His Name Is Khan (And It's One You Might Know) Shah Rukh Khan is arguably the biggest movie star in the world. So why is it that many Americans haven't heard his name? Because until now, he's been most famous for Bollywood extravaganzas. But his latest film, My Name Is Khan, is a different sort of story — a drama about a Muslim man with Asperger's trying to right a wrong in the wake of Sept. 11.

His Name Is Khan (And It's One You Might Know)

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/123589668/123595378" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


We sat down the other day with the biggest movie star in the world. Even if you have never heard of Shah Rukh Khan, a billion people in India have. He is the biggest draw in the outrageously oversized films that come from Bollywood.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Indian movies made in Bombay play across South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and beyond. More people around the world watch Shah Rukh Khan than Meryl Streep or Brad Pitt. He sings, he dances, he tries to get the girl.

(Soundbite of movie clip)

Unidentified Woman: Please leave me alone.

Mr. SHAH RUKH KHAN (Actor): OK. I don't mind. I mean, it's all right with me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: In this film, he tries and initially fails to pick up a young woman on a train as it rolls across Europe.

(Soundbite of movie clip)

Mr. KHAN: I hate girls.

INSKEEP: That film is from 1995, and 15 years later, it is still playing in a cinema in Mumbai.

Mr. KHAN: In India, the films are not looked upon just as entertainment. They're a way of life.

INSKEEP: And Shah Rukh Khan has made them his life. At age 44, he owns a production company and is host of India's version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." And he keeps starring in Bollywood productions, shown everywhere from distant Indian villages to multiplexes in New York.

Mr. KHAN: People talk about Bollywood being very kitsch and just songs and dances and over-the-top and colorful. The idea is that you have to someway make a film which appeals to my 90-year-old grandmother and to the nine-year-old kid. So it's like a cabaret. Like, I have a couple of films written by American guys, and I bring them back to Mumbai, make them sit down. And then I turn them Indians. OK, here's the song, here's a song. Yeah, and here's the mother. But there's no mother in the film. And I say, there has to be a mother in our film.

INSKEEP: In movies that commonly last three hours, Shah Rukh Khan might howl his lines with his hair flying everywhere. He may dance on the roof of a moving train. In his latest production, which is being released in the United States, his character has Asperger's syndrome. After 9/11, this Muslim man is driven to constantly repeat a single explosive phrase.

(Soundbite of movie, "My Name is Khan")

Mr. KHAN: My name is Khan, and I'm not a terrorist.

INSKEEP: The movie is called "My Name is Khan." And as the worldwide opening neared, Shah Rukh Khan came to New York City. He wore a black naru jacket with a white handkerchief in his pocket. He is a Muslim star in a mostly Hindu country.

What made you want to make a film that related to 9/11?

Mr. KHAN: You know, I have the two reasons. One, I've always like the concept of taking a real-life incident and then taking a fictional story in front of it, like "Titanic." And some movies just fail, that there's an aspect of Islam which needs to be addressed now. Otherwise, this demarcation, this divide we keep on increasing. So I just thought we should have a message about a film with humanity. Just goodness.

INSKEEP: In the movie, you introduce yourself and simply declare, I'm not a terrorist. I have run across Muslims in my life who have felt obliged to say that in one circumstance or another. Do you feel, in some way, that you are speaking for perhaps many millions of Muslims?

Mr. KHAN: Yes and no, because the line is actually very emotional. And, you know, people who are autistic or have Asperger's have a compulsive behavior. If they take onto something, they just keep following it. And he just gets this line in his head, and compulsively keeps telling people my name is Khan, and I'm not a terrorist.

And it's a more emotional thing that I'm not - see we don't want to - the film is not about 9/11 or terrorism. It's a love story. And just the backdrop, an incident happens on television, as we all saw. And the butterfly effect of an incident like this, that, you know, two people who are actually completely unrelated to an incident somewhere in the world and how their lives and their love changes, or gets completely thwarted.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KHAN: (Singing in foreign language)

INSKEEP: Soon after he finished filming "My Name is Khan," India's biggest film star almost found himself thwarted. On a visit to the United States, he was detained and questioned for two hours at U.S. immigration. The incident made front-page headlines across India.

Mr. KHAN: I didn't react to it as vehemently as I think everyone else back home did, because I'm used to it. You know, my name is Khan, really. And it's - kind of comes under security, and I'm sent to the other side, which is OK. I don't make a big issue out of it. As a matter of fact, the foreign minister in India said that, you know, we also are going to do the same to the Western world people when they come. So I said, give me the chance to frisk Angelina Jolie if she comes to India, please. I should be the first one to try this.

INSKEEP: This movie seems a little different than many other films that you've made, because I think it's fair to describe many of your films as secular in character. Perhaps someone would presume that you're playing a Hindu character, but the main character's religion, your character's religion is not central to the plot. Is it a risk at all to be making a movie where you are explicitly identified as a Muslim?

Mr. KHAN: Oh, no. I don't think so. I think, yes, our films are very secular. Because, like I said, you know, they're mostly of the cabaret-variety ones. The people call it stereo-type. I think it's the hero-type. India has a lead actor who always is a hero-type. He's a hero. He flies and he jumps and he sings and he dances and he does all the good things that you can imagine or fantasize about.

But in this case, I think the film required us to take it a bit seriously. As far as the public is concerned, India is amazingly secular. Just to explain it to you, I'm a Muslim, but I am a leading star for the last 20 years. So, you know, if you just go by that, there is no issue ever, secular issues in our country. But there are vested interests who will always bring that up to provoke people, which keeps on happening, I guess, everywhere.

INSKEEP: There's another thing about this movie that may illustrate something about Indian cinema and something about India in that your character comes to America. This is one of many films that you've been in, that other stars have been in where it's kind of about Indians abroad. Why is that?

Mr. KHAN: I have done a lot of films where the characters do come to America or London or to the Western part. See, Indian fantasies are very real. I say this to everyone: Our fantasies are about earning a good living, having maybe a car - not two - getting an education for your kids. Our fantasies are not about getting the president of the country to sit in a rocket and go and break a meteor. Our fantasies are very real.

As a matter of fact, everyone turns around and tells me your films are so fantastic. And I find the Western cinema very fantastic. I mean, you've got aliens. And you've got things we don't know about. And we believe them.

INSKEEP: Nine-foot tall blue creatures.

Mr. KHAN: Yeah, blue creatures. And you have Batman and you have Superman. I remember the first time I was there, I think somebody was interviewing me in a hotel, and they said, your films are such fantasies.

And I'm like, we are fantasies? You know, our guys just want to sing and dance on the roofs. Our guys just want to drive a big car. Our guys just want to come to America. You know, we don't want to go to Pandora. You know, it's like our films are very really fantastic. You know, they're achievable fantasies. So it's a big thing, you know, coming to the Western world. You have tall buildings. You have nice cars. You have big roads. So we just like to expose that in the Indian world. You know?

INSKEEP: It's a chance to travel to America for someone in rural India.

Mr. KHAN: America is our Pandora.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Shah Rukh Khan, whose latest Bollywood epoch is called "My Name is Khan." It's opening worldwide this weekend, including the United States.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KHAN: (Singing in foreign language)

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.