My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist

Written by Shubhra Gupta | New Delhi | Updated: Feb 13 2010, 05:17am hrs
My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist. This is not just a cheesy piece of dialogue delivered by Shah Rukh Khan in his new film. It is a line all set to go viral as soon as the first show opens on Friday, and it could well make My Name Is Khan bigger than it is was meant to be.

It may or may not release in Mumbai this weekend (theatre-owners are being chary about going ahead with the release as this is being written), but thats only a knee-jerk reaction to extra-constitutional bullying. This is a film whose time has come. It is shockingly nave, yes, but nothing can be truer: not all Muslims are terrorists.

For a long time now, and especially after 9/11, this statement, both scarily defensive and stating the obvious, has played out the world over, in different forms, and in different media. But this new articulation, which comes from Indias biggest star who by no coincidence also happens to be a Muslim, and a Khan, makes it at once acquire fresh, urgent meaning.

For Shah Rukh Khan to not pick up a Pakistani cricket player for his IPL team, and then lament the absence of Pakistani players in the competition on prime-time TV is clearly duplicitious. But when he plays up-front, with a Forrest Gump-ish, endearing honesty, a good Muslim man who is NOT a terrorist, there are no false notes: will the Thackerays ask him to take back this line as well It is just the thing we need to hear at a time when racial profiling is what an Asian man, with or without a beard, is confronted with the moment he enters the USA, and other parts of the White world . Or a woman in a hijaab, for that matter.

The cynics amongst us have been skeptical about the genesis of the Shiv Sena uproar. Was it all a carefully planned strategy to get endless, free publicity Even if distributors 20th Century Fox had expended millions, they wouldnt have done such carpet coverage without the controversy. Sure, he did a brave thing by standing up to the Sena rhetoric, but would SRK have been quite as forthcoming if his films release wasnt around the corner The star got on to Twitter just a few weeks ago, and amassed thousands of followers in a matter of hours: passionate tweeters also buy tickets, and get others to do so. So do Facebookers, and other social media addicts, and every human on the planet whos happened to catch a Fox publication or TV channel.

My Name Is Khan started life as every producers dream. An ambitious project from candyfloss king Karan Johars stable, with Bollywoods Badshah in the lead, a story aimed at wringing heartstrings, and a lucrative distribution deal with a Hollywood studio giant that would take the films release to a whole new level: it couldnt get better than this.

On each of those counts, MNIK rings the changes. Given their earlier smash-hit track record, the Karan Johar-Shah Rukh Khan-Kajol combine commands instant stickiness. Distribution partner 20th Century Fox ensures a sea of visibility: have you managed to go to a single TV channel in the past month, which hasnt had an MNIK connect

Shah Rukh Khan playing a differently-abled man is a proposition his vast fan base will find irresistible. No sena, Shiv or otherwise, can stop this juggernaut once the initial hiccups are over. Rizwan Khan has Aspergers Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism, which leaves a person with impaired social skills, accompanied, most often, by an incredibly high IQ. As a child, he learns to fix things, and he carries that ability with him when he makes the long journey from a grungy Mumbai suburb to a serene Californian city. There he finds love and companionship, but it is short-lived: a tragedy breaks into the idyllic life hes created with single mom Kajol and her young son. That is the cue for Rizwan to get on to the road, with a single point agenda, to meet the President of the USA to deliver his messagethat his name is Khan, and that he is not a terrorist.

All these are good points for furious exchanges. We can have impassioned debates about how SRK performs as a person with Aspergers, but there is no doubt that film brings into the kind of blazing spotlight only a big-budget blockbuster can provide.

Despite its flaws, MNIK is all set to be the first real crossover Bollywood film: its format is full-on, unabashed Hindi masala, its message completely universal. Move over, James Bond. The new line is going to be My name is Khan, Rizwan Khan.