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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



MY NAME IS KHAN, interview with screenwriter Shibani Bathija

With the opening of Indian film 'DON 2' (2011) starring Bollywood giant Shah Rukh Khan, Khan has been popping up everywhere recently to promote his new film. Last week it was the Festival du Film de Marrakech and this week Dubai at DIFF. While Khan tells the world that his character ‘Don’ of the DON feature film series is his favorite character he has ever played, I would venture to say that the favorite character the world has seen him play is that of 'Rizvan Khan' in the blockbuster hit MY NAMES IS KHAN (2010).

As a writer, it intrigued me to hear from the writer of the script herself, Shibani Bathija, about her inspiration for the script and her journey from its birth to its mega success. Here is my interview with the super talented screenwriter Shibani Bathija who has managed to marry Bollywood and Hollywood so superbly.



ME: How did you write this story? Was it based on personal experience or someone you know?

SHIBANI: Karan Johar wanted to tell a tale of a Muslim man in a post 9/11 world and we took it from there. There was a lot of research that went into the script and though the story itself is fiction, a lot of the incidents are culled from real occurrences.

ME: You’ve written a beautiful film. Did you always know you wanted to write for film or was it a serendipitous journey?

SHIBANI: Thank you. I actually came to it via a circuitous route. I have always enjoyed both writing and cinema, but work wise started with advertising, then PR, event marketing, television program development and finally writing for films. While working for the television channel I realized I was such a hard task mistress on the hapless writers because I was a frustrated writer myself. Then rather than continue to be a sadist I decided to turn into a masochist and start writing myself.

ME: LOL. It’s true. Writing can be quite masochistic. How does it feel to have had so much success with your film and have had reached such a widespread international audience?

SHIBANI: Oh, it's exhilarating on so many levels. In the mainstream film industry we are primarily in the business of entertainment so within that to have had the opportunity to write a film with the ability to move people, to open minds and hopefully change some, has been a lifetime opportunity. An insurance salesman from Delhi sent me a message on Facebook soon after the release. He said before he saw the film, like many others, he would automatically blame any misdoing in the world to the Muslim community. After this film he is not sure he has changed his mind entirely but he knows he will stop and think before he jumps to conclusions. It was such a beautiful message and there have been so many like that, whether to do with the Islamic angle or to do with the portrayal of Aspergers.

ME: How hard was it to cast Shah Rukh Khan, India’s most beloved Bollywood actor?

SHIBANI: Well, Shah Rukh has a very close relationship with Karan Johar (the producer/director) so I had little to do with it. However Shah Rukh said recently that rarely does he get to be a part of a film that says what he wants to say personally in the way this film does, so that makes me feel quite happy.

ME: The main actor is named Khan. Did you write the part for Shah Rukh Khan?

SHIBANI: Yes. But Khan is a very common Muslim name in India so that was a good part of the reason.

ME: The subject matter of the film really hits the core for the most important international political matters at hand today (immigration, cultural marginalization, fear of terrorism, poverty and the dangers of stereotype)… Do you think the reason for the success of the film is due to hitting the international collective psyche?

SHIBANI: I had always intended for Khan's story to be the story of our times, so yes touching on those themes were important to me. Also, my favorite hero of all time is Don Quixote and to me Rizvan is a modern day Quixote. The following is a quote I had started the script with. It didn't make it into the film, but I think encapsulates it exceptionally well. “One man scorned and covered with scars still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable stars; and the world was better for this.” - Don Quixote. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

ME: That’s beautiful! I wish it had been in the film. The marriage between Bollywood and Hollywood is a beautiful one and done so harmoniously in the film. Do you think we will begin to see a lot more of this cinematic romance between the world’s two biggest cinematic giants?

SHIBANI: I do hope so. However, to do it successfully and seamlessly it is important to understand the genesis of both forms of film. To really get under the skin of the social, cultural and historical context of the films and then find a way for them to hybrid into something new and unique. A new language of cinema.

ME: How did you get into screenwriting? Did you always know you would be a writer for the film medium?

SHIBANI: No, I didn't. I had always imagined I would write a novel. Still hope to do so some day. Primarily I believe I am a storyteller, the medium is of lesser import.

ME: How has ‘My Name is Khan’ changed your life as a writer in India?

SHIBANI: I try and learn as much as I can from the process of each script that I write and ‘My Name is Khan’ has helped me grow the most as a human being. That has been the biggest change in my life since it's culmination.

ME: What are you working on now?

SHIBANI: I have had a story for an English language, WW2 based film that I have been working on, on and off for 7 years and I have just completed the first draft of that. Am also working on a couple of Hindi films that are in early stages at the moment.

ME: Thanks a million for this, Shibani. I cannot wait to see what you turn out next. From writer to writer, you’re an inspiration! ☺

SHIBANI: I am so very glad you enjoyed My Name is Khan. It has been a labor of love for us all and I am very grateful to hear of people connecting with the film. Cheers....


Interview by Vanessa McMahon, December 06, 2011


Screenwriter Shibani Bathija 



Khan in Marrakech December 02, 2011 

Marrakech photos by Vanessa McMahon  




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