Directed by: Rajkumar Hirani || Produced by: Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Rajkumar Hirani
Screenplay by: Abhijat Joshi, Rajkumar Hirani || Starring: Aamir Khan, Anushka Sharma, Sushant Singh Rajput, Boman Irani, Saurabh Shukla, Sanjay Dutt
Music by: Shantanu Moitra, Ajay-Atul, Ankit Tiwari, Sanjay Wandrekar, Atul Raninga || Cinematography by: C.K. Muraleedharan || Edited by: Rajkumar Hirani || Country: India || Language: Hindi
Running Time: 152 minutes
The Indian Hindi blockbuster industry known colloquially as Bollywood continues to grow year in and year out as film budgets expand and, with them, box office profits multiply by orders of magnitude compared to returns less than a generation ago. This year’s King Khan-megahit was the Aamir Khan-starring satirical comedy, PK, the first Indian film to ever gross $100 million. It’s fitting that co-writer, co-producer, and director Rajkumar Hirani (3 Idiots , Munna Bhai: MBBS ) managed the feat when his 2009 Aamir Khan-vehicle did the same years ago, and adjusted for inflation, held the record until PK dethroned it.
Like the universally beloved 2009 satire of college life and Indian academic pressure, PK is a social satire of modern Indian culture, and a very effective one at that. Hirani and company this time take on an even touchier South Asian subject than academic excellence, religion, and to a lesser extent, the more general arbitrary nature of humanity’s material and consumerist obsessions that extend from it. To be sure, religion and its associated social politics are sensitive topics anywhere in the world, but in a religious culture as diverse, conservative, and massive as India’s, PK’s uncomfortable magnifying glass is particularly eye-opening.
Something to get out of the way quick: No, I do not hold PK in as high regard as 3 Idiots. It’s screenplay is not as smooth, its characters, top to bottom, are not as polished or multi-layered (Khan’s protagonist is the only truly complex figure in the whole movie), and its soundtrack is much less memorable. That being said, it’s not a heavy-handed juvenile slapstick fest like Hirani’s 2003 hit, Munna Bhai. Overall, PK is a smart comedy that combines vintage Bollywood goofiness and warmhearted tone with a modern, progressive take on the state of India’s religious/social melding pot.
While PK sticks to the increasingly tiresome blockbuster formula of pairing idiosyncratic, Asperberger’s-esque male-leads with decades-younger attractive female leads, most of the focus is solely on Khan and the romantic aspect of PK is very underplayed, much more so than 3 Idiots, whose romance was already subsidiary for a Bollywood film to begin with. Most all of the best parts of the movie are told via flashback, again in Bollywood tradition, and the endless gags of Khan’s extraterrestrial character (I’m not kidding, he’s an alien) bamboozling from one awkward religious dogmatic ritual to the next are hysterical.
Here’s an example: While riding a bus, Khan tries to hold the hand of a Hindu widow who’s dressed in white because she looks sad and he wants to comfort her. However, he doesn’t know she’s a widow and the men around him assume he’s harassing her. They berate him and yell, “You idiot, you dare try to take advantage of a widow! Can’t you see she’s in mourning?” Khan is chased off the bus and spots a Christian woman dressed in a white wedding gown about to enter a church. He approaches her and says something to the effect of, “I’m so sorry for you loss, my condolences.” After the confusion is cleared up moments later, the woman hits him with her bouquet, yelling, “You idiot, widows where black!” After which, Khan runs off and then spots three Muslim women fully clothed in black, to which he offers his condolences again for their dead husbands, “What horrible luck, all three of your husbands died!” Then, a Muslim man emerges from behind them and attacks Khan, “You idiot, I’m still alive!”
PK’s satirical analysis of religious ritualism is one of the smartest contemplations of modern religion I’ve ever seen. It possesses the bluntness of Bill Maher but tapers that scathing ridicule with the sensitivity and over-the-top, goofy good nature of South Park’s gentler episodes. Unlike most ardent atheist/secular condemnations of modern religious dogma, Hirani and principle screenwriter Abhijat Joshi seem to understand the mainstream appeal of faith and the good feels that accompany spiritual community. As an evolutionary biologist and appreciator of the evolutionary roots of human social behavior, I can appreciate the delicate hands with which Joshi and Hirani approach the subject matter: If religion is so universally and consistently self-destructive, it would not have persisted this long and spread to universal societal status. There must be some sort of positive function faith plays in people’s lives, and this awareness of the film allows it to counter dissenters and question the many pitfalls of theology that much more effectively.
Unfortunately, when PK’s focus shifts away from Khan’s charismatic and super-lovable protagonist to the much less interesting Anushka Sharma, the movie drags and its message becomes far more preachy. Sharma and her sideline relationship with handsome face Sushant Singh Rajput serve as an important plot point, but ultimately their screen-time is nowhere near as entertaining or satisfying as whenever Khan’s on-screen. That’s something 3 Idiots didn’t have to deal with; even when the story shifted ever so briefly away from Khan’s protagonist, the movie stayed strong because its supporting characters were up to snuff. You can’t say the same about PK.
Everything else about the movie is rather unimportant. The music is forgettable but serviceable, the dance numbers are almost nonexistent, and the film is moderately well paced for a Bollywood feature (it’s a “mere” two and a half hours long).
Once again, you can’t go wrong with the great Aamir Khan. The man always brings his all to his movies, even when they are as ludicrous as Dhoom 3 (2013) or Ghajini (2008), and as such he can be dynamite when he’s paired with a competent writer and director. PK isn’t his or Hirani’s best, but it’s a strong, smart film that boasts a ferociously on-point, scathing, yet sensitive message for 21st century spirituality. If you’ve been yearning for a film about religion that brings believers, non-believers, and everyone else together under common ground while still stirring some much needed discussion, this is probably your best bet.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: PK’s screenplay orchestrates funny, intelligent, and adorkable gags with the help of Khan’s great comedic timing and likability. The premise alone is terrific, and the film possesses a sense of cultural empathy that most polemic narratives never achieve.
— However… Sharma, Rajput, and the rest of the supporting cast are acceptable at best and often boring at worst. Hirani’s direction is of similar quality and PK’s musical component is uninspiring.
? God doesn’t need your protection. He can protect himself just fine.