The Price of Translating a Narrative and its Context (The King is Out: Part V)

Karan Johar falteringly attempts to fashion a cinematic alliance of sorts between African-Americans and South Asians — very unusual in the Bollywood context and more so for Karan Johar, himself — but fails to seize the radical politics embedded. One wishes that the spirit of this song was continuously re-thought, re-energized, re-contextualized, re-translated. A revolution that stops moving, stops “revolving,” is nothing but an aborted one.

by Huma Dar

[read Part I Part II Part III Part IV]

In an interesting twist, Karan Johar’s My Name is Khan displaces or translates (one original meaning of “translate” is to bear or carry across from one place to another) the convoluted and complex, determining context from India, with a specific genealogy, on to the US.  The post-9/11 circumstances provide some unfortunate resonances, yet much of the untranslated/untranslatable context results in the particular aporias of the filmic text.  Even beyond Mandira’s furious and irrational directive to Rizwan Khan, he has to go around saying his name is Khan and “he is not a terrorist” because in that originary terrain of imposed defensiveness there is not much space for a “Muslim name” (besides certain limited spheres), leave alone for “My Name is Khan, and I am an American.”  This latter, more “affirmative” alternative to the “apologetic” cinematic version, is proposed by Suad Abdul-Khabeer in her excellent critique of the film.

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