Jul 7, 2015

My Name is Khan- Review

My Name is Khan is a movie that reminded me what movies should be about: not just entertainment, not just art--but messages. And boy, did this movie deliver them.

If--when watching this--you don't shed a tear, or if you don't at least feel the back of your throat closing up with the promise of oncoming tears ... well.

Rizwan Khan is an autistic (Asperger's Syndrome) muslim living in India. When his mother--the only one who loves him for who he is without any reservation--dies, he goes to America to live with his brother. There, he meets and falls in love with single-mom Mandira, and makes a new friend out of her son, Sam. Then 9/11 happens. And then a consequential incident of discrimination follows that leaves Mandira distraught enough to set Khan on a wild-goose chase. She tells Khan that if he ever wants to come back to her side, he would have to find the President of the United States and tell him personally that he is not a threat to the country. And because Khan takes things literally, he actually does. The movie is basically his journey to accomplish this mission... an odyssey, if you will. Though obviously one with less nymphs and sirens.

As Khan himself says in the movie...
[His] name is Khan (from the epiglottis). And [he] is not a terrorist. 
Khan is an awkward character to watch, but he's also endearing. He takes things literally, and he doesn't give up. He has Asperger's, so he's also special. He grew up with very few people understanding him, and accepting him, especially with the religious conflicts in his region. He hates the color yellow. He's not big on hugs. He is also a horrible salesman. But above all, he is a good man. And I started cheering for him the minute I realised that. The minute his mother, Razia, told him:
There are only two kinds of people in this world. Good people who do good deeds. And bad people who do bad. That's the only difference in human beings. There's no other difference. 
And he "understood."


  • Love vs. Hate: Because of who he is, Khan does something that a normal person wouldn't. A normal person would give up long before he even started. His tenacity is admirable ... but it's also important to understand that his tenacity is spurred from love (for Mandira). He was raised to judge people based on their actions, and not let anything else cloud his judgement. And despite him being the minority in almost every way, Khan is proactive. He is an example of what is currently happening and what could be. He becomes the small percentage that causes the biggest change. He becomes someone who speaks up for countless others (without even knowing it). And he does all of this because he loves instead of hate. As cliche as this phrase is, it holds some merit: love conquers all. 
  • Discrimination vs. Tolerance: There are lots of religious conflicts here, which means things can get messy. But the movie handles it so skilfully that they are able to show an important truth. People can live together even if they are very different--so long as there's tolerance, if nothing more. The movie showcases Islam in a positive way that is very rarely done in films. What makes it so special is that there is true acceptance and love from two different sides. Khan, a muslim, loves and accepts Mandira, a Hindu. And she, vice versa. Because of their simple tolerance and understanding of one another's religious beliefs, there is real peace. Tangible and achievable peace. Peace that the movie tries so hard to prove is possible. And it really is. 
  • Autism on the Big Screen: Unfortunately, not a lot of people know about Autism. Or that it can be different in many ways. Khan is autistic. More specifically, Khan has Asperger's Syndrome. His actions in the movie properly align with actions real autistic kids display. This movie is a huge step in promoting international awareness. But more importantly, it's a good way to witness the hardships and mistreatments that autistic and special needs kids would typically go through. Khan is very different from those around him. Some people can't handle that. They don't know how to treat him, or how to love him. Others make fun of him and scold him. But there are few who take him in as he is, nurturing his growth. Khan's mother, Razia, is a great example of this. An example that should be mimicked and applied in real life.

The characters are solid, as is the plot. Though the film isn't chronologically structured, it is easy to follow. The narration, given by the main character from the future point, helps frame the setting instead of getting in the way of the action. It was easy to lose myself in the storyline, and it was particularly so because the actors' performances were that good. The director, Karan Johar, did an equally impressive job with showcasing his own vision of the story. You can feel everyone's efforts holding the movie together, but with all this effort ... comes time. And a lot of it. Like all other Indian movies, My Name is Khan is long. There is no exception here, since it's almost three hours long... which is the average length of an Indian movie. Keep that in mind when watching the film. It may seem like the story pace is slow--and at times it is--but it's still worth watching all the way through. The only issue that confused me was minor enough to be ignored, but still disorienting. In the beginning, the President appeared to be someone like George W. Bush. Then, later in the film, they portrayed someone who appeared more like Obama. It's a small goof, but it was enough to make me feel a jump in time. Especially since that is a big role in the story.

I'm still new to Bollywood, and I haven't watched many Indian movies. But I've seen enough to know that this one is unlike its predecessors. This movie isn't big on dancing and singing. That would ruin the serious atmosphere. This movie isn't really there to entertain you for three hours of your life. No, this movie is using those three hours to convey a message with a stronger impression than you would expect. Some things you just have to see for yourself. For someone who isn't really accustomed to watching Indian movies, this is a good transition and is simple to digest. After watching, I realised--and in the context of the movie's own quote--that:

"There are two kinds of [films] in this world. Good [films that promote] good deeds. And bad [films that] do bad. That's the only difference in films."

And this one is definitely a good film.

Besides, Shah Rukh Khan (Bollywood's top actor) is in this. It's practically impossible to hate anything he stars in. Call me biased, or ... simply impressed.

Jul 2, 2015

The Death Sworn Duology by Leah Cypess

The first word that came to mind after reading Death Sworn was:


The heroine, Ileni, is a sorceress who was sent willingly to tutor assassins in the art of magic. When her powers faded away, the Elders gave her an impossible mission: find out why the previous tutors they have sent died. Now teaching in the Assassins' Caves, Ileni develops a new love, meets Sorin (the star assassin), and discovers a plan that involves her changing the future of the world they all live in.

The premise promises everything I love in a story: dynamic relationships, mystery, some romance, intrigue, risks, and most importantly, character development. And looking back, I feel kind of stupid for putting it off so long in fear of it ... well ... sucking.

Because it didn't.

I'll admit, the first few paragraphs were a bit too heavy for me to get into, and it took me a while to get used to the style. But once I did, everything just worked out smoothly. The dialogue, the description, the world building... it all just clicked together perfectly. And more than anything else, I felt like I was there, hiding in the dark caverns watching an unlikely romance unfold among characters who are--thankfully--too smart to be ruled solely by their feelings.

The story was light on romance despite the main character being the only female in the Assassins' Caves, and had the perfect amount of it (even in the sequel) without being overwhelming or off-putting. Characters truly acted like they were supposed to, making them rational and realistic. They were well-developed and unique--each character had a different personality that made it clear they weren't copy-paste clones of one another with different names. This made the dialogue flow really well. I even caught myself chuckling at some jabs and leaning into the pages, anticipating the characters' reactions. The writing was that good. It kept me entertained, and above all, it was witty without trying too hard to be.


  • A Strong Heroine: Ileni is someone who had so much power and promise as a child, but grew up only to become a disappointment to her people. She grew up believing she was special, but she isn't anymore. And when the story starts, she had already given up. She is bitter. And she is realistic. She does something with herself. Ileni survives among assassins despite the odds. She tries to find the answers to the mystery she was sent to solve despite her hopelessness. She does things that go against her feelings, even putting it plainly by saying, she isn't "stupid." And she really isn't. She makes mistakes, but she accomplishes her tasks despite her lack of power. If only there were more YA heroines like her.
"The cacophony of clinks and thuds and grunts from the main training area had gone silent. A cluster of assassins stood in the arched cavern entrance, staring, the pretense of disinterest wiped off their faces. Her role as their tutor, apparently, was off to a great start."  
    • Natural Repartee & Relationships: No Insta-Love! No out-of-the-blue feelings! No one is "too-stupid-to-live" in the story! Everything happens slowly but surely--it's refreshing. I especially enjoyed watching the atmosphere change between Ileni and Sorin. It's like there's always a challenge between the two. 
    "How to throw assassins off balance: cry in front of them. She would have to find a way to pass that along to the next tutor."   
    • Magic and Death: This goes without saying, but I was satisfied with how well the two elements worked together. Ileni is a sorceress. Sorin is an assassin. Each come from very different backgrounds, each have learned very different skills, but both aim to accomplish a mutual goal. Despite having that in common, there are many things that get in the way. Like killing. Like power. And these themes are incorporated into the story in ways that provoke contemplation. Just as they should. 
    • A Put-Together Plot: The plot was simple and cohesive. Everything fit together and nothing really jumped out as being sorely incongruous. I never got frustrated by the pace or by the characters' stupidity ... I loved going through the action with them. And I did not anticipate that ending until it was already happening.
    Now I liked the book, but there were still parts I believe could be improved. I wanted to know more about the characters' backgrounds. I appreciated how we got a small window into their past, but I felt like the world they lived in before wasn't as expanded as it should've been. That's partly something I hoped would be shown in the sequel. I wanted to see more of the world outside of the dark gloomy caves. I knew a big world was out there, but I only saw a small part of it. I can't help but feel like it's a missing piece of the world-building puzzle.

    The first book is wholly focused on the assassins' side as the story's set in their Caves. The second deals more with magic since it takes place in the Empire. Because of that, the two sides are evenly represented, making the duology a good choice. BUT:

    It's not enough.

    I quite liked the first book, and had high expectations for the second. I couldn't wait to see how the events would unfold ... but it feels like I still didn't get to find out. The book read more like a continuation to me than a conclusion. I felt like it was a tease, like the plot couldn't possibly end there.

    Then I remembered that Ileni is the main character. That the story is Ileni's story ... and it kind of made sense why it ended where it did. The whole point was to watch her develop as a character--and in this sequel, she does. She tackles some pretty hefty moral dilemmas and uncovers a lot of corruption. She finally picks a side. She finally makes a choice... I just feel bad we don't get to witness the aftereffects.

    Although there's all of that to consider, you still get a whole new cast of characters that are just as unique and entertaining as the first. You get more plot developments, more conflict, and more travelling around. It makes up for what I didn't get in the first book. I can see why the sequel upsets everyone. But at the same time, I find it a suitable ending. Not a perfect one, but good enough that I feel no need to kick up a fuss. Besides, we get to read some scenes from Sorin's point of view. Who could possibly complain about that?

    OVERALL: 4/5

    Read it. And if you like the first book, give the second a chance. They're both good for different reasons, and it's worthwhile meeting new characters and uncovering the world building. I was immediately hooked reading it (as you can tell), and I truly believe it's an underrated YA story.