By no means am I a Bollywood (Indian Cinema) fan. I have only seen a handful of Bollywood movies in my life and never watched one in a theater – before last night.
I went to watch the King of Bollywood - Shah Rukh Khan - in his new film “My Name is Khan.” The film is making headlines across the world because of it’s pro-Muslim storyline – which is rare in the hindu dominated Indian cinema. A majority of the film was shot here in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The blockbuster had a huge opening in North America, grossing $761,000 on Sunday. It is for the first time that a Hindi-film has created such a box office record, earning so much for just one day.
People who have seen Bollywood films know that the majority of them are extravagant “Musicals” usually 3 to 4 hours in length. Most hits have the standard format of a young guy and girl who come from different walks of life and go through some kind of struggle to end up together in the end – with a few large dance and song routines in the middle of grass fields and villages in India. But “My Name is Khan” is not a typical Bollywood film. Rather, a serious one that tackles some of the tough issues such as prejudice, stereotypes, religious extremism, terrorism, security concerns and the commonality of the human condition across the world. It's quite surprising at how serious and “un-Bollywood like” the film is. And since it takes place in the U.S., with about 30 minutes of the beginning in India, a lot of the dialogue is in English, hence the subtitles for translation of the Hindi-Urdu languages! The other surprising element about the film is the fact that the star – Shah Rukh Khan, who adheres to the Islamic faith, decided to make such a film in the first place. Khan has a larger fan base across the world than any American actor. He is akin to Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington and Al Pacino, but packaged into one. Most Bollywood films stay away from religion, referencing only for a comic effect or to show some other stereotypical element. Since most Indians are hindus, the films reflect the main characters and religious ceremonies from the hindu perspective (usually). Shah Rukh Khan was born in India, but his father was Pakistani (from Peshawar), according to an interview I watched with him online here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWWBd6MD0Ew. Khan is Muslim, but he is married to a Hindu woman (similiar to the story in the film). They teach their two children both religions and do not force one religious view over the other. The father of two has played a “Muslim” character in a film before, but his character of “Rizvan Khan” is the first in which his being a Muslim is an integral part of the story. Thus, it is like he is going back to his Muslim Roots.
The King of Bollywood playing a role with a positive portrayal of Muslims, is a major historical event for Indian Cinema. It’s like Steven Speilberg's “Schindler’s List” to share his Jewish roots or Mel Gibson's “Passion of the Christ” to give a voice to his minority Catholic roots in mainstream Hollywood.
Khan has already received backlash in India because of his public support of Pakistani Cricket Players. Some Hindu Nationalist groups have threatened to ban this Bollywood blockbuster from being shown in local theaters in Mumbai in protest. WARNING SPOILERS BELOW!!! This is a shame because the film embodies the treatment of all people with respect and dignity, no matter their religion or ethnicity. Khan's character Rizvan Khan, an Indian-Muslim with Asperger’s syndrome (a type of autisim) comes to America to be close to his brother (after their mother dies in India). In the process, he befriends and falls in love with a Bay Area Indian woman named Mandira (who happens to be Hindu). Rizvan and Mandira get married and live a normal life until the attacks of Sept. 11th, 2001.
Mandira’s son Sameer is attacked in a hate crime at school. Sameer dies from his injuries and Mandira blames her marriage to a Muslim (Khan’s character) for her son’s death. Rizvan then goes across country to meet the President of the United States and explain to him that he is a Muslim, but he is not a Terrorist (a Mantra he keeps repeating throughout the film and thus the title of the movie). Of course the story is at times stretching reality and the ending is far fetched, but the process is believable because it is based on incidents that many people have gone through or experienced themselves in real life: security profiling at airports, racist and prejudiced people, as well as good people who help you get where you want to go. What is compelling about “My Name is Khan” is the way it humanizes Muslims. Of course there are extremists in the film, but the main character Rizvan is a very spiritual person and is not afraid to practice Islamic rituals in public – whether it being by reciting verses from the Holy Qur'an in a middle of a vigil for the victims of the 9/11 attacks, or by making salat (prayers) outside a truck stop while everyone (including a “normal” Muslim couple) watches him in awe.The film’s accurate portrayal of Islamic rituals and practices were impressive.
In the end “My Name is Khan” is about always having a positive attitude and never giving up on your dreams, no matter the odds stacked against you or who or what is in your way. It is also about being proud of who you are and not being prejudiced or hateful to other people just because they may come from a different background, culture or religion than you do. A very important message for both Muslims and Non-Muslims alike. I hope people learn this message of peace and understanding after watching this film. And I hope more films like “My Name is Khan” come out of Bollywood (as well as Hollywood), because we definitely need them in these trying times. I highly recommend everyone to watch the movie and tell all your friends to watch it too!
Although this film may have sections which portray Islam in a positive light, the overall message does not reflect proper Islamic thought. Rather it corrupts already weakened Muslims into thinking that marriage between a Hindu and Muslim is permissible and children can be brought up with both religions. As the Quran puts it::
"Today I have perfected your religion for you, and have bestowed upon you the full measure of My blessings, and willed that self-surrender unto Me shall be your way of life."
Islam is a complete and a perfect religion sent to us and bringing up and teaching children both religions contradicts core Islamic beliefs. Children brought up in this manner would be more confused than ever and quite possibly offering Islamic prayers to hindu gods thinking both religions were right.
"And do not marry Al-MushrikÃ¢t (idolatresses, etc.) till they believe (worship AllÃ¢h Alone). (Al-Baqarah 2:221)
Perhaps if his wife was a Jew or Christian this would have made some sense as those women are considered 'people of the book' and marriage with a chaste Jew/Christian is allowed.
This film looks like the same Bollywood love story that is repeated time and time again and I will try to avoid it at all costs. Thanks for the heads up.
February 25, 2010
Islam is misunderstood.
However, our faith has some issues.
Because of Islam's decentralized nature, any Ahmed can proclaim that this or that is Islam.
To me, Islam is a conversation. There are multiple voices that sometimes are in agreement with each other and at times in disagreement.
February 24, 2010
Azim Premji may be one of the wealthiest Muslim men in India and represents the success of a minority, he is not representative of all Muslims in India.
Indian identity is increasingly being linked to Hinduism.
The word "Hindu" is Persian in origin, referring to the "land of the Indus" (modern Pakistan).
The partition of India was a historical blunder and an example of "divide and conquer" tactics employed by the British to divide South Asians.
Wealthy Muslims knew that with a democracy where Hindus would form the majority, Muslim power would be greatly reduced and therefore advocated for the creation of an "Indian Muslim commonwealth."
However, Pakistan would become a nation that favored Punjabis at the expense of the others like the Sindhis and Bengalis. Bangladesh eventually broke from Pakistan with the aide of India.
Pakistan's issue regarding the "Pushtun/Afghan Question" revolves around the fact that Islamabad never incorporated the tribal regions with the Sindh and Punjab, the heart of Pakistan.
Pushtuns are the second largest group in Pakistan after Punjabis, yet, they live in largely underdeveloped areas of the country. Many are the lower end of the economic and social spectrum of Pakistan.
However, the same is also true of many Muslims in India. In some respects, the Dhalit (Untouchables) are more socially accepted in India than Muslims.
And Afghanistan, with all its issues, is no example of national reconciliation or unification.
February 24, 2010
I don't think you are anti-Indian.
I'm surprised at the number of anti-Pakistani Indian Muslims here.
I have posted on previous progressive Muslim websites, sometimes stating things deemed unfavorable about Pakistan.
SRK's family is from Peshawar in what nationalist Afghans claim as their "own."
I am partial to Afghan nationalism, but Afghans are not united and never have we forged a common national culture.
Even now, the debate over language is divisive. Should Afghanistan use Pashto or Farsi/Dari is largely unresolved.
I am follower of Bollywood and Lollywood. I find that Punjabi cinema from Pakistan is poor and too cheesy for me. But occasionally, you have a few treasures like "Majajan" by Syed Noor.
Pakistan, in my eyes, should be as successful as India. However, Pakistan became "Islamicized" and catered to the most religiously regent forms of Islam. In the process, Pakistan's foreign policy towards Afghanistan only strengthened the Taliban and the havoc they have caused in both countries.
February 24, 2010
First all for clarification: I am not Anti-India or against India. My grandparents were born in India. My father was born in India before moving to Pakistan when he was a child. I have many family and friends who are from India.
That being said, I am a student of Media. I have been following the portrayal of Islam and Muslims in mass media for about 12 years now. Although most of my background has been in US media, I have also watched some movies and tv programs from other countries, including India. Although I am now Bollywood expert, as I have stated several times already, I have talked to many Bollywood fans (before and after watching â€œMy Name is Khanâ€ who have stated that many films have Anti-Muslim or Anti-Pakistan themes (e.g. Mission Kashmir â€“ which I have watched, and several Suny Deol films, etc.). So my review is based on the media perspective.
In regards to the actual treatment of Muslims in India, of course there are many successful and well off Muslims who are from India and those who are treated well. But at the same time, based on Independent Media reports there is also a lot of prejudice and hatred against the large Muslim minority in India. The Gujarat Riots, which was facilitated by Indian police and government officials, is a recent example. Here is a link to a report about the treatment of Indiaâ€™s Muslims from Dec. 2006:
There is a large proportion of the poor who are Muslims. Approx. 30% of the Muslim population live in poverty according to the report. Only 4.9% of Muslims have government positions. According to the Sachar report Muslims have less access to education â€“ especially to higher education institutions in India.
In regards to â€œDeccanDudeâ€â€™s comments:
SRKâ€™s father is from Pakistan. Here is an interview where SRK states it himself:
Yes, there are many problems in Pakistan, especially the Shia and Sunni fighting and killing each other, but if you think that this doesnt happen in India or other parts of the world, then you are mistaken. By the way, Pakistan is unfortunately not a democracy, but India claims to be the largest democracy in the world.
Again, my comments were based on the Mediaâ€™s perspective from India. I have nothing against India or Indians, but we cannot hide the facts and pretend that everything is all good when it comes to India and itâ€™s Muslims.
Peace to All
February 24, 2010
I thought being part Afghan, I would be the only one guilty of sometimes harboring anti-Pakistani biases.
Afghans reject the Durand Line, the frontier which divides Pushtuns between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
I'm also Shia, and unfortunately, Pakistan formed in large part by Shia Muslims like Jinnah and the Aga Khan (Nizari Ismaili Shia), are not treated like unwanted guests.
However, we South Asians must realize the borders which define modern South Asia were carved by European powers.
They are artificial.
February 24, 2010
you are way off on Indian Muslims treatment in India. Let me tell you something â€“ we have all the rights and are not stopped from practicing our religion (you can hear the Azaan loud n clear in any part of India) and finally we are a lot better off than how Pakistan treats the Mohajirs, we donâ€™t bomb our masjids based on sunni â€“ shia faiths like they do in Pakistan (what a shame it is when you donâ€™t even respect the sanctity of the house of Allah and then you claim to be an Islamic country). No sir, alhamdulillah we Indian Muslims are treated a lot better than muslims are treated in your Pakistan. Next time you make such a big statement, please check your facts before spreading such counter productive statements around. My advise to you is that you stick with writing about the condition of the Mohajirsâ€™ treatment in Pakistan, and next time, donâ€™t give away the plot of any movie you review.
February 24, 2010
An excellent summary of a very bold and insightful film. MNIK addresses the circumstances which South Asians faced post 9/11, as well as diminishes the stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam. It was a breath of fresh air to see that for once, Muslims were not depicted as terrorists. It was a disappointment to see the way Muslims were characterized and portrayed in an earlier Bollywood film titled â€œKurbaan.â€
MNIK does the faith of Islam justice by correcting any falsifications and misunderstandins regarding the religion. Islam is the religion of peace. A few bad apples out there who call themselves Muslims are ruining it for the majority of Muslims, who are loving people, good citizens, and devout believers in equality for all. Islam respects all faiths, and all beings.
The film does a beautiful orchestration of tieing the love story to a social issue, and keeping the audience engaged in the protatonistsâ€™s journey and quest for justice. Two thumbs up for My Name is Khan!!!
February 24, 2010
I read your review a few days ago but checked out your comments only today. I am a bit disturbed by your assertion above that Muslims are not treated well in India. Iâ€™m not sure you can apply such a blanket statement to the situation. As you know, I grew up in India (lived there for 25 years) and can confidently say that I have enjoyed all the rights and freedoms that a person of any other caste, creed or religion would enjoy. Several other Muslims I personally know (across the country) who come from various strata of society are accorded similar privileges â€“ good schools, jobs, etc.. Muslims are not denied important government positions either, what with Salman Kurshid, Ghulam Nabi Azad, E. Ahmed, etc. occupying important ministerial portfolios in the Central government.
Sure there are some radical fringes of Indian society that dislike Muslims, but they remain just that â€“ a fringe. Almost every country has a few lunatics with extreme agendas, and India is no different. However, the vast majority of Indians (Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs alike) just want to have a good, prosperous life and donâ€™t pay much attention to divisive politics leading to communal hatred.
Mainstream media unfortunately doesnâ€™t pick up on the real pulse of the people on the ground; theyâ€™d rather amplify radical views and events because that just makes better news. Correct me if Iâ€™m wrong, but Iâ€™m assuming your views about Indian Muslims not being treated properly are based on what youâ€™ve heard and read about in the media. Myself and several other Indian Muslims are living proof that
that is simply not the case.
I hope you donâ€™t feel that Iâ€™m trying to slight you by my comments. Far from it. Iâ€™m just happy that I had the opportunity to shed some light on this issue, from an Indian Muslimâ€™s perspective. Your blog is good â€“ healthy discussion is always needed on such issues. Look forward to reading more in the future
February 24, 2010
The War on Terror has had a toll on Hindu-Muslim relations on the subcontinent.
Pakistan's policy of supporting militants in Afghanistan and Kashmir has only antagonized that underlying tension.
"Slumdog Millionaire" was slammed by Indian critics, though I loved the film. People claimed it highlighted the underclass of Mumbai (many of Mumbai's slum dwellers are Muslims) and portrayed India as a corrupt society.
India, though an emerging economy and superpower, is still overrun by poverty, corruption, feudalism, and sectarian violence.
The same goes for Pakistan and Bangladesh.
February 24, 2010
Thanks for the comments Gustavo. I agree with what you are saying, but recently (in the past 10 years at least), Bollywood has not been so favorable to Muslims (specifically Pakistanis) in films. Although many actors in Bollywood come from a Muslim background, they have not really played a real "Muslim" character as was done most recently by SRK in "My Name is Khan." Even if there have been Muslim characters, it is usually by name only and their being Muslim is not an integral part of the storyline as it is in MNIK.
February 24, 2010
The greatest Bollywood films all involved "social Muslim" characters (Mughal E Azam, Pakeezah) from the ailing Mughal-British Raj period of colonialism in the subcontinent.
Muslims are the "Jews of Bollywood" and most of India's greatest performing artists have been Muslims or of a Muslim background.
Many of India's leading men in the silver screen are Muslims like Salman Khan.
Though India is majority Hindu, Islam and the Muslims of India have left an unforgettable impression on what it means to be a modern South Asian and Indian national.
February 24, 2010
If you think Bollywood still churns out poor guy rich girl 4 hour song and dance routines, you havent been following Indian Cinema in the 2000â€™s.
While the quality of most films is still short of decent, the transformation that has happened in Indian film making in the last 5 years has to be seen to be believed. Visually the films look very good now. Stunts are still poor with wire stunts & car accidents being shown shoddily. Different story plots are tried in abundance. No more hero heroine theme as a rule.
Romance, Comedy still rules the roost. My recommendation to you- go watch Gulaal, Dev D, Ishqyia, Kaminey, Mumbai Meri Jaan, Black Friday, 99, Welcome to Sajjanpur. Things have changed for good.
February 22, 2010
Nice review. It was a great film for sure! hopefully they will make similar films out of Bollywood in the near future!
February 16, 2010