Friday, December 19, 2014

REVIEW 310: PK


Release date (India):
December 19, 2014
Director:
Rajkumar Hirani
Cast:


Language:
Aamir Khan, Anushka Sharma, Sanjay Dutt, Sushant Singh Rajput, Boman Irani, Parikshet Sahani
Hindi


Rajkumar Hirani’s PK is what Umesh Shukla’s OMG Oh My God! might have been if the chap questioning organised religion had been an innocent extra-terrestrial instead of a cynical human.

PK is what Hirani’s own Lagey Raho Munnabhai might have been if all that worldly wisdom had flowed from an artless alien rather than a golden-hearted goon inspired by visions of Gandhiji.    

What then is PK? It’s a film about an ET called PK (Aamir Khan) who comes to Earth to research human life, and gets stuck because the device to call back his space ship is stolen as soon as he lands. As he figures out a way to recover it, he discovers the complexities of life on this planet, the difficulties of communicating with creatures who don’t speak their minds and, above all, the God fraud. He is aided in his quest to return home by journalist Jagat Janini Sahni a.k.a. Jaggu (Anushka Sharma) who has a painful history of her own.

PK is delivered in light-hearted packaging, but make no mistake about this: it is serious fare. Hindu-Muslim tensions, the so-called ‘love jihad’ campaign, fraudulent babas, scare-mongering religious leaders, Indo-Pak suspicions, blind faith, media sensationalism and above all else, the unexpected ways in which the best of us are unwittingly influenced by the prejudices of others – Hirani and his co-writer Abhijat Joshi have something to say about it all.

Shantanu Moitra’s music is attractive, the songs are smoothly woven into the narrative and nicely shot, the dialogues and lyrics are amusing and incisive, the settings are eye-catching, the costumes are colourful, the pace is unflagging and without being overwhelmingly so, there is no let-up in PK’s glossy feel throughout. None of this subtracts from its courageous core.

Mainstream Hindi films are notorious for community stereotyping. It is a measure of Hirani and Joshi’s skills that for the most part, PK skips cliches. Two populist stereotypes merit a mention though, since they depart from the film’s otherwise across-the-board slamming of religions and seek to subtly establish distinguishing marks. First, a terrorist group aims to protect its “qaum” in the film – we are told this without their religion being named. The use of the word “qaum” is clearly an effort to reference Islam without openly saying so, which makes this an instance of double triteness since it perpetuates the prevalent “all terrorists are Muslims” assumption plus links a language to a religion. Second, Christianity has many weaknesses, yet PK chooses to highlight the penchant for conversion, thus playing to the gallery with the prevalent falsehood that Christians and Muslims are the only ones who seek to convert those of other faiths.

I suppose Team PK needed something to excuse itself in case of an attack by saffron groups complaining about the slamming of Hindu religious practices in the film. Besides, Muslims and Christians are not guiltless in these matters, so let us let this pass after a mention.  

A couple of costume and language stereotypes elsewhere indicate disappointing laziness. For instance, in a multi-religious assembly, the Christian is the only one who speaks English. Yet, the writers are certainly not uninformed, as is evident from the fact that PK is one of those rare Bollywood films that uses the Hindi word for a church (girja) and extends itself beyond the Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Isaai line-up to include a Jain. Little touches that merit big applause!

The film’s major flaw though is its all-or-nothing stance on religionists. Is it possible that there is not a single preacher out there who is a good soul? PK’s absence of nuance in this matter is in line with Hirani’s 3 Idiots according to which India’s education system is absolutely, unutterably bad without any redeeming factors whatsoever. Caricatures (like that tacky scene featuring a Hindu baba in saffron robes fleeing a stage) are so much easier to sell than subtlety, are they not? Moderation is so much harder to popularise than extreme positions.

As our alien hero might say, hum frustrate-iya gaye hai ee sab se, because this film has so much else to recommend it. In the present atmosphere in India, it’s nothing short of bravery to openly discuss the failings of religion, and PK manages to do this in a highly entertaining fashion. This would not have been possible without the excellent cast headlined by Aamir who does not for a second allow PK’s distinctive body language and hilarious Bhojpuri accent to dwarf his character’s sincerity and guileless charm. That wide-eyed, big-eared look that seemed so odd in the promos is a perfect fit within this screenplay. And it’s heartening to see a superstar gutsy enough to allow the camera to let him come off looking physically less attractive than a co-star, yet Aamir does that throughout, but especially in that scene in which the awkwardly proportioned PK dances with Jaggu of the model-like figure and endless legs. Bravo!

With PK, Anushka proves yet again that she is one of the most dependable mainstream heroines of her generation in Bollywood. Someone please tell her too that she’s naturally pretty and should not have made those distractingly obvious alterations to her face. The actress shares a warm chemistry with Sushant Singh Rajput who makes his mark despite the briefness of his role. The rest of the cast too are spot on. As for the ending – ah, how it made me smile.

PK is not as brilliant as Hirani’s Munnabhai 1&2, but it’s still an excellent film that throws up surprises every step of the way. It had me laughing out loud then crying like a baby. It broke my heart then raised my spirits. If I were a Bollywood writer, I might have ended this review with: Lagey raho, Rajubhai. I’ll just leave it at: Thank you for the Christmas gift, Team PK.

Rating (out of five): ***1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
U/A
Running time:
153 minutes


15 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed the movie, but I found Hirani's "satire on God and Godmen" too unidimensionally focused on Hinduism.. I would have loved this more if he really had the courage to take on all religions! Imagine the protests if in the series of "Wrong numbers", he had included a scene of a Qazi confirming "Triple Talaq" as the right way of terminating a marriage.. (I can assure you that the protests would have been bigger than a Twitter trend!)

    Very interestingly, you question the only slightly negative reference to Christianity! :-)

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    Replies
    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Smileys cannot camouflage prejudice. What does it say about you and your biases that of all the flaws I've pointed out in PK, you have noticed nothing else apart from my comment about the stereotypical criticism of the Christian community (when, as I said, there is so much else about Christianity that could have been criticised)? What does it reveal about your mindset that on a blog filled with articles where I've repeatedly questioned the stereotyping of linguistic and religious communities, LGBT persons, women, single women, etc, you only noticed this reference to Christianity? Ask yourself that.

      Regards,

      Anna MM Vetticad

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  2. While it is a good review, I personally find it funny how you get overly sensitive over a very brief scene depicting missionary conversions and terror by certain Muslim fundamentalists. All religions have flaws and Pk as movie has done the right thing by not being selective in showing the flaws in most major religions. In a more than two hour movie bashing babas (whom I personally don't like), a few scenes showing flaws in other religions is not wrong.

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    Replies
    1. Dear Anonymous,

      I personally find it very funny that you think I object to the depiction of flaws in non-Hindu religions by PK. I personally find it very funny that you don't understand the point I'm making, which is that while there are many flaws that could have been critiqued in Islam and Christianity, these two specific flaws picked by PK seem to have been chosen with an eye on appeasing Sangh Parivar fundamentalists in case of protests about the depiction of Hinduism in this film. Why do I say that? Because these two specific flaws fit into the Sangh-perpetuated stereotype of Islam and Christianity in India, whereas the depiction of other flaws in these two religious communities (e.g.: inequitable property rights for Muslim women, no women priests in the Roman Catholic Church) may not have been as appealing to Sangh Parivar protestors or the masses who have grown up on Sangh propaganda. I also personally find it very disappointing that you have chosen not to understand a nuanced argument.

      Regards,

      Anna MM Vetticad

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    2. But what about your reply. If someone raises a question on one aspect of your review, you as a critic must throw some light on it rather than trying to 'turn the tables'. Not a reply expected from a 'critic'. Now please don't go about talking about my prejudices!

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    3. I did throw light on the point I raised, both in my review and in response to your comment. That being said, if you had told me you objected to my criticism and gave me your reasons for it, I would not have responded sharply, but you chose to contend that I was being "sensitive" about those two scenes you are referring to? What reason could I have to be "sensitive" about them? I have criticized community stereotyping in many reviews. Why did this particular criticism strike you as me being "sensitive"? Did you also think I was being "sensitive" when I criticised a tacky scene featuring a Hindu guru in saffron robes on stage in PK? Did you think I was being "sensitive" when I described PK as being simplistic in its stance on religion? I think it's only fair that I should have a right to critique your comment as much as my right to critique the film and your right to critique my review. Without that there can be no debate.

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    4. i dont get it .. where does sangh's idea of islam or christianity comes into picture? and if u r saying factually tht is sterotyping then whole movie is sterotyping of dhongi baba's .... are there nt genuine Babas like Sadguru, Ramanna, Amma etc ???

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  3. useless dumb,if cant have any story or cant give any hit ,So time to bash religion.. shame shame shame.
    and listen so called virgin mary follower.... we go to temple,mosque not because of afraid but because of true strong belief & faith......not by some dumb church maxi wearing fathery (with their nuns) will say that jesus is coming,, convert to christanity to book ticket direct to heaven with jesus guarding it on the last day of earth..armageddon lol

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  4. Great analysis ... well written ..@desertfox

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  5. If they movie has framed issue of hindu converted to Christianity (very evident in tribal area) conversion to movie scene then i bet you would not have farted this long , out here to show your English skills .

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  6. I hope soon you will start reviewing movies as an audience rather than giving your biased judgements by just being "Anna"

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  7. I hope you soon start reviewing movie as an audience rather than giving your biased judgements by just being "Anna".

    ReplyDelete