Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Film review: PK

Please note that there would be spoilers ahead.  If you are one of those who hasn't seen the film yet, desist from reading this article now.

First of all, PK is no 3 Idiots.  Infact, it comes across as a tad contrived, as it struggles to combine 'alienhood' with religion rather unconvincingly.  The Hirani trademarks are all there: a serious issue tackled in a lighthearted vein, a particular kind of music (love is a waste of time reminds one of zoobi doobi), and the final hyper-emotional resolution; apart from the regulars such as Boman Irani and Parikthit Sahni.  Yet, PK fails to match up to the novelty and charm that 3 Idiots brought to screens.  If anything, it appears to be formulaic in its attempt to recreate the same magic.

As far as the story goes, Anushka Sharma's character is happily bicycling around the deserted streets of Belgium, when she bumps into Sushant Singh Rajput's character.  Promptly, within a few minutes of meeting him, she is singing paeans of undying love with him.  The fact that he is Pakistani has got nothing to do with the story of the film; Muslim - yes, Pakistani - no.  This just comes across as another instance of our filmwalas giving needless importance to Pakistan - maybe it sells well.

To come back to the story, PK, the alien has already landed and is finding life tough in India, as he grapples with the languages, people's attitudes, money and yes, clothes, which he borrows from amorous couples who are doing their in thing in 'magic cars'.  

A misunderstanding separates the lovers, and the girl ends up befriending the alien in Delhi.  It so happens that the alien has already lost his remote-control necklace, which he is desparate to find so he can return home to his own planet whose people are exactly the same as us, except that they have pointy ears and roam around in the buff.

The alien also realises during his sojourn on planet earth, that God is omnipotent and can help him find his pendant.  He ends up propitiating every god in the area, cutting across religious lines, in his own bungling ways.  He discovers, during this process, that there are different kinds of gods, belonging to different sets of people, managed by different sets of 'managers'.  

His critique of the futility of religious exigencies sets him off on a collision course with a Hindu Baba, who has a 'direct line' with God, which helps him offer solutions to his bhaktas' problems.  Of course, he is just a fraud out to make a killing with the generous donations made by his multitudes of bhaktas, which he collects in a huge box, ostensibly set up to build a temple.  Needless to say, his scheming ways are exposed in a live television debate in the end, the lovers are reunited, and the alien returns home with a heart heavy with unrequited love.  He, however, brings his friends back as the film ends, for another tour of planet earth.  Part 2 perhaps?

Now for the theme of the film.  If 3 Idiots was about the education system, PK is about religion.  It pokes fun at the - mostly Hindu - traditions and rituals, godmen and the people who fall for these rituals and godmen blindly.  It has become fashionable to pan Hindu Babas these days in the media and films, as they are easy targets, owing to the antics of a few colourful real life Babas who have been in the limelight due to their less than divine activities.  

Oh my God did it in the recent past.  Hollywood has also pitched in with Jimi Mistry's The Guru, and Mike Myers' The Love Guru.  Perhaps the realisation that the freedom of expression and magnanimous outlook inherent in Hinduism - barring a few effigy-burning activities - allows these filmmakers to take these liberties.     
At the same time, one can see why the Hindu organisations are upset about the content of the film, as it largely targets the gods and practices of Hindu religion.  If the target were to be gods, messengers and practices of certain other religions, the outcome for the film and its makers may well have been 'all is not well'.  Ask Salman Rushdie.  

The film only makes a fleeting attempt to mitigate the anti-Hindu-ritual-godmen theme by showing a few villagers being converted by a pastor in the background, and a woman denouncing the targeting of school girls by Islamist terrorists.  Sorry, not enough, one might well say.    

One is tempted to ask, why not make a film about an Imam who indoctrinates young men into radicalism in a madrasa?  Why not expose the hollow claims made by evangelists as they go about converting swathes of tribals and dalits?  Why not express horror at the practice of self-flagellation undertaken during certain festivals, or, on the other hand, compulsory fasting for a month?  Why not poke fun at the attires of those men whose religion compels them to wear turbans and carry knives in their pockets, or for that matter, those women who have to cover themselves from head to foot like a bank vault?  Why not poke fun at someone who believes that a big old man in a funny red costume slides down a narrow chimney to leave them gifts under a tree?  Why not cry in disbelief as the nuns of a certain faith starve themselves with the intention of wilfully casting away the body?  Why not stand up for the millions of innocent birds and animals that are slaughtered by followers of certain religions so that they could have a grand feast on their so-called 'holy' days?  

The list can go on and on.

Nevertheless, having said all that, looking only at the Hindu faith, there are a number of deadwood practices that need to be consigned to the dustbin.  Sati, dowry, child marriage, untouchability, made snana, jallikattu and the Gadhimai festival are but a few examples that have been around for a long time, and should be eliminated immediately.  And this film attempts to expose a few of these and similar practices, while it leaves the implication of this exposure unsaid: that the soul, the atma, the Kingdom of God, the rooh, the source of nirvana or mukti, is actually within us.  That instead of the showy, superstitious practices of religion, we need to be living a life of love, truth and spirituality, which would eventually bring us lasting peace.  

Banning the film, taking protests to the streets, or vandalising theatres will get us nowhere.  I believe that as Hindus, we have it in us to laugh at our own selves, at our gods, and at our superstitions and take things in our stride, as we have done on innumerable occasions before.

As far as the film is concerned, 'ye wrong number hai' does not quite measure up to 'all izz well'.

Image source: http://im.rediff.com/movies/2014/oct/17tweet-pk.jpg

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