Monday, February 15, 2010

The left hand knows not what the right hand does

My Name is Khan is, both literally and figuratively, a movie by FOX about FOX. It stars Bollywood superstarsShah Rukh Khan and Kajol, who have already given the world Bazigaar, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabi Khushe Kabi Gham, not to mention the soundtrack to which your barely-recognizable sister or sister-in-law entered a banquet hall in Brampton or Mississauga. But let's deal with the geopolitical ramifications, as well as the logistical challenges of trying to see an Indian movie in Missisauga on a Saturday night, of this movie a little bit later.

My Name is Khan is an examination of life after 9/11 for Muslims, Indians, Sikhs and others with the wrong kind of skin. It is an examination with a blunt-force instrument that seems thoughtful and well-done until you see crowds of white people in San Francisco walk away from Shah Rukh Khan at a candlelight vigil because he is Muslim, or you see Kajol ask if she's hired even though her husband is Muslim.

The America depicted in the movie is something of a caricature, you will realize. As the movie progresses through its three-hour course, which includes an ungranted intermission, it gets weirder and weirder. If you're thoughtful, you will also realize that America has long been doing this to other countries. If the major TV stations in America aren't staffed exclusively by Indian immigrants who speak in Hindi to white people, well, the Nazis didn't speak English to each other and Achilles didn't speak with a British accent.

If it's improbable that hurricane victims in Georgia would simply sit around and wait to die, rescued only by the generosity of Indian Muslims because the American military was too busy fighting wars, well, it's equally improbable that Iraqis would spontaneously welcome Americans as liberators. Actually, what's most improbable about that scene is that South Asian Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs would rather eat their fingers than help black people. If you're black and didn't know this, you should know that South Asians almost unanimously hate you.

Still, what makes My Name is Khan worth seeing is that nearly a decade into America's apeshit preoccupation with terrorism, no one has thought to make a movie about this topic. That it's foreign-made makes it even more interesting because though it depicts whites and blacks as caricatures at times, it better conveys the feelings of its protagonists than a Hollywood movie would likely have done. It's a very sloppy, biased take on the torture, discrimination and general intellectual laziness that has become the prevailing attitude in America. That FOX is distributing the movie in America, then, makes it doubly entertaining.

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