This post was initially published in The Nation in 2014.
The absurdity of human race is often lost from perspective.
As we rage, plunder and kill each other, as our days and histories become wrapped with thirst for power and blood and riches, we often lose sight of just what this human race is doing to each other. This message is often found aplenty in columns, in lectures by professors, in books, in groups of critical thinkers. Where you don’t expect to find it – is a Bollywood movie.
Rajkumar Hirani has become a certified trend-setter in Hindi cinema. With movies like Munna Bhai (which was a slight rip-off from the Robin Williams’ starrer Patch Adams) and 3 Idiots (based on Chetan Bhagat’s novel Five Point Someone), Raju Hirani has become an anomalous success story. He diverges from the norm, takes an untold message and turns it into a massive, one-for-ages kind of a blockbuster. Channeling a lot of humanistic themes of empathy, understanding, the power of will, Hirani now touches a sensitive nerve: religion. In a world where religion has become one of the most controversial topics whether it is your drawing room table discussion or a television talk show or the legislative bodies of countries or the United Nations’ General Assembly, talking about religion or the messages related to religion to an audience like that of the subcontinent – is no mean feat.
Previously, Umesh Shukla, Akshay Kumar and Paresh Rawal had come together to make “Oh My God!”, adapted from the Australian movie “The Man Who Sued God”, which also stressed upon the role of religious leaders and the various businesses in the name of religion. There have always been some conversations, undercurrent or overt, regarding this business of religion (one recalls Tum Aik Gorakh Dhanda Ho by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Main Baghi Hoon by Habib Jalib), but none so bold, so massy and so widespread as Raju Hirani’s 2014 blockbuster, PK .
Narrated by TV journalist Jaggu (Anushka Sharma), the story begins with the arrival of an alien (Amir Khan) in the Rajasthan desert. Dressed in nothing but a pendant around his neck, this human-looking alien is dropped off for what seems like a research tour by his peers. He learns the first rule of survival on earth, as he gets robbed of his locket: human beings can be mean. Unable to immediately grasp the ways of the human world, this alien roams around Rajasthani cities and villages, slowly and carefully understanding the rules of human interaction: language, currency, fashion and finally religion. He learns Bhojpuri, understands that a certain photo of a man on a certain kind of paper is considered valuable, that men and women have various clothing styles for day, night, work and home and that God is an entity that ends all troubles for human beings.
Amidst his learning, he also gathers the name “ PK ” or “Tipsy” in Bhojpuri, owing to his curious questions and behavior. In his quest to find his locket, “ PK ” addresses God. He learns that there are many ways to address God and he tries all of them. Working on the simple logic of what is said must be true, he believes that statues, churches and mosques give us the direct connection to God. After various faux pas, he is seen wearing various amulets, each from a major religion. Soon enough however, PK realizes that he is being hoodwinked by the caretakers of religion and that the search or connection to God is more about gathering money, rather than fulfilling helping people find peace. Meanwhile in Belgium, Delhi-based Jaggu is getting her heart broken by Lahore-based Sarfaraz (Sushant Singh Rajput). She is disowned by her religious father (Parakshit Sahni) for falling in love with a Muslim Pakistani.
When she returns to India and joins a television channel, she seems fed up with talking about mundane stories (such as psychological issues of pets) and is on the lookout for an interesting news piece. Here she encounters PK who has given up on search of God, rather has declared him missing. As their paths converge, they set off on a journey to find PK ’s locket and retrieve it from the hands of a hack-mystic, Tapasvi Maharaj (Saurabh Shukla) who has a massive empire in the name of religion and the various surrounding merchandise (blessed oil, shampoo, amulets ad infinitum). He holds large evangelical congregations, sessions with his followers and it is here where PK , accompanied by Jaggu, confronts him about the locket and the various advices Tapasvi Maharaj gives to his followers. It leads to a televised showdown between Tapasvi Maharaj and PK , the debate between God and the business of God.
PK faces an emotional, powerful journey that leads him to this showdown and here he manages to bring the entire story to a poignant, moving, integrated conclusion. The message of the film resonates throughout the scenes – God and his godmen and how they manage to turn an idea into a business and a business into exploitation that can even escalate to the point of war and destruction.
The world has seen wars fought in the name of religion and the world has seen how the endgame is always power or money. Marx called it opiate of the masses, Dalai Lama called it ‘kindness’ and Gandhi said, ‘God has no religion’. PK calls it the difference between a Wrong Number and a Right Number. The Wrong Number, according to him, is when evangelists claim they will connect you to God and instead of promoting a message of peace and goodwill gesture towards humanity, they ask you to indulge in rituals that have little to do with love and humanity. Dousing pulpits in wine or milk or spending millions of donations on structures upon structures, the Right Number, or the message of God is to help the fellow man.
Where hundreds and thousands of children starve and many sleep without shelter or protection, the Right Number is to help those in need, to find God within the people around us, rather than in false amulets and needless rituals that only make a bunch of profiteering people very, very rich, that make a bunch of power-hungry, manipulative people very, very strong. It leaves Pakistani audiences with a hope that we wish a day would come that Pakistani cinema can also produce such brave, poignant, thought-provoking pieces of cinema (keeping in mind that PIL has already filed complaints against the PK team) and that one day we are able to understand that the idea or the feeling of God is a matter of peace, a matter of love and harmony – not war and hate. PK is an iconic venture that has marked 2014 with its presence.
After Haider, it is PK that holds the audience spellbound this year. Filled with side-splitting wisecracks, irreverent jokes, wonderful performances, a catchy soundtrack and a message that one can only hope stays with the audience long after they have left the cinema, PK is a movie that ought to be instated in our school syllabi.
Well. One can only hope.