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The wait for the King of Bollywood is over. After an onscreen lull, Shah Rukh Khan (Rizwan Khan), a middle-class Muslim boy from Delhi, has exploded back in a role that has been compared to Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, Tom Hanks in Forest Gump and more correctly, Peter Sellers in Being There. This time our hero has Asperger’s syndrome which is a form of autism that complicates socialization. This is Bollywood’s version and it is bigger and bolder than Hollywood’s.

Lovers of Indian cinema know the importance of Kahn’s influence. His decision to play a character who through his simplistic view of the world, manages to cut through a number of issues and show the truth, was bound to divide the ranks in a Muslim and Hindu society. The recent reaction to the film in India and Shak Rukh Khan’s public statement that he stands by the film and its message about acceptance, has borne out this theory.

The message in the film is simple. Zareena Wahab (Khan’s mother) is the voice of reason. She teaches her son that there are only two types of people – the good and the bad. She also shows him how, regardless of his affliction, there is love. We witness Khan’s ability to adopt this notion as the story progresses and he convinces us that this is possible as only the King can.

And, what a story it is. We sympathise with Khan as he deals with the loss of his mother and sets off to the USA to try and make a life for himself. Asperger’s makes people hyper-sensitive to noise, crowds and some colours, in his case yellow. These fears are substituted by his above average level of retaining knowledge and his ability to take on his mother’s reasoning.

There is the usual love story which always plays a large part in Indian cinema and the relationship between Khan and Mandira (Kajol) takes them on a roller-coaster ride in true Bollywood fashion. It covers not only the effects of Asperger’s syndrome on their daily lives, but also the consequences of 9/11, mixed Muslim and Hindu unions, the havoc created by hurricanes (where the story goes into overdrive) and, finally, Khan’s meeting with the President of the USA, who thankfully turns out to be Barack Obama (Christopher B. Duncan). Thank goodness for the longevity of Bollywood storytelling, I say!

Oh yes, there are many stories in this one and it is a long haul between ice creams at intermission. However, fans will not be disappointed in this latest effort by Karan Johar, who bravely brings these issues out in the open. It is worth noting that the majority of Indian audiences live in areas that are a far cry from the glitz and glamour of the Californian coast. It also has to be said that their lives are affected by the inability of many in the Western world to adopt the attitude that everyone who happens to be a Muslim, is NOT A TERRORIST. It takes a brave actor and director to put their reputations on the line in the hope that their craft can bring some change in attitude.

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