The formula of Raju 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 part two the concept of Gandhigiri was explored, in 3 Idiots the country’s education system was questioned. Hirani likes to take 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, because PK follows the Hirani formula almost to a fault, and also adds the Aamir 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 the system, asks you to look at the many ludicrous things in the system, and eventually brings about a minor revolution in the system. This time around, Aamir is not a college student but PK, an alien who gets stuck on Earth after losing his space ship’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 forward Hirani uses a fun plot vehicle – PK asks people where he can find his remote control and is told ‘god knows’, so 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 needs gigantic balls it itself, but to engage the audience without being offensive is even tougher, and to actually make them laugh is next to impossible, and somehow Joshi and Hirani (and Aamir too) find the right balance in tone and delivery. So when Aamir takes a wine bottle to a dargah, or takes puja samagri to a Church, or calls bullshit on a Hindu godman in his ashram, it’s actually funny instead of outrageous.
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 ass with a Trishul, it is just funny instead of ‘eye opening’. At other points it 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 humor is rendered by the snappy and consistently funny dialogue, and while it seemed like Aamir 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 Aamir 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 Aamir tears. The ending is particularly problematic, where a cringe inducingly contrived twist is added to bridge the gap between India and Pakistan. It sort of 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 Anushka Sharma’s character, which was added just for the sake of commercialization. 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 theater 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.
(First published in Firstpost)