It’s not every day that you watch a Bollywood movie vying to present a case for Epicurean deism. What is even more commendable is that PK does so without entertainment becoming a casualty, or the film packaging itself as a philosophy lesson meant for ‘intellectuals’.
PK is a satirical take on religion, the concept of God and the stranglehold of the clergy in general. Simultaneously it is a critique of South Asian society and the multitudinous biases that it hosts, most of which emanate from religious and communal divisions. And despite stepping inside the quagmire of controversy, the film remains steadfast and does not pull any punches.
PK (Aamir Khan) is an alien who has been sent to Earth to extract information about human beings. After stuttering and stumbling for a while, PK manages to get accustomed to human ways in a few months’ time, which includes attaining fluency in Bhojpuri.
Virtually minutes after landing on earth, PK’s ‘remote control’ – the only way he can return home – is stolen. After being constantly told that only God can help him, PK finally rebels after praying to the gods of every possible religion.
PK meets Jaggu (Anushka Sharma) – a struggling journalist perpetually looking for meaningful stories – while distributing pamphlets that read ‘Bhagwan Missing’. Jaggu hits the jackpot with a Bhojpuri-speaking extra-terrestrial creature who questions religious rituals with the innocence of a child and the arguments of a sceptic.
What ensues is a one-on-one showdown between PK and a renowned Hindu cleric, who incidentally has his ‘remote control’ as well, which is being showcased as a means for connecting to God. PK’s quest to return home is linked to him exposing the cleric as a fraud who is using the idea of God to threaten masses into subservience.
There are parallel subplots, but discussing them would ruin the suspense, which is a crucial part of the film’s climax.
PK is a more commercialised version of ‘Oh My God’ that took religion’s concept of God head on. It further simplifies the arguments and uses tools like satire, humour – both slapstick and dark – and unapologetic critique to challenge the idea of organised religion.
Murmurs of condemnations could be heard in the generally silent hall
Watching the movie in a Pakistani cinema was particularly enlightening, with the masses going delirious when Hinduism was being openly mocked, but murmurs of condemnations could be heard in the generally silent hall, amidst the careful and politically correct criticism of Islam. Ironically, that is precisely the sort of religious discrimination that the movie challenged and condemned.
Raj Kumar Hirani’s trademark use of wit for scathing critique is stamped all over the movie. Amir Khan yet again displays the excellence one associates with him, with Anushka Sharma also doing a commendable job. Sanjay Dutt and Boman Irani expectedly do well in their supporting roles, despite limited airtime, with Sushant Singh Rajput playing his part admirably. Saurabh Shukla does justice to the crucial role of the Hindu cleric.
The film is guilty of the odd instance of over-simplification and occasional use of unnecessary sentimentality, but it more than makes up for those glitches through masterful use of satire and allegory that addresses communal biases through a self-critical lense. Most importantly though, the film does answer the million-dollar question: if not the God of religion then what?
You may or may not agree with the answer, but you would find it hard to not acknowledge the pertinence of PK’s questions unless you’re a hardliner. At a time when religious fundamentalism has become a major divisive force, it is heartening to see religion being questioned in a commercial movie.