oops, another longer than anticipated absence from the blog. unfortunately, once i get out of the rhythm of writing regularly, it seems pretty hard to get it back. and life also keeps getting in the way!
anyway, i went to see the film "my name is khan" a couple of nights ago, at centreplace in hamilton. i guess it's a sign of how "mainstream" bollywood is becoming, that films are now being released in the main cinema outlets. also helped now by the fact that bollywood blockbusters seemed to be much more designed for an international market.
i'd pretty much given up on bollywood films a while back. they just didn't appeal to me, mostly because of the stereotypes, the hyped up jingoism, the breaking into song and dance, the copying of scenes from top hollywood so that i felt like i'd already seen a better version, and their predictability. so i've watched very few in recent years, one of the exceptions being raincoat which was excellent, with no song and dance scenes and a very subtle but deeply moving storyline.
i wasn't planning on seeing this film, thinking that i've already seen too much of shah rukh khan, until i heard it reviewed on radio new zealand. so i went to see it tuesday night, and was blown away. not something i'd expected from bollywood at all.
obviously i connected with the storyline, as it related to the experience of muslims in america post 9/11. of course, we've been lucky in new zealand, in that we haven't suffered the kind harassment that american muslims faced. i think the character i most related to was the shopkeeper who was shown periodically during the film, with people hurling abuse at him at his shop door. it's that sort of regularly occurring event that grinds you down, that slowly sucks away at your soul.
also relevant was the scene where a woman's hijab was pulled off. i know this happened to women here in nz, particularly in christchurch. so again, it was a situation that i deeply identified with and found quite moving.
the biggest thing about the film though, was shah rukh khan coming back to his roots. i remember reading one of his earliest interviews in filmfare (the indian version of women's day), where he predicted that he would rule bollywood (as he has done for many years), and described himself as an atheist. he said he had lost any faith he may have had after the death of his mother, and this is the position that he stuck to for many years. it was no doubt helpful to his career, as being overtly religious would have been a barrier to him (see below), but i have no doubt that he was sincere in his beliefs.
i haven't read any recent interviews, and i'd gone off gossip mags a long time back, so haven't read about his recent thoughts on his own beliefs. yet i was surprised during this interview (and also part 2) to hear him use the words "inshaAllah" (God-willing) a couple of times. you would never have heard this from him some years back. the issue for me is not whether he believes, but that he seems to be wearing his muslim identity as something to be proud of. it's a big change, and a heartening one from my position.
the reaction from extremists in india to this film has been predictable:
After promising to allow the release of Shah Rukh Khan's 'My Name Is Khan', Shiv Sena did a volte-face on Tuesday as its men went on the rampage attacking movie halls across Mumbai where advance bookings for the film had opened...
As Sena goons hit Mumbai streets, My Name Is Khan's producer Karan Johar, distributors and multiplex owners asked the cops to intervene. Over 350 Shiv Sainiks were arrested across the city as a preventive measure. Sena men posing as cinegoers bought tickets to a show of 'Striker' at Metro cinema and entered the hall and tore the screen in the evening. Earlier in the day, Shiv Sainiks barged into Huma Adlabs and tore up the screen during a show of '3 Idiots'. They even threatened those at the booking counter, a couple who had come to book tickets at the Kanjurmarg multiplex said. The booking counter of Mehul Cinema at Mulund was ransacked, additional commissioner of police (east region) Ritesh Kumar told TOI.
the only possible word to describe these actions is terrorism. but you'll notice that that word does not appear in any of the articles. these attacks haven't been reported in the nz media, but any readers of the hand mirror may remember these extremists as the ones who were attacking women for going to pubs in india, which led to the pink chaddi campaign.
in any case, i strongly recommend this film. as the radio nz reviewer said, it's very bollywood with the overblown emotions and a bit of mix between "forrest gump" and "i am sam", but still a fantastic story, very well executed. unfortunately it won't be screening in hamilton any more, though it may still be on in auckland. but i'm sure it will be out on dvd soon.