Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

Religious and National Identity in My Name Is Khan

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

Religious and National Identity in My Name Is Khan

Article excerpt

My Name Is Khan (2010, directed by Karan Johar) is a Bollywood film about an Indian Muslim man, Rizwan Khan (played by Shahrukh Khan) with Asberger's Syndrome, living in the San Francisco area and married to an Indian Hindu woman, Mandira Rathore (played by Kajol), who, post 9/11, sets off on a journey across the United States to meet the President and tell him, "My name is Khan, and I'm not a terrorist." Filmed in lush settings in both India and the U.S., this high-budget film was a blockbuster both in India and abroad and, at the time, was the largest grossing Indian film in overseas markets. For director Karan Johar, a Hindu, who was known for his highly successful glossy romantic dramas, such as Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) and Kabhi Khushi Kabbi Gam (2001), MNIK was a significant departure, both thematically and in terms of his replacement of diegetic music and song and dance numbers with a background musical score featuring Sufi-inspired lyrics. For actor Shahrukh Khan, a Muslim, the role was a bit of a departure as well. In the dozens of films he has made (89 credits listed in IMDB), he has played a Muslim role in only two previous films, Hey Ram (2000, directed by Kamal Haasan) and Chak De! India (2007, directed by Shimit Amin). Both of these films, in addition to MNIK, also depart from the Raj/Rahul type of romantic hero for which SRK became famous. Johar himself has said in interviews that the message of MNIK is very simple, and can be summed up in the words of Rizwan's mother, "There are two kinds of people, good people and bad people. Good people do good things, and bad people do bad things."

Six months before the release of MNIK, on Aug. 14, 2009, Shahrukh Khan, while on a trip to the U.S. to promote the film and to participate in Indian Independence Day celebrations, was detained and questioned by Homeland Security in the Newark airport because his name, Khan, had triggered a security alert (Shahrukh detained..., 2009). In Mumbai, India, the opening of the film on February 12, 2010, was threatened by militant Shiv Sena demonstrators, who accused SRK of treason for his comments about Pakistani cricket players (Marpakwar and Dube, 2010). These two incidents, ironically mirroring the theme of the film, relate directly to its intended audiences and messages. My Name is Khan, a story of love and the quest for justice, set in pre and post-9/11 U.S., is on one hand an attempt to dispel stereotypes about Muslims for a Western, primarily North American, audience. Equally important is the message for the Indian audience of national unity, interreligious harmony and cooperation, in the wake of the Mumbai bombings of 26/11 (Nov. 26, 2008), while at the same time celebrating distinctive Muslim, as well as Hindu, religious identities. In this essay, I argue that My Name is Khan, while navigating a minefield of problematic representations and cultural stereotypes, uses the journey of Rizwan Khan to present an identity that is at once both Muslim and Indian, while at the same time envisioning a utopian ideal of a common humanity. The bulk of the paper will explore the way in which Muslim images, practices, and beliefs-such as recitation of Bismillah, daily public prayer and wearing of prayer caps, hijab for women, giving of alms, the story of Abraham and Ishmael, and the pervasive Sufiana background musical score- are highlighted, reinterpreted, and re-contextualized in My Name Is Khan.

Representations of Muslims in Hindi Cinema

While it is difficult to generalize about portrayals of Muslims over the last century in such a large film industry, I refer the reader to a recent edited volume, Muslim culture in Indian cinema (Jain, 2011), for a sense of the range of Muslim themes. It is safe to say that, with few exceptions, Muslims are seldom depicted as villains in Indian films, as they often are in Western, especially American cinema. This is largely due to the Indian censor board, which restricts material derogatory to religious or caste minorities, as well as to the general ethos among Indian filmmakers that promotes the Indian nationalist ideal of a pluralistic and unified society. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.