Cheeky of Rajkumar Hirani to thank Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of The Art of Living first up in the opening credits. It’s probably for Hirani using the ashram as a location to shoot but it’s quite an achievement if he’s managed to get into the heart of all elite religious institutions (as of today at least) and give his own sermon against godmen and religion. It has Hirani’s patented brand of preachiness. It has his craft for tugging at the heart of patented Indian things in the most unique way possible. Hirani knows where it’ll hit hard but he’ll strive to make the blow as soft as possible. The whole thing is wrapped in a work of great design. It tastes great too. But keep digging into it and you can see the issues. The closest analogy is probably Apple. You see, another religion. This is a film of such delicious ironies.
Aamir Khan plays PK (the etymology of which I won’t spoil) who’s from a different planet (hardly a spoiler) both literally and figuratively. His journey of discovery with a little help from Bhairon Singh (Sanjay Dutt in a cameo) is quite the joy ride. It follows a predictable fashion but how else could it be? PK is told that only God can help him and he goes in search of God like most of humanity. And in the process PK discovering religions and different codes they come with leads to some of the most hilarious moments. That’s classic Hirani. You may not agree with him but you’ll always laugh at the way he presents his points. Like PK locking up his slippers to the gates of the temple. Or his explanation for roaming around with yellow helmet. Or the way his untrained or non-brainwashed self understands God at first – as a form of business (not to mention how purest of thoughts it is). The scene involving fashion and a wedgie picking that will put Rafael Nadal to shame brings the house down. His journey is narrated as a flashback to reporter Jagat Janani (Anushka Sharma) who wants to make a story of him and who’s the only one in on his extra-terrestrial past.
Like any satire, there is need for caricature and the always reliable Saurabh Shukla provides all of it. Playing trusted godman Tapasvi Maharaj, he’s the closest to an antagonist this story could provide. And he is not unintelligent. He asks PK a valid question when they are put up in front of national television like some sort of a presidential debate. It’s another Hirani trope – to involve the whole country, to involve media to build it all up for drama stretched to its limits. Common men and women talking of “wrong number” (this film’s version of ‘Gandhigiri’, ‘Get well soon’ etc) on TV and of course they all believe in different gods. Or are in the process of being proselytized, only in a different way thanks to PK. Hirani also brings in a terrorism angle and in one of the scenes, a man talks about conversion. PK’s timing, planned or coincidence (and I’ll put nothing past the genius of both Hirani and Vidhu Vinod Chopra), is ace here and the current political climate is ripe for this film. Talk about the ongoing outrage on “ghar wapsi” when PK’s efforts here are a product of his own modest aim – to return home.
The liberal India had a lot of criticism for Hirani in general and his previous film in particular- 3 Idiots. That section of the audience does not always enjoy being preached to. Something almost every Hirani film does. All his films are message heavy, PK included. And for the previous film, the problems began at the source – that section’s favorite whipping boy – Chetan Bhagat. PK could very well be a calculated move on Hirani’s part for all that. What if he could take up an issue in which that section will be on his side? Will the preachiness then grate? The sugar coating and the well designed wrappers are there for the rest – Hirani loyalists – anyway. That way, Hirani (along with writer Abhijat Joshi) has hit upon a jackpot with PK. He’s extending a hand to his ardent critics and saying, “What now?” while delivering what’s expected of him.
Sure, Oh My God with Paresh Rawal and Akshay Kumar did it way better. And the two Munna Bhai films are still Hirani’s best. But PK with its traditional Hirani pluses and minuses could very well be his most important film to date.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)