After directing Shah Rukh Khan in a campus romance (‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’), a family drama (‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’), a film which spoke about finding love outside marriage (‘Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna’), filmmaker Karan Johar decided to tell a story which, according to his own admission, was out of his comfort zone but one which he was very driven about. Apart from being completely different from anything the actor-director had collaborated on in the past, it was also a subject which a lot of mainstream filmmakers would not have thought of tapping into.
In the film, Shah Rukh Khan played Rizwan Khan, a man who has been suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome since the time he was a child. A specific incident, which turns his life upside down, makes him realise that his name or rather, his identity has become synonymous with terrorism. As his marriage falls apart and his step-son, whom he was very close to, dies he decides to reach out to the President of the United States and tell him “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist.” Rizwan, who suffers from autism and has difficulty in expressing himself, thinks accomplishing this task will make him win his wife’s love back.
The film released in 2010 and back then, there were instances of hate-crimes against the Muslim community but Islamophobia, which refers to the fear or hatred towards people belonging to the Islamic community, is now at its peak. Not just in India, but we see people across the globe suffering from biases against Muslims, with a large number of prominent public figures even recommending measures to boycott or isolate them under the pretext of making this world a safer place for people to live in. While in India, you see prominent political personalities giving hate-speeches, in the US you have someone rising to prominence and ultimately, becoming the President of the country based on his anti-Muslim campaigns. In such times, it is important for artistes to come forward and put across pieces of work that would help dispel false notions and supress the tension which arises as a result of pre-conceived beliefs. Writer-director did that wonderfully well with his 2018 film ‘Mulk’.
‘My Name Is Khan’ was arguably one of the first films which touched upon this subject. It was a commercial with several tropes to please a larger audience but guess what, all of it worked very well. There was less subtlety, more drama and the film was made with the motive to tap into the global, commercial market. Despite trying to do this, Karan and writer Shibani Bathija dealt with the subject matter with utmost sensitivity. This was a brave, commercial film that has aged very well.