My Bollywood film viewing as of late has been concentrated on the older generation – films by Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan. The youngest hero whose films I also watch regularly are Hrithik Roshan. I have watched Kick, Bang Bang, Krrrish 3, PK, Talaash, Chennai Express and am planning to watch Happy New Year. Most of these films have been a disappointment, despite their box office success and out of these, the superior production has to be PK, which I watched just yesterday.
PK is a film about an alien who lands on earth, only to immediately have his signalling beacon stolen from him by the first human being that he meets. The film follows his attempt to trace this signalling beacon and return to his home. To do this, he initially has to learn how to dress, how to speak a language and learn about the institution of money, so that he can buy himself food. Having mastered these tasks, PK is told that the only person who can help him find the beacon is God. He therefore has to learn how to communicate with God to find his way home. PK tries all the major religions in India, but is unable to communicate with God. By chance, he then finds that the problem is that the beacon has been bought from the thief in the beginning of the film by a religious fraud who claims that it has been given to him by God in the Himalayas. We then follow PK as he attempts to gain the signalling beacon from the clutches of organised religion. PK’s story intersects with the story of a journalist who he meets and who assists him on his mission back to his planet. The journalist is also a victim of organised religion since she has been influenced by the religious fraud to misinterpret events in her life and become separated from her true love.
The film is a blending of distinct genres: on the one hand, a clever social satire, on the other a documentary-style investigation of the role of religion in creating identity and social strife. It is one of the most intelligent Hindi movies I have seen for a long while and I believe it is a film that will stand the test of time. It incorporates the outsider’s perspective of social and religious organisation in India with compassion and humanity. While questioning organised religion and the claims of the fraudulent to miraculously heal others, or cure all their problems through preying on the credulous and the desperate, the film stops short of condemning religion outright, since this ‘gives hope to people’ and since ‘God is the creation of the people’.
The film’s political statements and its role in educating the masses was exemplary. The film questions the stupidity and sheer arbitrariness of the social institution of money. It shows us how intolerance, xenophobia and prejudice can destroy lives. It shows how the construction of deference in our society to the opinions of so-called experts and delegation of our minds and thoughts to their interpretations can have calamitous effects on us. The film also shows how terrorism and religion are intertwined: it is a very serious mediation on this subject, and thus very contemporary.
PK’s struggle to return home and his encounter with our world signifies on a number of levels. Hungry, lost, poor and alone, he has to find his way in the world without anyone to rely on. It is the poor and the outcasts in society who help him find his way. Tellingly, it is through contact with a whore that he learns how to speak. Everyone else tries to manipulate him for their own purposes: shopkeepers, TV executives, even the journalist who claims to be helping him.
As per usual, Aamir Khan’s performance is outstanding, although I found it difficult to follow his regional dialect (which was also slurred, since he often had his mouth full of paan during the movie). I was, again, disappointed with Anushka Sharma’s performance and wondered why she had been given so much screen time and also, I did not find the soundtrack of the film to be very appealing.
Overall, the film is a success on almost every level. It has a bite to it and gives much food for thought. It is about the struggle of the questioning individual and it gives the individual many questions to think about. I’m glad it was such a success and I wait with anticipation to see what Aamir Khan’s next project will be. Maybe if I’m lucky, he will star alongside Amitabh Bachchan in a serious work – they have never been paired in Bollywood and it would be a fight of the titans. I will keep my fingers crossed.