I'd say the film's release cannot have been more timely, where on our shores we face the rather public rebuke of an incident of religious bigotry and intolerance, and ignorance too if I may add. There will be those who hijack the religious platform to spread their message of hatred and destruction, and society on a whole has to reject these zealots who obviously have some personal agenda very much in contrary to the message of peace and love they ought to bring. Early in the film the tone is set, where Rizwan Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) is taught by his mom that there are only two groups of people in the world – those who do good and those who do bad. It may be an oversimplification, but if you think about it, that's is exactly what it boils down to, regardless of language, religion and the colour of one's skin.
And it is this message that Rizwan, who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, brings along in his extraordinary journey in the United States, and to the people he meets along the way. Schooled by the love of his mother, Rizwan finds himself migrating to the USA thanks to his brother's early entry into the country, and Rizwan's job as a salesman brings him to the love of his life, Mandira (Kajol). In some ways the film provided a tinge of reminiscence to Robert Zemeckis' Forrest Gump, where a simple man with a disability and living on values of love that his mom had imparted, embarks on the journey called life, encountering love, helping people, and inspiring everyone to become a better person.
Karran Johar wrote and produced Kurbaan last year, starring Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor in yet another film which touches on terrorism on US soil, and how intolerance and violence aren't proper solutions to air one's grievances. That film didn't do too well at the box office, probably because it's somewhat of an actioner and a love story rolled into one, and perhaps everyone got distracted by the real life couple in Khan and Kapoor starring opposite each other. In MNIK, Johar takes up directorial duties, and in a stroke of casting genius, put the evergreen SRK with Kajol, who together in their 5 films long before had resulted in nothing other than box office success. My bet is this will likely continue for MNIK.
And bringing people by the masses to the cinemas would mean that it's ample opportunity to re-emphasize the strong message of peace, love and tolerance. Yes it has a strong religious flavour to it, especially when it goes on the quiet offensive to take back a religion of peace, and to straighten out the negative effect of misconceptions and prejudices no thanks to extremists hell bent on furthering their selfish gains. Rizwan may not have a quip like Gump's chocolates, but here he stresses from the onset, that his name is Khan, and he's not a terrorist, with childlike earnestness and honesty, in a film of almost an equal stature in its epic scale.
As with most Bollywood films told in two halves separated by an intermission, the first part comes off much stronger than the second, where we learn of Rizwan and his medical ordeal, where in India his mother struggles to bring up a child who's different. We learn more about Asperger's syndrome as the film wore on, and get enlightened on elements (with dramatic license of course) such as the hatred and fear of the colour yellow and loud noises, an inability to lie and to tell it like it is without sugar coating, a demeanour unable to express feelings easily, and in the mastery of a skill, in which case here it's being a technical expert. The romantic angle also gets drummed up as we see how Rizwan courts Mandira in his own way, with the narrative told in flashbacks (with nicely done transitions) as we move forward in time with Rizwan's quest to meet the President of the USA, which we will find out why.
The later half focused very strongly in that quest, as we see how others touch and lend their support to Rizwan, as much as he reciprocates. Ample time also gets dedicated to the post-9/11 America with its growing suspicions and mindless attacks on those on the wrong end of racial profiling. The story in this part goes two-pronged, with Rizwan's quest as well as Mandira's thirst for justice to be done. More time gets spent away from each other, and Rizwan's journey proved all the more interesting, with episodes such as that with Mama Jenny (Jennifer Echols) and Funny Hair Joel (Adrian Kali Turner) which will tug at your heartstrings, bringing back to mind that Bollywood hardly lets up on moments to turn on the melodrama if it can, complete with amalgamated imagery from different religions. Between the two halves, it's likely to feel that the initial half is the better of the two, though with minor plot loopholes aside, the second did suffer from a last minute gasp of a sub-plot involving religious radicals, but wrapped everything up rather nicely in a full circle fashion.
SRK disappears into the role and becomes heart and soul of the film as Rizwan, no longer the mega-star boasting an awesome physique, but a simple man who lives life as best as he can given his condition, seeking to help others and to become that symbolic beacon of light against bigots. SRK gives a superbly sensitive performance and it's likely the unfortunate, uncontrollable antics of Rizwan would endear the character to you, eliciting support as you root for him to complete his mission despite the challenges laid out for him to overcome. In his last two major films, he had introduced the likes of rookies Deepika Padukone and Anushka Sharma to the world, but I guess one probably needs a seasoned veteran in Kajol to hold her own opposite the Khan rather than a lightweight unknown, when he delves and immerses completely into what could probably be his best role to date.
And that character's name is Khan, and he is not a terrorist. Highly recommended!