And it doesn’t matter whether I say it from the epiglottis or not because I’ll be going against the grain anyway. I did not like MNIK. I did like Shah Rukh Khan in the movie though. He is brilliant. It must have taken a huge deal of effort for an actor who has relied on his dimples, his charismatic smile & outstretched arms to sail his movies through for the past two decades, to pull off a character whose eyes are dead, whose face can’t betray emotions, and who walks & talks differently. And pull it off convincingly. It’s a brilliant piece of acting from Shah Rukh Khan, only to be let down by a flawed script and poor direction.
I will stick my neck out and say that MNIK is a badly directed movie when critics and reviewers all around are applauding Karan Johar for having made something different from his usual fare. This is Karan Johar’s first mature piece of work, and given that he is 40, it should’ve come a long time ago. Alas, he has always been a film-maker too trapped in his trademark style, i.e. exaggeration of emotions, grandeur and larger than life everything. And it is this failure to let go of his trademark style completely while making a film that necessitated he do so, that is the undoing of MNIK. And the over-simplication of things.
But, let’s talk of the larger than life-ness first.
It’s common knowledge that Karan Johar is obsessed with Shah Rukh Khan. Without getting into the debate of their sexuality (which, incidentally, I don’t buy into) we know that K Jo is in love with SRK. He can never give the man a character that is real, not larger than life, Autism notwithstanding. A man afflicted with the Asperger’s Syndrome will most probably not have the resourcefulness to mobilize relief efforts throughout America in a bid to rescue a village hit by a hurricane. He would probably not travel the length and breadth of the country chasing the President just because “his beautiful wife asked him to go and tell the President that his name is Khan, and he is not a terrorist”. He would probably also not be able to sell cosmetics to salons. He will kept his ‘autistic disability’ card at hand at all times, not only when it suits the script.
Rizvan Khan is shown to be flawless, godly and capable of almost anything, even though he is autistic. But in spite of these flaws in his characterization, SRK makes Rizwan Khan work like only he can. He makes you feel sorry for the guy from the opening frame itself, and he is the only good thing about the entire movie…because he is unbelievably restrained. Because he isn’t SRK.
I’ll be going against the stream once again when I say that I didn’t like Kajol in the movie (I think people are raving about her because we see so less of her these now). Her character is half-baked - she swings from being real to being really ditzy.
Sample this - Rizwan keeps insisting she marry him but she keeps refusing. And in the very next sequence, she asks him to marry her! Why? Because he showed her a view of San Francisco she hadn’t seen before (say what?)!
She promptly changes her’s as well as her son’s last names to Khan and then goes on to pin the entire blame of her son’s murder on Rizwan. The fact that SHE chose to adopt his last name doesn’t matter, of course (it comes across like it’s a given women will change their name after marriage and they have no choice about it). She’s too shrill in the happy parts and too shrieky in the sad ones. But the Kajol-SRK chemistry can’t be denied - even though it’s slightly wrinkled and fine-lined now.
There are other loopholes in the script as well. For instance, we don’t know why the two fell in love. Rather, why Kajol fell in love with an autistic character. Their romance is hasty and culminates into marriage way too fast. The question is, would a perfectly cognitively-abled woman fall in love with and marry a man with a very obvious personality disorder that impairs the sufferer’s ability to form & maintain interpersonal relationships, so easily?
When SRK is frisked at the airport at the beginning of the movie, he’s let off after the officers see his ‘Autistic disability’ card which he wears around his neck. Yet, the same card is missing when he is arrested, thrown into a cell and tortured by the police for saying “My Name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist” in a public gathering.
Rizwan Khan is able to free himself from the cops and exonerate himself of the accusation that he is a terrorist because he calls the FBI to report a fundamental Islamist who is recruiting terrorists in Los Angeles and because he is able to rescue a village after a hurricane. But what if he had been a real person suffering from autism and not the larger-than-life hero of this movie, who didn’t have the cognitive ability, the resourcefulness or the wherewithal to do either? Would he have been able to set himself free and meet the President in that case?
The other undoing of the movie lies in the over-simplification of life, people & relationships. According to this movie, there are only two types of people in this world - the good and the bad. There’s no one in between. There are no “grey characters”, so to say. And we know that’s anything but true in real life. There are no only good or only bad people in the world. All of us have some good in us along with some bad. It may be a lot of good with a little bad, or vice versa, but no one’s a godly Saint and no one is a completely goodness-stripped devil either. As per this movie though, Americans in post 9/11 America are all paranoid, cruel, bad, and our protagonist is all good.
And that’s where this movie, which attempts to deal with one of the most complex issues (terrorism) and defining incidents of our time (9/11) really fails to impress. The approach is too simplistic compared to what this subject warrants. In fact, I feel 9/11 as a subject or a backdrop to a film should simply be left alone. Yes, there was a lot of racial profiling and faith-based attacks on innocent people in the United States and across the Western world post 9/11, but the dynamics of it is too complicated to be captured in a two & a half hour movie. And certainly not by a director with a limited repertoire like Karan Johar.
There’s confusion regarding the message that Karan Johar wants to give out through this movie. Sometimes it’s said that the movie has tried to show that Islam is not a bad religion that preaches violence and terror, and at other times that it’s just a love story with the backdrop of 9/11 and how the incident affects the life of the protagonists. I would say it’s the latter. Despite what the promos would have us believe, MNIK is neither about autism, nor about the misperception of Islam post 9/11. The autism bit helps generate a lot of sympathy and support for the guy and religion forms the backdrop. This is a film about a larger-than-life hero is madly in love with his heroine and will do anything to win her back, even if that means traversing the length and breadth of the United States of America with very little money in search of the President. And he will not hug her even if he runs into her after days of separation because he hasn’t fulfilled his promise to her of telling the President that “His name is Khan, and he is not a terrorist”.
MNIK is unbearably long, almost 3 hours, and without much of a story to tell post intermission, it seems to drag. Now, you don’t want a sad movie which is meant not to entertain but to arouse pathos, to drag.
I’m not saying MNIK is a bad film, or a badly researched film. But the disability (Asperger’s Syndrome) has been twisted to suit the script, and along with the flawed script, Karan Johar’s obsession with Shah Rukh Khan and everything larger-than-life prevents it from being the movie it could have been. SRK shines though and surprises you with his performances like only an actor who is good at his craft but inconsistent can.