not like it? How did you like my Autism in Film series? What movies or books with autistic characters would you like me to review in the future? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Image Source: Official My Name is Khan Facebook Page