Director: Rajkumar Hirani | Year: 2014

Saw PK for the second time this Tuesday, sandwiches between my viewing of ‘I’ and ‘A Theory of Everything’.

My God, what a mess of a film it is!

A film that starts with a Pakistani boy and an Indian girl fighting for a ticket to a double bill of Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s poems and Amitabh Bachchan’s performance in some town in Belgium! And ends with revelation about a letter delivered to the wrong girl because she was holding the right cat! And in between it has an alien who doesn’t know what it can do and what it cannot.

And what a kickass courageous film it is!

PK 2

Halfway through I could not believe Hirani has actually made such a film.

It asks questions that serious thinkers have forgotten to ask, let alone a filmmaker in a mainstream film.

It is also a very funny film. I was laughing when I was not thinking.

And sometimes I was laughing AND thinking.

The episode with PK trying to pass off Gandhi’s photos as currency notes, or when PK was getting his lessons in colour coding –  what colour you wear when you are getting married and what colour you wear when your husband dies.

But mostly I was amazed at Hirani’s dare. He was actually using a Bollywood film to ask ordinary viewers these kinds of questions?

Yes, he was. And people were responding. Laughing, yes. But also realizing …how ridiculous some of their seemingly normal behaviour has been!

So what are the questions Hirani raises in the film?

But before that let us get rid of some silly distractions.  Like the accusations of it being anti-Hindu. Or it targeting only the supposed evils of Hinduism. That’s quite easily done. First off, an alien landing in a Hindu-dominated India is likely to encounter Hindu rituals more than that of any other religion. Secondly, no other religion, say Islam or Christianity, or Buddhism, is dominated by rituals and such a bewildering variety of practices in public life related to God as Hinduism is. If he had to critique other religions’ concept of God he had to do it at the level of abstract principles. And that won’t provide any narrative base for an interesting film. The point is through all his picking holes in Hindu religious practices no one can show a single instance where he is implying that other religions are any better.  He attacks the practice of the proselytizing the poor by the Christians, he questions the godliness  in preventing little girls from getting educated by some Muslims , and he questions the very idea of terrorist attacks to protect one’s Khuda as if Khuda couldn’t protect himself.

He talks about the arbitrariness of all religious injunctions:  One says worship the cow, the other says kill it as sacrifice, ones says wine is evil, the other says it’s God’s blessing. Surely they cannot all be right. But for the major part of the film he pokes fun at Hindu rituals and religious customs to raise the basic question: Do you ever think why you are doing what you are doing? And a non-Hindu seeing the film is going to end up asking the same questions about his or her own religious practices after seeing the film. It is not if he can go home and sleep peacefully saying to himself, “These Hindus have such stupid practices. Look at my religion. Everything is so rational.” No way. Because he is going to find in his own religion the same amount of irrationality, the same playing on the fear and greed of ordinary men by the priestly class, the mangers of God.

I have read pieces by people like Amish and Madhu Kishwar defending the rituals and practices that Hirani attacks in the film. But these are old defenses had had not deterred people like Buddha, Mahavir, Dayand Saraswati and Debendranath Tagore  from rebelling against these practices. Amish says, idols are symbols of the real God, it is the faith of the devotee that turns a stone into God. Fair enough. So the stone is not real God but only a symbol. So Ram or Krishna are not real gods but symbols. So the place of birth of ram is but a symbol and is not worth shedding blood over surely. And when we accept that the real nature of God is something else, the rituals should be helping us in realizing that true nature. Do the rituals do that, or they just play upon our greed and fear? What happens to that realization when we indulge in massive corruption and offer a diamond crown to the Lord? What happens when you promise to offer a coconut if you pass in an exam? Isn’t PK right in demanding his money back if the transaction is not completed? Can the laws of cause and effect ensure one’s getting a job as a result of feeding a cow?

Going through some kind of hardship may steel one to face hardships. But rolling on the ground to get your wish granted? Can’t we think up of more intelligent rituals? Rolling on the left-over food after the higher cast people have eaten? Isn’t it plain that it is a ruse to enforce caste superiority? Many of these rituals and forms of gods were conceptualized when the human understanding of nature was limited. The sun, the moon, the sea fire and rain were given godly forms and worshipped.   When our understanding of nature and laws of nature has expanded so vastly, falling back on the old rituals can only take us farther away from the true nature of God, and not nearer.

Hirani plays fair and articulates through Tapasvi the usual concern that many religious people have. ‘ What is your problem if people find solace in breaking coconut or tying a thread around a tree when in mental distress?  What is the alternative you suggest?” PK’s answer is partly given in his direct reply to Tapasvi, partly in his advice to people who came to Tapasvi with their problems. To Tapasvi he says, let’s revere the God who has created us rather than the God we have created. To the man whose wife has been struck by paralysis, he says, going to some temple a thousand miles away will not help, stay with her, nurse her, give her company, spend the last days together.  WE may or mayint be able to crack the God question to everyone’s total satisfaction. But unitil then we can at least try to be as humane as we can. If psychiatric help is what people need, let us working at better, more professionally sound psychiatry.  If meditation brings peace let us prescribe meditation.  If prayer at time seems to heal, let us study what aspect of prayer heals. (Let us not be like the scientist who drinks whisky with water, gin with water, rum with water, gets drunk each time and concludes that it is water the common element each time, that causes intoxication.) And whatever you do, don’t do anything out of fear, greed and ignorance. After the Vedanta, after the Upanishads, after Buddha, surely we should be evolving better paths for f reaching and realizing the ultimate truth, or at least devising better societies that foster more ethical, more humane living.

I have also heard the argument that many of these rituals have been around for thousands of years. And in spite of their failings they have been mostly working for so many people. There must be some good in them. Now imagine someone saying to Abraham Lincoln, slavery has been around for hundreds of years and has done wonders for our economy. There must be something good in it. No. The fact that something has been around for years is no defense of its soundness. A few thousand years, so? We Hindus out of all the people should not be putting up that defense. After all we think in yugas, manvantaras and Brahma’s years! Humans have been on the earth for 2.5 million years, and in the present anatomical form for more than 200,000 years. And surely we want to be around for a few million years if not more. And we all know our present state of spiritual evolution is so elementary. There is no way we can be satisfied with humanity the way it is.  There is no religion that can claim that it has succeeded in developing a fine form of humanity that we can all be proud of and satisfied with. So the last few thousand years are just the baby steps we have taken on our spiritual journey, towards a form of higher consciousness. We have mikes to go. PK has not shown us the way, it has just flashed a torchlight on some bushes and potholes on the path that we are walking on, so that we can sidestep them, and continue with our exploration.

( So what explains the messy business with the letter in the church. And how does one forgive Hirani for it? Simple.  It is a McGuffin, like Hirani and Joshi have said in their interview it is. ( .  It has nothing to do with the central concern of the film. But without these there is no way he could make it look like a mainstream Bollywood entertainer and get people to the theatre – who wants to go to a cinema for gyan?

PK 1

And I forgive it just as I forgive the dog with the letter in Hum Aapke Hain Koun..? In fact, the absurdity of these devices is a clear clue to us; Take this business seriously at your own peril.

And coming back to Hirani, I admire his humanity as much as I admire his courage and intelligence. He could have easily chosen any other subject. There is no dearth of safe subjects on which he could have mounted his comedy. But this is something he felt strongly about and this is he message that he wanted to get across to as many people as he could. Therefore the subterfuges, and the right rope walking.

And I am glad that he has so spectacularly succeeded.)

Ps: This time Anushka’s collagen-enhanced lips didn’t bother me much. If Aamir was pitch perfect as the wondering alien, she was his perfect foil as the kind-hearted Jaggu.

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