Courage is not always a roar that should be heard by the world. Sometimes it’s a quiet whisper to yourself that says, “I will try again tomorrow” portrays the journey of a Khan.
Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol Devgan reside in the most demanding temperament of their careers. Rizvan Khan a Muslim man from India, so admirable, so courteous yet enduring the ache of Asperger’s Syndrome, a perplexing disability affecting how he makes sense of the world. Rizvan Khan falls in love unconditionally for the stunning Mandira, living her diverse life of the global aspiration of success. An unspeakable exploitation of spinelessness slits their relations to shreds; it is for Khan to commence on the most prevailing, compelling journey through a contemporary America. The journey sculpts him into the most blameless act of insolence yet one of tranquillity and compassion. The story of a sobering reality that touches the loves of every person he crosses. In the name of the woman he loves, a curious stranger will introduce himself to the word simply by saying “My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist.”
To Shah Rukh Khan it may seem odd to say a super hero film was created. A hero who has Asperger’s syndrome is a simpleton and all he has for a superpower is his humanity. He believes “That to be a hero all you need is the basic goodness of human beings, something so rare, we might believe that the protagonist of this film is from another world.”
The shooting of the film took them all around America as he saw the foundation of the film -Islam and the western world – has a startlingly sincere and balanced outlook amongst the Americans. They understand that war
was not started by either side; the lives being lost on both sides deserve equal empathy respect and regard. They understand too, as Plato wrote. “It is only the dead that have seen the end of war”. The sooner we can stop this meaningless strife the happier our lives will be.
The director, Karan Johar was eager to comprehend this vision, a hybrid of the personal and epic, by framing it with the story of a cross cultural Indian couple living in the states after the events of 9/11. They would survive with the social unrest faced by many Southeast Asians who were thoughtlessly generalized into being terrorists purely on the basis of their physical characteristics and cultural iconography. Even more, Johar wanted to understand the effects of how such a dynamic would cause Sikhs to deny their own religions identity for fear of persecution. However, in order to humanize such potent political themes, Johar sought to create a narrative thread that would result in drawing an audience into an entertainment of universal appeal and emotion.
“My Name Is Khan at its core is an epic love story between two people who have a unique way of seeing the world” states Karan Johar. “What sets it apart is the landscape on which the story unfolds. I keep setting out to do something different with my films, but the one constant that remains is my desire to continue to explore the many ways in which two people can fall in love and stay in love regardless of any or every challenge against them.”
Asian Network’s very own Ameet Chana introduced Shah Rukh Khan, Karan Johar, and Kajol to the My Name is Khan press conference in London.
Ameet Chana: Let’s talk about the perception of the film – Shah Rukh I heard you talking backstage saying ‘It is like giving birth to your own child’, and this is like your fourth or fifth child, literally! So let’s start from the beginning...
Karan: Well this one seems to be a caesarean!! Well actually it started off three years ago right before the start of when I directed Kabhi Alvida, I took some time out and did a whole lot travelling and a whole lot of thinking and I truly felt that this was a film that I wanted to make and I ran it by Shah Rukh and we set about researching the film, because it was the first film where I had to kind of step out of my comfort zone and write and develop it. It wasn’t about just human relationships – it was also about the political and social world that surrounds us. It’s about dealing with a disorder, a form of autism – Aspergers Syndrome which the protagonist has in the film. There was a whole amount of research that went into the film – so there was like one year and a half to two years of writing. So it has been a three year journey really – I started off in February 2007 and it is releasing in February 2010; I feel that it is not one baby, I have given birth to a family!
Ameet Chana: Well that must be the longest pregnancy in the world, ever! So let’s talk about researching it, you teamed up with Shibani (Bathija) once again since Kabhi Alvida. How does it feel for you as a film maker to share your writing skills - your passion for writing films, to share that with somebody else? Because you have been known to inset films from the off by yourself.
Karan: I actually didn’t write this film at all; I left Shibani to do the writing because I felt that when I started writing it that I just felt that I wasn’t bringing anything new to the love story. And the love story is the soul of the film; it is the most important part of a film.
Ameet Chana: Shah Rukh, do you find it ironic that there should be questions asked about your loyalty in Bombay, when at a University where they are planning a whole academic conference just on the importance of Shah Rukh Khan?
Shah Rukh: Yes, I was told about it and I it’s really sweet. It’s very humbling and a little embarrassing because I don’t think I’ve done anything so god given that there should be a conference. Much more importance is given to things, by people and the amount of love I have got to be really honest than I deserve. Similarly more importance is given to the negatives that I get than I really deserve. And so I think on either case, I just never get it straight! I get either get too much or too less – and that is the beauty of being a superstar; so sometimes I am very very happy and humble, and sometimes I am very very sad and disturbed. But it’s never been that I have ever been ‘that this is ok, this is very balanced’
Kajol: ...can’t come naturally!
Shah Rukh: Yeah so the unbalanced state of mind and life that I have. A lot of you ask me ‘how does it feel to be a big superstar and successful’ I will describe it as unbalanced – it is very unbalanced
Ameet Chana: I just want to ask you, your character How Thoughtful was it for you to research that and how important was it for you to get it right?
Shah Rukh Khan: You can do the research but you have to take a lot of similarities from yourself with what you’re doing. It’s the way you feel which is more relevant for the film. In this case, there are two aspects. There’s one; the stage and characters in what you have to perform; there’s less singing no dancing which signifies the seriousness of the film. The second part is to never misjudge a disability (not being right about a disease or a disorder) so I did a lot of research from books, I spoke to Karan about it Karan gave me a huge amount of advise, he gave me videos, DVD’s and really good documentaries. I spent time with people who have autism, which was a touching experience as an actor yet it gave me confidence and familiarity.
I’m really happy I got the opportunity for this and that Karen had confidence in me. He even knew I’d be able to pull it off even when people say, ‘you’re a chocolate boy’.
Ameet Chana: Why did you want to make Shah Rukh Khan have this disorder?
Karan Johar: It was essential that he wasn’t like you or me. You and I are too pragmatic too practical and his love goes way beyond the boundaries of logic and its that kind of love we’ve heard of in other (within) generations, today our love is too cynical its too clamped out its far too practical. It’s really (about) a man who’s not in our world.
He had to too something completely illogical and beyond the boundaries of what you and I consider acceptable because he may take things too seriously and no one else would everyone else would bring logic into that. He just sees life in black and white because that s the way he is. He has a certain ideology that his life is regulated because of his mother so when he’s told to go and meet the president of America he will go. He’s somebody that when told embarks on a journey from love.
Ameet Chana: Kajol, You’ve worked with Shah Rukh Khan many times before. How was it this time? Did he remain in character even when he was away from the camera?
Kajol: Thank god he didn’t (Laughs). No, when I first read the story I had a certain idea of how he would play the character and I’ve seen autistic people and seen what they like. I had a vague idea on what he’d be like on the first day, and I must say he just blew me away. Especially when I saw the first show I was like oh my god, I had to rethink everything, his character, my character, the script etc. He just added so much to it on the first shoot. For every film Shah Rukh has he has played Shah Rukh. I mean for the first time I saw Rizvan Khan in this film and I didn’t see Shah Rukh. So it was amazing to watch and he was amazing to work with.
Ameet Chana: When I saw the original trailer, just to see what you’ve done, facially and with your eyes it was a completely different you from Shah Rukh that we are used to seeing. In terms of shooting in different parts of America, and Bombay I Know you’ve built a big town ship for the city. How easy was it to approach this without the costumes, the glamour and the drama?
Karan Johar: I haven’t won an award for 12 years. So I just thought I’d do all this to win an award. (Laughs) I got told if you do something with a disorder you definitely win an award. No but I am much gutted that it’s been 12 years and I haven’t won an award. I like to walk off red carpets with something in my hand. I decided I was a bit bored of what I was doing and directing song sequences which has hundreds of dancers look really good on Indian sets shooting in locations which are beautiful in beautiful clothes. I felt the need to challenge myself, I really did. I remember the rock n roll song I was directing for Kabhi Alvida, big song, big set but I was just really bored of that. All five days I was bored and I didn’t feel challenged and If I don’t challenge myself I stay in the same zone and it isn’t a zone I like to be in, I need to go out of myself, I need to externalise myself. I need to deal with something I believe in strongly. I need to go by a character that is not a character of my world at all so that is really the reason why I chose to make My Name Is Khan. I don’t know what the outcome will be but I know that today I feel a better film maker a better person, and I feel a stronger human being and I feel it’s already a success.
Ameet Chana: Kajol what about you? I mean obviously you’re used to the glamorous side of Indian films. How was it for you to play an every day single mother in a real life situation in a fighting situation how was it for you as a challenge to do that?
Kajol: Let me just say for the record, I believe in glamour! I totally do, I believe that it’s necessary in certain films yet I don’t believe it’s necessary in certain films and My Name Is Khan is one of them. The film sets the way its written demanded that realism to it and I’m all for it.
Ameet Chana: Shah Rukh, I know you’ve filmed many times all over the world. This is set in America how did you feel shooting a film with a backdrop of terrorism. Being in America and meeting people who have been through the post dramatic stress of something like that, being in America and shooting a film of this subject?
Shah Rukh: I have shot a couple of times with Karan, and have shot in America before but to be really honest this film needed to be made in America. Because it’s a point of view Karan wanted to invest in this film, we all want to invest in this film in the nicest most entertaining, principled sort of way without taking any sides. It was very cold in America and Karan would take me to locations and I’d be like Karan why are you taking me here and he would say it’s very important for the look of the film. So each and every detail of the film made a great impact.
We don’t have an agenda in which we make the film but we do have very strong feelings for certain subjects. And when we say this we don’t just mean singing and dancing which is also there a little bit in the film but in the realistic bit and glamour which is there in the script but in a different way. But the main idea is that we want to entertainingly tell you a point of view that all of us like saying. You do your research, I did a lot of research on the character I play the religion etc so I don’t get anything wrong.
Ameet Chana: Thank you very much. Kajol just before we go, I want to know, Shah Rukh and Karan are both huge Twitter fans – are we going to see you on Twitter soon, at all?
Karan: I hope not!
Kajol: I really don’t have the time for it! Seriously I just don’t, sorry!
This press conference was covered by Monika and Aman