Faith Review – My Name is Khan (2010)

My_Name_Is_Khan

 

Faith Review of My Name is Khan

By Kathy Sharp

Film Title: My Name is Khan     

Year: 2010

Director: Karan Johar.  Johar is one of the most successful filmmakers in Bollywood (the Hindi language Mumbai, India film industry).  A writer and producer as well as director, the four films he has directed have been the highest grossing Indian productions in the overseas market.  His films always star his close friend Shahrukh Khan who plays the central character Rizvan Khan in this film.

 

Original release form/venue: Originally released in theaters in India and shortly afterward internationally.

Current Availability and formats: DVD, Blu-Ray; Netflix, Amazon instant. In Hindi, Urdu, and English with English subtitles.

Genre: Romance/Drama/Bollywood

 

Story elements: The film opens in the San Francisco airport in November 2007 as Indian-born American Rizvan Khan is removed from the security line (an obvious subject of profiling) and extensively searched, thus missing his flight to Washington, DC.  During the interrogation we learn that his goal is to meet the President (George W Bush at the time) and to deliver the message, “My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist.”  Why he must meet the president and deliver this message is part of the story we discover as the film progresses.  The frame for the film is Khan’s journey criss-crossing the United States as he attempts to meet the president.  The background to the story is told in flashbacks and journal entries made during his travels, and it is there that we discover his mission.

Khan has Asberger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and the peculiar idiosyncrasies that he has as a result of this syndrome play a key role in the development of the story.  Khan moves to America after his mother dies to live with his brother and work for him.  Khan is Muslim but in spite of his brother’s objections, he marries a single mom, Mandira who is Hindi with a young son, Sameer.  Khan always remembers what his mother told him once – there are only two kinds of people, good people who do good deeds and bad people who do bad deeds.  Religion does not make people different.  The new family is very happy together, settling into a middle-class suburb, finding good friends, and starting a business.  Then, on September 11, 2001, their world suddenly changes. They are harassed because of their Muslim name even though Mandira and Sam are Hindu.  The harassment has tragic results; the family falls apart and Khan’s wife Mandira tells him to leave and not to come back until he says to the president, “My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist.”  His attempt to fulfill her demand takes him all around the country and he encounters many different people – good and bad.  In Wilhelmina, Georgia he is taken in by Mama Jenny and funny-haired Joel and comes to care for them.  After he is arrested for being a terrorist he gets the attention of a young journalist who discovers his story and follows him once he is released.  Khan becomes a hero and inspiration for Muslims around the country when he helps save Mama Jenny and Funny Haired Joel after a hurricane.  This part of the story seems to take place in another world, where people of different races and religions come together and do good for others.  But it gets national attention by the media and healing begins to occur for Khan, for the people of Wilhelmina, for the journalists, for many Muslim Americans, and eventually for Khan’s family.

 

Film Language elements:  One characteristic of Ausperger’s is often an intolerance of direct contact with others, such as touch and looking people in the eye and an inability to show emotion or appropriately react to the emotions of others.  Khan has difficulty with all of these things and only reluctantly allows his mother and others to hug him.  He learns to look directly at people through a video camera, and never thinks to express his feelings of love and appreciation for those close to him.  Khan also takes things that are said very literally.  With this in mind, facial shots are important in this film and I think that through these close ups the viewer sees the characters in a way that Khan does not, and we determine his progress through the movie by how much what Khan sees coincides with what we see through the film maker’s camera.  We experience the beauty, emotion, and thoughts of the characters through their faces in a way Khan cannot.  His understanding comes in another way that the viewer does not always comprehend; the viewer is constantly challenged to see what Khan sees and to reconcile that to what “normal” people see. It is enlightening to view the racism and prejudice in the film through Khan’s eyes.

The setting is filmed in a realistic way with the exception of the scenes in Wilhelmina, Georgia.  Wilhelmina is clearly a fictional place (there are no mountains near the ocean in Georgia) and the film here has a dreamy, fairy tale quality that distinguishes these scenes from the rest of the movie and prepares us for the extraordinary healing that will happen here on two occasions – the memorial service for those who have died in combat since 9/11 during which Khan gives tribute to Sam and begins to heal with the singing of “We shall Overcome” and the relief effort after the hurricane during which Khan realizes that he cannot, and does not have to, fix everything alone.

On the day Sameer was killed, he wore a new pair of soccer shoes that Khan had bought for him.  Khan put these shoes on when he left for his journey to meet the president.  Until the final scene, when Rizvan finally meets the president, we see him wearing those shoes, and in spite of all the travel, they seem to always look new.  When a reporter asks him what kept him going on his journey, Khan replied, “My son’s soccer shoes.”

 

Audience/Cultural Context elements: The intended audience is a relatively mature one but it accessible to teens and older. There is some violence in the film and the viewer must be able to keep up with the subtitles.  The viewer should also have experienced or be aware of the impact that 9/11 has had and still has on the United States and especially on its Muslim/Arab population.  The film critiques today’s cultures, such as that of the U.S. and India, where differences in religion can be the sole reason for hatred and violence against fellow citizens.

 

Theological themes for conversation:   Theology is found implicitly and explicitly in this film.  It explores themes of good and evil, forgiveness, and redemption.  The film could be discussed in the topics Intercultural and interreligious dialogue, Relationship in community, and the human condition.  The film is particularly interesting in that it is told from the point of view of a Muslim American married to a Hindu American. There are several scenes that demonstrate the ethical similarities in Christianity and Islam and how we as human beings can disregard or distort those similarities.

The literal mind of Khan takes his mother’s explanation of human nature as good and evil based on the works each person does literally and it can come across as simplistic.  We tend to view human nature as more complicated than that and the film can help us explore this question.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are important themes in the film.  The need for individual, family, and communal forgiveness and reconciliation are needed.  Mandira must find a way to forgive and be reconciled with herself, with Khan, and with her community. Christian and Muslim Americans need to find a way to be reconciled to each other and if possible to forgive the violent acts that arise out of misunderstanding.

The theme of faithfulness comes through in this film in Khan’s actions as he reminds us what it means to remain faithful to who we are and what we believe.  Khan is unable to be anything but who he is while other characters struggle with their religious practices and with their relationship to God and community.  After Khan’s Muslim sister-in-law is attacked, her husband tells her to stop wearing her head scarf saying, “Allah will understand, these people will not.”  But healing cannot begin to occur for her until she is able to wear her scarf again.  Khan’s travelling companions suggest that praying in public might not be a good idea, but he tells them that prayer should never depend on the place and people, only on faith, and Khan prays faithfully.

 

Suggested type of conversation: This film would be interesting to encounter simultaneously through the Koran and the Bible, if possible having a religious Muslim help to lead the discussion.  Passages to use could include the following:

  1. Quran the Table 5.32.  “Whoever saves a human life shall be regarded as though they had saved all humankind” along with Matthew 7.12, “Treat others as you want them to treat you.  This is what the Law and the Prophets are all about.”
  2. Quran, the Cow, “Whichever way you turn there is the face of God” with Psalm 20.4, “May God do what you want most and let all go well for you.”
  3. Quran Luqman 3.8, “God created us as one soul and as one soul God will bring us back to life” along with Matthew 5.44, “But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you.”
  4. Quran, The Nightly Visitant 86.4, “For every soul there is a guardian watching it” along with Psalm 46.1, “God is our mighty fortress, always ready to help in times of trouble.”
  5. Quran, Thunder 13.28 “In the remembrance of God our hearts are comforted.” With Psalm 147.3 “He renews our hopes and heals our bodies.”

Using these scriptures and the film, a conversation could explore the similarities of Muslim and Christian beliefs and most importantly how these beliefs are reflected in the way believers act in the world, especially toward each other.

 

Recommended ways to view and engage the film: While sections of this film could be used independently to illustrate interfaith issues, forgiveness, and reconciliation, I believe the best use of the film is to see it in its entirety and then use clips as part of a discussion.  The film itself is 2 hours and 45 minutes, a long film, and could be viewed individually before the discussion or in the first session of a multi-session discussion.  Once the entire film has been viewed, the following clips can be used as follows (see discussion questions following concluding comments):

Quran Luqman 3.8, “God created us as one soul and as one soul God will bring us back to life” along with Matthew 5.44, “But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you.”

  1. From the beginning to 7:54.  Khan, and obvious victim of racial profiling, is detained at the airport on suspicions that he is a terrorist.
  2. 7:45 to 13:50.  Rizvan is caught up in the Hindu-Muslim riots in India and Pakistan in 1963.  His mother teaches him about good people and bad people.
  3. 49:00 to 51:45:54 – Mandira’s story and the first singing of “We Shall Overcome”
  4. 52:10-54:02 – Motel scene where Rizvan is mistaken for a Hindu.

 

Quran, the Cow, “Whichever way you turn there is the face of God” with Psalm 20.4, “May God do what you want most and let all go well for you.”

  1. 1:03:02 to 1:09:15 – 9/11 happens and the world changes for the Khans and their community.
  2. 1:10:31 to 1:11:24 –  “We Shall Overcome” is sung again.  The Khans are trying to put their lives back together after 9/11.

 

Quran, The Nightly Visitant 86.4, “For every soul there is a guardian watching it” along with Psalm 46.1, “God is our mighty fortress, always ready to help in times of trouble.”

  1. 1:35:45 to 1:41:05 – Rizvan can repair almost anything and makes his living that way as he travels.  He tries to see the president at a fundraiser for hungry African children and is denied entrance because he is not a Christian.
  2. 1:43:20 to 1:50:03 – “We Shall Overcome” a third time. Khan meets Mama Jenny and Funny Haired Joel.  He is given the opportunity to express his grief in this embracing community.  Healing begins to occur.

 

Quran the Table 5.32.  “Whoever saves a human life shall be regarded as though they had saved all humankind” along with Matthew 7.12, “Treat others as you want them to treat you.  This is what the Law and the Prophets are all about.”

  1. 1:52:03 to 1:56:22 – Rizvan encounters terrorists in a mosque.  Discusses the nature of God with them.

 

Quran, Thunder 13.28 “In the remembrance of God our hearts are comforted.” With Psalm 147.3 “He renews our hopes and heals our bodies.”

  1. 2:14:35 to 2:31:30; 2:25:15 to 2:36:20 – Rizvan is more successful at healing because he is opening himself up to love and community, helping and being helped by others.  Mandira, on the other hand is alone, isolating herself from others as she seeks justice and vengeance.  Rizvan has done so much more with his love than Mandira has been able to accomplish through her hatred.

 

Concluding or summary remarks:  While the actor and director did an excellent job portraying a character with Asperger’s Syndrome, I do not think this is a film that should be watched for that reason.  The Asperger’s syndrome is part of Khan’s character and plays an essential role in his personality and relationships but the purpose of the film is not an accurate portrayal of someone with Asperger’s.

 

Questions for discussion of My Name is Khan

 

Quran, Thunder 13.28 “In the remembrance of God our hearts are comforted.” With Psalm 147.3 “He renews our hopes and heals our bodies.”

 

  1. From the beginning to 7:54.  Does the viewer make any assumptions during these scenes?  What are they?  What do you think is happening during the scenes?  What was really happening?
  2. 7:45 to 13:50.  What lesson was Ammi teaching Rizvan?  What did he learn?  How do you respond to this lesson?
  3. 49:00 to 51:45:54 – the sing Rizvan’s favorite song, “We shall overcome.’  What are they singing about here?
  4. 52:10-54:02 – What happened at the Motel?  What was really happening?

 

Quran, the Cow, “Whichever way you turn there is the face of God” with Psalm 20.4, “May God do what you want most and let all go well for you.”

  1. 1:03:02 to 1:09:15 – What changed for Rizvan and his family during this clip?  What changed for the country?  How does this look to us more than 10 years later?
  2. 1:10:31 to 1:11:24 – We hear “We Shall Overcome” again.  What are they singing about this time?

 

Quran, The Nightly Visitant 86.4, “For every soul there is a guardian watching it” along with Psalm 46.1, “God is our mighty fortress, always ready to help in times of trouble.”

  1. 1:35:45 to 1:41:05 – What happens when Rizvan tries to see the president at the fundraise for African children?  What really happens?  What do you think Jesus would have done if he had been working the table?  If he were Khan?
  2. 1:43:20 to 1:50:03 – “We Shall Overcome” a third time. How does healing occur here? For whom?  What is the difference in the way Rizvan and Mandira are approaching their loss?  Who is healing fastest?  Why?

 

Quran the Table 5.32.  “Whoever saves a human life shall be regarded as though they had saved all humankind” along with Matthew 7.12, “Treat others as you want them to treat you.  This is what the Law and the Prophets are all about.”

  1. 1:52:03 to 1:56:22 – What perceptions of God do we see here?  Who do you think is right?  What do you think about what is said in this scene related to what you think about the story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son?

 

Quran, Thunder 13.28 “In the remembrance of God our hearts are comforted.” With Psalm 147.3 “He renews our hopes and heals our bodies.”

  1. 2:14:35 to 2:31:30; 2:25:15 to 2:36:20 – Who asks for forgiveness here?  Who needs forgiveness?  Why? What happens when “sorry” isn’t enough? Should it be? Why or why not? How does healing occur in these scenes?  Who is healed?

 

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Contributors

Rev. Tom LaBonte, Rev. Mason Todd, Rev. John Elam, Elizabeth Sigmon, Star Crawford, Rev. Jeff Smith, Rev. Noe Juarez, Erin Mills, Katie Todd, Kelly Hames, Russ Pearson, Kathy Sharp, Lisa Lewis-Jenkins, Newton Cowan, Andy Blackwelder, Kim Lee, Inger Manchester, Dr. Pamela Mitchell-Legg, Jonathan Davis, Holly Frisk, Rev. Bob Tuttle, Donna Fair, Jana Creighton, Marty Simmons, Frank Cunningham, Tommy Holderness, Katherine Lamb, Megan Argabrite, Ken Fuquay, Mark Moss, Mary Anne Welch