I watched the movie "My Name is Kahn" last night, actually over the last three nights, and I was so incredibly moved and stunned by this movie that I had to sit down immediately after the credits rolled and wrote this review. I could not recommend this movie more strongly for every single person to watch, as it speaks to so many issues in our current culture. If you do watch it, please let me know. It is available on Netflix.
"My name is Kahn, and I am not a terrorist."
So starts the beginning of this epic film that will tug at every last heartstring that you have, from beginning to end. You will never again be the same after watching this movie. How could you? It is a movie about love truimphing hate. About just doing what you can in the face of overwhelming prejudice and violence against you. It is a movie that lets us see into the lives and hearts of a minority of people so often mistaken to be "different," "other," "not like us," and even dangerous.
You will see that love brings us together, but hate tears us apart. You will see that people who are different - whether because of race, nationality, religion or whatever characteristic - have just as much value as every other citizen in this country - and sometimes more. Because sometimes, they rise and above and beyond. They do what's right not because they want to win popularity points but because they know in their hearts what is right.
Rizhu Kahn's mother always told him, when he was a young Muslim kid growing up with Asperger's Syndrome, in the midst of a war between Hindus and Muslims, that there are two kinds of people in this world. People who do good deeds, and people who do bad ones. It is a message that Kahn carries in his heart for the rest of his life.
Kahn has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism. There are many things that he doesn't understand; many things he does not do quite normally. He is very awkward in many ways. He takes everything literally and is very blunt about what is on his mind. But he has what is most important of all: good values instilled in him by his mother, and a good heart.
It is this good heart that makes Mandira, a beautiful Hindu woman who works at a beauty shop, fall in love with him after a chance meeting with Kahn when he is selling beauty products. Kahn wins her heart with his heartfelt but quirky ways, and they are married soon after. Kahn also becomes a loving father to Mandira's six year old son, Sam. This movie, a Bollywood movie made in India, does not have that cheesy "Hollywood" feeling to it. Everything minute of this movie is sensitively and intelligently done. Instead of being flashy, it moves your heart with its quiet innocence and by simply displaying the truth of Kahn's existence for all to see. It matters not whether Kahn is Muslim or white, whether he is disabled or not. You see the humanity in him, and continue to throughout the film.
But disaster soon strikes. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, anti-Muslim s ntiment is high everywhere. When Mandira's now 13 year old son is killed in a hate crime by some high school kids, Mandira is torn apart. Convinced that Kahn's Muslim last name is what got Sam killed, she turns against him. In a fit of anger, after telling him to leave, she says to him sarcastically, "Why don't you go tell every person in America that you are not a terrorist? Why don't you go to tell the President of the United States? Then you can come home!"
Kahn, interpreting her words literally, sets out to do just that. It is unclear at this point in the movie exactly what his intentions are, and how he plans to achieve them, but we are moved by his resolve nevertheless. In the course of Kahn's journey across the country, he meets many people that are moved by who he is. In a small town in Georgia, he befriends a black family after returning their injured daughter to her home. He continues traveling the country, following the president, trying to deliver his most important message: "My name is Kahn, and I am not a terrorist."
There is much more, of course, but you'll have to watch the movie to see what happens next. Will he ever get his wife back? Will he and Mandira find the healing they so much need? Will he get to talk to the president after all? What other journeys might he go on? You won't be dissapointed.
While I originally chose to watch this movie because of the Asperger's connection, it is about so much more. It is a stunning journey through one man's heart. It is a dead-on accurate reflection of the state of America post 9-11; a meditation on identity, and a reminder that red is the only color running through all of our veins. Kahn is not a remarkable person simply because he did all he did "despite" being Muslim, or "despite" having Asperger's, but because he is a good person, just like his mother told him to be. That goes for every single other person in this country, too.