The trouble with PK
Yet another film worshipping yet another Khan
Imagine if Rajkumar Hirani gave up on trying to make us better people and just made films. It’s disconcerting to enter the theatre a craven, corrupt popcorn-chomper and leave a much-improved human being, every single time.
Why do I continue to watch his films? See, he sucks you in. The man has an eye for detail, an ear for dialogue and a deft hand with comedy. The characters are coloured in vividly. That soft-focus filter he uses on human behavior, like a parent’s indulgent view of his child, is endearing. He taps into urban Indian obsessions that the eye glazes over—laughter clubs, the kapalbhati craze, those gemology rings—and mines them for meaning and poignancy. But with each movie, after the first Munnabhai, he has gotten increasingly preoccupied with imparting Life Lessons. I think Aamir Khan is a bad influence.
Munnabhai MBBS, to me, was the most successful of his films because it had a fallible hero. Sanjay Dutt, both on screen and off, is a man so thoroughly in need of redemption that his penance and the lessons he learns from it ring true. Aamir Khan, both on screen and off, is so heavy with righteousness that he topples the balance of even the most delicately crafted stories—and PK is not subtle to begin with.
It’s the story of an alien who lands on earth and sees organised religion for the exploitative hoax it is. What it’s saying it not new, but its setting is new: mainstream Bollywood is not known for its social commentary. But there’s a reason this kind of cinema doesn’t nurture this kind of introspection: the glare of commerce is so bright it burns through any shades of grey (alien good, religion bad) and the cult of the hero leaves no place for anyone else to be represented. Boman Irani and Arshad Warsi were just as crucial to that first film as the guy in the title. But in 3 Idiots and now PK, the hero muscles everyone else out of the frame. He arrives in the movie like a god shot out of a machine, fully formed and fully wise. He can learn nothing from you, but he can teach you everything. For all its good intentions, this is yet another film worshipping yet another Khan.
Then there’s the Moral Of The Story segment, post intermission. Instead of allowing the story to leap nimbly to its conclusion and let people take from it what they will, Hirani weighs it down with teachable moments. But who is this film seeking to reform? Who sees himself reflected in the greedy, conniving godman or his gullible disciples? Which mob of religious fanatics will have a change of heart after Alien Aamir Khan explains that the god who made us is one? But then, the fans will say, PK is not meant to serve some lofty goal, it’s just a movie. Yeah, that’s what I thought.