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Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles 2010

My Name Is Khan poster My Name Is Khan International Director's Cut (PG-13) ***
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There is a rather sad (for lack of a better term) tradition of re-cutting foreign films, especially ones from Asia, in the hopes of making them more attuned to the tastes of the global (read: American) market. The general idea might be noble, but more often than not in execution the results are stunning for all the wrong reasons, as quick-trigger impulses to cut as much as possible prove stronger than actually applying serious, well-considered thought to each edit, thus too commonly resulting in messes that are actually less accessible to any audience than the original versions. Thankfully, the revised "international director's cut" of Karan Johar's My Name Is Khan is a most unexpected exception to what is typically the norm. Johar has gone on record that he had no direct involvement with this cut, which of course sets off some warning bells, but his trust in the judgment of those who are responsible--original editor Deepa Bhatia and (500) Days of Summer editor Alan Edward Bell--proves to have been well-placed. Not for no good reason has Johar blessed this version with the "director's cut" seal of approval: it not only plays better to more Westernized sensibilities, but all cinematic sensibilities as a whole.

I had believed that any attempt at "de-Bollywood-izing" this story of love enduring through post-9/11 anti-Muslim prejudice as seen by the titular autistic savant Riswan Khan (Shahrukh Khan) was a twofold exercise in futility. After all, Hindi filmmaking is a unique language unto itself that permeates every frame and hence cannot exactly be cleanly "edited out"--not to mention, even if that were possible, why would one want to then dilute a foreign film's cultural identity? Wisely, Bell and Bhatia don't attempt to do either; in fact, all the adjustments have been careful compromises made to retain the flavor as much as possible while at the same time reigning in some of the more potentially alienating indulgences. For example, while none of extended montages set to Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy's evocative songs have been sacrificed, but redundant scenes of peripheral characters experiencing hate have been excised, and the prolonged, verging-on-outstaying-its-welcome coda has been severely truncated, resulting in a more understated close that's more impactful in its subtlety (not to mention removes an awkward bit of casting for a real life figure). All of the framing voiceover narration from Riswan's letters to his beloved Mandira (Kajol) have also been redone in English, which actually highlights the humor of some of Khan's line readings for non-Hindi speakers.

But with no less than 35 total minutes having been shaved off the original run time, there had to be a major deletion: virtually all of the Wilhelmina, Georgia subplot in the film's second half; the town is now reduced to more of an incidental location for some climactic action rather than one with personal significance for the characters. While I did like the original thread for drawing the stylistic parallel between Bollywood film and African-American gospel plays and films, it's an ultimately inessential grace note that the whole of the film does not miss, and actually the greater picture works a bit better with its absence. Without this digression, particularly since it came in the later stages, the film now is more tightly focused on Riswan's bold mission and, consequently, the core of the story, which is his love for Mandira.

And, as in the first version of the film, that love comes through in every frame, thanks to the wonderful performances Johar elicits from Khan and Kajol, and, of course, their now-legendary screen chemistry. This shorter version may still be a bit too melodramatically Bollywood to a number of tastes--but that's actually a good thing if you ask me, for it just shows how well the soul of the affecting original work has been preserved.

IFFLA Official Site

Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles 2010 Reviews/© Michael Dequina
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