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“My name is Khan”: views on religious diversity in a Bollywood movie

This step explains the case of a Bollywood movie that deals with the issues of Islamophobia and Hindu-Muslim relations.
© European University Institute

This step explains the case of a Bollywood movie that deals with the issues of Islamophobia and Hindu-Muslim relations.

Released in 2010, the movie ‘My Name is Khan’ is an example of how a Bollywood movie can bring a new perspective on a global issue, namely discrimination and interreligious tensions. The movie met with great success at the box office, reaping 22 million dollars in the domestic market and 23.5 million dollars overseas.

It tells the story of a Muslim Indian autistic child named Rizwan Khan who grows up in Mumbai. When his mother dies, he moves to San Francisco to join his brother. He marries a Hindu woman despite his brother’s opposition to this interreligious marriage. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, lead to a rise in prejudice and violence against Muslim communities in the United States. After his stepson is beaten to death, Khan embarks on a journey to tell the president of the United States: “My name is Khan, and I’m not a terrorist”.

The film’s director, Karan Johar, reportedly said at the time of the movie’s release that he wanted to deal with the global issue of intolerance and discrimination. As he explained:

‘My Name Is Khan’ is also about Islam and the way the world looks at Islam but we are not taking any sides. We are only trying to say that there are only good people and bad people. There are no good Hindus, bad Hindus, good Christians, bad Christians.’

He refers here to a phrase that repeats several times throughout the movie. When he’s a child, as conflicts between Hindus and Muslims erupt in Mumbai, Khan’s mother tells him, “there are only two kinds of people, good people and bad people,” in an attempt to oppose dividing people according to their religion. In several scenes, Khan refers to his mother’s teaching to challenge those who oppose Muslims and Hindus, or Muslims and Christians.

The movie not only deals with post-9/11 tensions in the US, it also tackles religious tensions in Mumbai, where a riot erupted in 1992 in the wake of the destruction of a 16th-century mosque in the north of India. The riot lasted two months and left 900 people dead.

You can watch the trailer for an idea of how the movie approaches its central theme:

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

In this international trailer, Khan speaks about the happy life he had established and how September 11 “changed the way the world saw us.” Several shots show anti-Muslim violence: Khan’s stepson being bullied, Bin Laden pictures being found in his school locker, and his being beaten. We then see Khan being arrested at the airport and detained for questioning in a cell as he’s suspected of being a terrorist.

Share your opinion

Do you think that movies produced in non-Western contexts can give a more distanced perspective on Western societies?

© European University Institute
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