Sir, you will not be watching MNIK. But because of your hue and cry, I saw it. So I think it’s only fair that you share my suffering.
Dear Shri Thackeray,
I’ve heard you have a home theatre at Matoshree. That you and Uddhav love watching DVDs (probably not together). It must come handy when directors hold ‘private screenings’ for your blessings. At 84, it’s understandable that you would prefer watching movies in private, drink of choice in one hand, a remote control in the other. The comforts are definitely necessary when you watch Karan Johar’s films. Hackneyed dialogues—fast forward; hyperactive song—fast forward; oversimplified characterisation—fast forward; hyperbole and melodrama—The End. I’ve never paid to watch a movie he has directed. I make a distinction between Johar’s directorial adventures and his productions. The latter are significantly better and I have spent money on them. Which brings me to my real reason for writing to you, Balasaheb: If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have bought a ticket for My Name Is Khan.
I know that being a man of principle, you’ll never watch the film. So, I thought I will write to you and give you an idea of what it was like to watch the film you inadvertently sold to people like me. Since I went through the agony because of you. You’ll be proud to know that the MNIK movie experience began outside the theatre itself. It was certainly the most state-protected film I have ever been to. Last Friday, 13,000 of Chief Minister Ashok Chavan’s policemen went to the movies. At Inox in Nariman Point, three police carrier trucks disgorged some 40 cops on to the theatre’s environs. There were 20-odd policemen outside to keep watch over the ticket lines and spot picketers, another 10 near the refreshment counters, while six policemen were stationed inside every screening hall. They sat on white plastic chairs placed along the sides of the hall, facing each other under the loud and relentless, six-shows-a-day onslaught of Johar’s production. By now, those men know SRK’s dialogues by heart.
When the previews were released last month, it was pretty clear that MNIK would be too complicated a story for someone with Johar’s ritzy worldview. The story of a man with Asperger’s syndrome, caught on the wrong side of the religious divide in post-9/11 America, who wants to prove his love by meeting the President/disprove religious stereotypes by being an exemplary citizen, is a compelling idea but the film was afflicted with Karan Johar syndrome.
The first half of the movie, which sets up the hero’s disorder (check out Hurried Man’s Guide), is actually quite watchable. The best part of it is Zarina Wahab, who plays SRK’s doting mother. Balasaheb, if you’d had the opportunity to watch the film, Sena logic dictates you would have had a problem with the titular character being a Muslim migrant in Mumbai. Rizwan Khan hails from an unidentifiable part of Bombay, growing up in the shadow of fictitious 1983 riots. His mother teaches him a lesson that’s probably too late for you to pick up: that, irrespective of religious persuasion, there are only two types of people in this world—good and bad.
About SRK, your nemesis. I can tell you that he’s better than usual. Romantic hero Shah Rukh is defined by trademark facial tics and an endearing dimple. Here Shah Rukh has neither. It’s the SRK you (probably) watched in Chak De. It’s because of him that the first half of the movie works somewhat. You have to commend him for at least trying to step out of his filmi comfort zone. Aamir Khan is never anything but normal and heroic (amnesia doesn’t count). Hrithik Roshan and Ajay Devgn are probably the only other superstars of his generation to attempt the portrayal of a deformed hero.
Almost everyone agrees that Johar’s movie is a Forrest Gump-ish tale about a man’s travail-ridden but heroic journey through America. But where there is KJo something’s got to go wrong. And in MNIK, everything goes spectacularly wrong when the KJo syndrome really takes hold, and the movie begins to wildly fluctuate between melodrama and naivete. (You, as a man of theatrics, may actually be able to identify with the drama.) For instance, leading man meets leading lady when he’s standing in the middle of a street in San Francisco, about to be run over by a tramcar. She, a hairdresser in a neighbourhood salon, rushes up and enthusiastically, if somewhat breathlessly, shouts verbal encouragement to the complete stranger. Admittedly, I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something sappy, to the effect of, ‘close your eyes, believe in yourself, etc etc’. She then walks away in a perfumed breeze before he can see her face.
The movie is so bad that it has destroyed whatever little faith I had in newspaper reviewers, who unanimously showered this film with three- and four-star ratings. (It does, however, do a great job incorporating brand placements within the script. Samsonite and Reebok must be thrilled.) Balasaheb, I now comprehend what you must have felt the morning after Raj announced the creation of the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena. That rage, I felt it too. The second half of MNIK is choc-a-bloc with KJo’s mediocrity, the deadly fallout of bad research and nitwit scriptwriting. It has much too much going on. Khan is on a journey through the southern states of America as he follows President George W Bush and tries to meet him at various public events. The journey references Hurricane Katrina, which felled New Orleans in 2005, and within a few weeks or months after we see Rizwan through that calamity, he is at the presidential election of Barack Obama in 2008. With filmi creative licence, in under a year, Rizwan goes through several years’ worth of real-time historical events and plays an endearing part in all of them.
An illustration of the world according to KJo: At one point in Rizwan’s journey, he lands in a town in the southern state of Georgia. The town exists in a segregated time before the civil rights movement, when black people lived only in a black town, toiling in the fields and singing soulful hymns. And in the racial stereotype in Johar’s mind, they all look like extras from Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor films, living in a village set that is more Hobbits’ Shire than modern-day America. They are mostly overweight, poor, with only a singing voice for joy.
These poor black folk are not only saved from a Biblical flood by the Rizwan, his story on national television incites thousands of Muslim Americans to wade through flood waters (again, channeling Lord of the Rings, imagine Mordor under water) and offer their help. There are so many saccharine undertones to that scene, it’s enough to give you diabetic shock. If the plot has not confused you already, Balasaheb, let me tell you that by the time the film finishes after two hours and thirty minutes, Rizwan has changed hearts, met President-elect Obama, proved his love, saved a village, been stabbed, notified the CIA of a possible terror plot being hatched in an LA mosque by a Muslim doctor, got arrested, released, and become the subject of an international news story. Phew!You see, Balasaheb, had it not been for your emphatic disapproval of its lead actor, I could have saved myself the trouble. But having watched MNIK, and spent a sleepless Friday night brooding over why I watched it, I thought you should share my pain.