The formula of Rajkumar Hirani is something like Getafix’s magic potion – you don’t know how he does it, but you know exactly what it does. In ‘Munnabhai’, the country’s medical foundation was challenged. In the sequel, the concept of ‘Gandhigiri’ was explored. His ‘3 Idiots’ questioned the country’s education system. Hirani takes socially relevant topics and asks the audience for social reformation through a sweet story featuring lovable characters. All his films have mild manipulation and a big dose of contrivance, but he somehow makes it work both on critical and commercial levels. ‘PK’ is no different, except in one way – it’s his most challenging film to date.
The plot of ‘PK’ has been kept under wraps for so long it seems unfair to spill it all. The thing is, it’s not very different from his previous films. ‘PK’ follows the Hirani formula almost to a fault and also adds the Aamir Khan formula from ‘3 Idiots’. A socially awkward and ‘different’ young man — who walks and talks in a strange, enthusiastic childlike manner — observes the system, questions it, asks you to look at the many ludicrous things that inform it, and eventually brings about a minor revolution.
This time around, Khan is not a college student but ‘PK’, an alien who gets stuck on Earth after losing his spaceship’s remote control. This time, the social message isn’t about college kids, but about Indians’ blind faith in god and godmen who use people’s blind faith to profit. In order to drive the message home, Hirani uses a fun plot vehicle: ’PK’ asks people where he can find his remote control. When he’s told, ‘God knows’, he sets off on a quest to find this guy called god, eventually satirizing the religious mayhem in the country.
As contrived as it may sound, ’PK’ is very funny. Hirani and his writer Abhijat Joshi land some fine blows upon the religious nutters that are so prevalent in the country. No one is spared – Hindus, Muslims, Christians – everyone is taken apart – but in the gentle and lovable manner that only Hirani can pull off. We’re in a country where the slightest religious joke can either get you off the stage or even killed. So to take on such a subject requires courage, but to engage the audience without being offensive is even tougher. To actually make them laugh while doing so is next to impossible and somehow, Joshi and Hirani (and Khan too) find the right balance in tone and delivery. So when Khan takes a wine bottle to a dargah, or puja samagri into a Church, or calls out a Hindu godman in his ashram, it’s actually funny instead of outrageous.
Rajkumar Hirani takes socially relevant topics and asks the audience for social reformation through a sweet story featuring lovable characters. All his films have mild manipulation and a big dose of contrivance, but he somehow makes it work both on critical and commercial levels. ‘PK’ is no different, except in one way – it’s his most challenging film to date…
Does the social message section work? It does in all the parts when the filmmakers resort to satire. In other parts, like when Boman Irani’s news anchor says he refuses to cover religion-based content on his channel because he was once stabbed on his bottom with a trishul, it is just funny instead of ‘eye opening’. At other points, the message becomes a tad too on the nose, like when we’re shown stereotypical desi Hindu parents who absolutely refuse to let their daughter marry a Muslim man, let alone a Pakistani.
Most of the humour is rendered by the snappy and consistently funny dialogue, and while it seemed like Khan was hamming it in the promos, he’s quite likable despite his over-the-top expressions. Anushka Sharma is her peppy self and Saurabh Shukla is fun as the antagonistic Nithyananda-style godman.
Sure, there are a few scenes where Khan pretty much breaks the fourth wall and delivers a sermon to the audience on the evils of blind faith. Some of it even feels like a Satyamev Jayate episode, complete with Khan’s tears. The ending is particularly problematic, where a cringe-inducingly contrived twist is added to bridge the gap between India and Pakistan. It somewhat undoes the goodwill and the hilarity of the first half, but not so much as to ruin the whole film.
Also frustrating is a copout in the third act, where a character justifies the presence of god after spending the whole movie ridiculing believers. Maybe Hirani developed cold feet at this point, or just wanted to balance things out. In any case, it comes across as jarring. There is a totally unnecessary love track between ‘PK’ and Jaggu, Sharma’s character, which was added just for the sake of following the established Bollywood formula of ‘girl + boy = romance’. Also unnecessary is the ‘Love is a bhest of time’ song, which is mostly a bhest of time because it takes away from the film’s interesting plot of religion being a bhest of time.
But even if you were bothered by all the film’s gaffes, there’s an interesting cameo towards the end to make sure you leave the theatre with a smile on your face. ’PK’ might not be the repeat value juggernaut like 3 Idiots, but it does have better content, execution and a more socially relevant topic. Props to Hirani and team for saving one of the most enjoyable movies of the year for the last.