Thursday, April 29, 2010
my name is khan, and it sucks to be me
You know its going to be a bundle when a man who sells skin whitening cream in real life is playing the role of a racially profiled autistic man in america. But how big of a fiasco "My name is khan" is can only be fathomed if you sit through this preposterous and idiotic film. Made by a chubby Bombay kid called Karan Jauhar who has little or no sense of post 9-11 racial and imperialist politics of america, this film is an exercise in chootiapa.
I once watched shahrukh for the kitsch factor. I watched him in St. Louis and then again in California. Yes Boss and Pardes were cute films. Shahrukh had a kick to him. An underdog who is not handsome and at the brink of either making it or failing. Agitated by a constant self loathing, he chases heroines, stalks them (Kiran in Darr), and pimps them for his superiors (Juhi in Yes Boss, and Mahima in Pardes). But his falling from grace was the ominous (and potent) song written for him by Javed Akhtar.
Mein Ban Jaoon sab se Bada, bas itna sa khawab hai.
Somewhere the gods of wrath were listening. Now Shahrukh is basking in the wealth of endorsement - he owns an IPL team. (And as Huma informs us) he sold his soul for magic beans when he played a young Vajpayee in the backdrop of the Gujarat massacres.
But the short of it is: It is not believable when a rich bastard like him plays the role of a disabled man thrown into jail in an incident of racial profiling. A man who is innately good and literal, patriotic, law abiding and head bobbing. Khan's real life persona is so overwhelming, his poor acting skills are hardly able to mask.
Much futile fanfare about his chemistry with Kajol. It is a transitory funny moment in the film when autistic Shahrukh asks Kajol as she is preparing a meal, "Can we have sex?" You don't believe him for a moment - the diva that he is. The more rich and famous and powerful people get, the less capable they are of normal sex. The humor was Kajol's reaction. She grins and runs into the bedroom after him. Now, he is autistic and conversation is not his forte So we know Kajol ain't in it for the mental stimulation.
A brief assertion of female sexuality.
I wished Kajol was not so set and framed in the film. Audiences are past (or ought to be) past seeing yellow light shone on flawlessly made up faces - big blue eyes and hair - staring vacuously past the lens. Nevertheless, her scenes were okay. She is Mandira. She loses a son to a hate crime. She walks onto the soccer field with poster demanding justice. She ends a relationship so she may bereave on a wave of hate and separation. All believable - except for the Hindu-Muslim undercurrent.
Its unavoidable that the Hindu woman is punished for lusting for and marrying a Muslim man - the punishment being that she loses her son - a son whom she had (ironically) Muslimized by giving him a Muslim last name. And now as she grieves she must also forgo all pleasure and shun her Muslim husband.
She is chastised for her sexuality -- until the Muslim proves himself worthy (in a miscegenated Indian american patriotism.)
The problem with the film from start to finish is Sharukh and its politics. So fake were the racial politics, I averted my eyes at the disingenuous depiction of power when his mouth is pulled open in an intimate search by the police. I hope the actors got to wash the foundation cream off their hands right after the scene.
Its disingenuous because ultimately it is a story about the american justice system working. Racially profiled people doing their time, and coming out the other side of the metal fence, celebrating america, and in a quest to meet the president. Ultimately the message Khan has for the president is meaningless. What shrieks forth is a belief that the establishment is forgiving, and we shall overcome. And truth shall see the (yellow) light of day.
Never mind that you were illegally detained for several days, and subjected to degrading treatment. Its a sado masochistic enactment of the personal role plays of imperialism and military-prison-industrial. It reminded me of the racially grotesque film "Monster Ball" where Halle Belle's character sleeps with the very (white) man who executes the father of her son, a black man.
Attempting to critique the politically destructive instinct of how in the aftermath of 9-11, Hindus and Sikhs sought to be distinguished from Muslims, the real suspects and conspirators, the film ends up reinforcing it. That secular Muslims (ones who Muslim-ness is limited to occasional intrusive salams and epiglottis rehearsals of the "kh" sound in urdu) must be set apart from the ones in basement mosques inciting young believers into plots to blow up subways.
In fact to make cheese cheesier, in an audacious display of (we're the Indian state and we are anxious to prove ourselves in the international war against Muslim terror) Sharukh's character is deeply "hinduized" - he may get to keep his prayer mat - but he is steeped in an acceptance of the Indian State's choreographed criminalization of Muslim men. (For e,g the trial of Mohammad Afzal where he was unfairly sentenced to hanging for his role in the attacks on the Indian parliament - a sentence that was more to appease some imagined, some constructed middle class, public sentiment.)
Thus he (Khan) calls the FBI and rats out a suspect in a prayer cap. (An actor who looks surprisingly like a lovechild of Fareed Zakaria and Steve Colbert)
It isn't a surprise then that India got itself a POTA when the US got itself a Patriot act. Other racial stumbles.
The black woman from Georgia is portrayed as some white fantasy of an aunt Jemima type figure. A universal mother. She opens her heart, her home, her kitchen, to this autistic stranger -- and her wardrobe. Khan's clothes are soaked so he wears a dress of hers. Why is this moment so utterly not heart warming?
And if its a secret nod to Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie (where he dresses in drag) and in Rainman (where he is autistic) then I hope, for their sake, it was intentional.
Khan rescues a small Georgian town and many of its residents. The brown man saves the day, from a flood that is reminiscent of Katrina, proving that even coconuts have burdens.
I just wish they weren't unburdening them on us. What with multi billions and Fox Searchlight promoting such sappy drama.