Monday, December 22, 2014

PK: All iz well.





I remember when the first Rajkumar Hirani x Aamir Khan production, 3 Idiots, came out and I really remember how much I hated the promotions. The trailers were cloying and obnoxious; Aamir’s, er, “youthful” look bothered me; and the music--especially “Zoobi Doobi”--made me want to puncture my eardrums with an ice pick. Yet when I finally saw the film, it blew me away. I absolutely loved it. (Although the music--especially “Zoobi Doobi”--still makes me cringe.)

Well, in America we have a saying. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” By which I mean, this time I was smart enough not to trust the promotions and just went with my gut instinct. My gut said, “Go see PK, Filmi Girl. GO!” And my gut was right. The trailers may be cloying and obnoxious but PK itself is a wonderful film.


The story combines a bit of Krrish, a bit of Satyamev Jayate, and a bit of Akshay Kumar’s OMG. Aamir plays an alien visitor to Earth. And in his first moments on the planet, Aamir meets a total asshole who steals the key to his spaceship leaving him stranded in the deserts of Rajasthan. Aamir slowly figures out how to speak, how to feed himself, how money works, how this human thing works. He makes his way to New Delhi thinking that his key might be there. But when he starts asking around, everybody tells him some variation of “Only God knows where it is” which we, as humans, know translates to “Fuck off and bother somebody else” but Aamir, who has earned the nickname “PK” or “Drunkie,” takes it literally and decides that God is going to help him recover his key. So, he starts asking around at all the different temples and places of worship in the city. It’s in the middle of this quest that he meets Jaggu (Anushka Sharma with some incredibly distracting ducklips. Seriously. It’s like a couple of breakfast sausages down there.), a TV reporter looking for a scoop. Jaggu smells a story on PK and decides to get involved in his quest for the key.

The final part of the film has Jaggu using PK’s naivety against various figures of organized religion, like an alien James Randi. In particular she wants to take down one “saint” who has her father in his thrall… and who has poisoned their family relationship.

What I liked about PK is what I liked about 3 Idiots. I liked the compassion and humanity of the story and I really liked Aamir’s performance. A lot. Aamir has always been an emotional rather an a subtle actor and his PK is no exception. We really feel PK’s confusion and pain and, eventually, his joy. What I liked about PK is also what I think so many of those “New Atheist” guys are lacking--compassion and humanity. PK may be puncturing the dogma of the literalists much like the New Atheists but he’s not hateful or superior about it. He’s like James Randi, more concerned with preventing people from being taken advantage of by hucksters than with scoring philosophical “points” against creationists. PK’s message is not “religion is stupid” but more “believe in whatever religion you want but remember that we’re all human and we’re all deserving of compassion.”

The compassion angle really got me. It pops up over and over in PK. Sanjay Dutt gets a wonderful cameo as Bhairon Singh, who is the first person to show any compassion towards PK. You see, PK hasn’t yet learned language and is desperately trying to communicate with people in the way they do on his planet--holding hands. It makes the song Tharki Chokro just so bittersweet. The edge of despair to Aamir’s performance in context. Bhairon Singh’s compassion, trying to understand what on Earth this tiny, odd-looking man wants… I might have gotten a little teary eyed at the end of their scenes when Bhairon gives PK a giant hug and because of the height difference, nearly engulfs him. It was just so… sweet. And warm. And made my heart all squishy.

PK’s relationship with Jaggu is more complicated because he ends up--of course--developing feelings for her. Jaggu reminded me strongly of Priyanka Chopra’s character in Krrish but a less-self absorbed and much better version of that character. Priya uses and manipulates Krishna’s feelings towards her for her own selfish ends. And Jaggu does manipulate PK to an extent but it’s never malicious and she never hurts him deliberately. And she’s honest with him, unlike Priya with Krrish.

The other two characters who deserve a mention are Boman Irani in a delightful role as Jaggu’s producer and Sushant Singh Rajput as Jaggu’s Pakistani love interest. Both men had small roles but left a giant impression… not a small feat in a movie starring Aamir Khan. Sushant, in particular, did a superb job at playing a poetic dreamboat without being too smarmy or too wooden or too over-the-top. His performance in the romantic song Chaar Kadam makes me hope we see him in a real Bollywood romance sometime soon. (I mean a REAL one, not one of these rom-com modern “not a romance-romances.”)

And lastly, the music. The composer is the same guy who did 3 Idiots and I still didn’t love the soundtrack but… BUT I thought the songs fit in much more nicely and I enjoyed the picturizations much more than in 3 Idiots. During one of the montage songs, “Bhagwan Hai Kahan Re Tu,” my focus ended up drifting to the vocal performance and it was kind of nice to be reminded of just how well Sonu Nigam can sing. No filters, no dubstep, no dumb English lyrics, no club mix. Just Sonu Nigam working his voice for all it’s worth.

I’m sure others will try to take some grand meaning about religion out of PK but I don’t think the film wants or needs grand meaning. Rajkumar Hirani makes really good middleclass movies that give voice to middleclass problems. I’m not damning with faint praise at all because I think these issues are really important but they are small issues. 3 Idiots, PK, etc. are not about changing the system but about cutting through the bullshit of daily life and giving it some meaning again. The people in Rajkumar Hirani movies are not the rich people of the Farhan Akhtar rom-coms looking for some pure, esoteric “true love” or “self-fulfillment” and they also aren’t the poor, huddled masses wanting to tear down a corrupt system and redistribute the wealth. They are average, middle of the road people with jobs and families and mundane worries. They are searching for the small everyday truths, a small everyday bit of compassion and humanity. They are us.

1 comment:

Thelondongirl said...

I'm with you on the ambivalence brought about by the trailer, I felt immediately put off by it at first glance, though elements seemed humourous. its good to know that its actually quite good, and i might venture over there to Kansas to see it. Thanks FG

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