I am skeptical about Bollywood. Weary, to be precise. We, as a film-loving nation believe in cinematic liberty like no one else. We do not count our classics in terms of the intricacy of the plot, or the multi-layered performances delivered. No, no, no, no. That’s not it. Which one rendered you speechless with laughter and awe? Which one got the loudest whistles? Which one made you go back for more mind-numbing theatrics? That’s how we judge the pulse of the audience at large. Its something close to voodoo in essence, primarily because no one knows how exactly it works. But it does. This is essentially the way things have been for as long as I can remember.
So it could not have been a shocker that I went into PK rather unwilling. The last thing I needed was a garish fiesta, complete with too much color and much too little logic. Imagine my surprise when I found myself loving it within the first five minutes. A Bhojpuri alien who comes to our world to hold up a mirror to look into ourselves. How did Rajkumar Hirani even come up with it? Here is a man who has silently witnessed the idiosyncrasies of his own people and chose to show it in a way he knew we could never resist. Laughter, tears, and a whole lot of soul-searching, PK had more punch in its script than any five recent films put together. One of my favorite scenes is the one where PK ends up in a church with a ‘thali’ for aarti, hoping to meet the Big Boss himself, God. People chide him for his questions and his actions, while they are themselves floundering spiritually.
PK uses reason to explain his continually failing endeavors. He is earnest in his quest for this foreign entity he can neither see nor feel. He is almost a scientist on the religious journey of the ages. He collects data and carries out experiments to corroborate the data. He bathes in the Ganges, rolls around on the ground, walks on his kneecaps and even makes carefully apportioned donations. His patience begins to give way when despite his tireless efforts, nothing gives. The only few fruitful exercises to come out of this hot pile of mess are PK figuring out the defensive uses of ‘God Stickers’ and his ingenious methods of obtaining accommodation and clothing for himself. He takes the idea of ATMs on the side of roads and turns it on its head, where the apparent needy become the providers. PK’s unassuming ways and palpable pain at his predicament are anchors in a film which dangerously treads the boundaries of sanctimony and patronizing. Every time the story even seems close to lapsing into a moral interlude, it is brought back on track by its witty humor.
Watching PK flounder, grope in the dark, fall, and finally find himself and his way back home is akin to watching the growth of a child into a adult. Like life does to all, it leaves PK a little battered, a little heart-broken, a little cynical and a little cheated. But on the whole, PK changes a lot less than he changes around him. He questions, he doubts, he refutes, and we are better off for it. But even after a horror of an experience the first time, PK still believes in the goodness of what he saw on this ‘Gola’ and comes back, this time prepared and with company. And herein lies Hirani’s true greatness. It is he who despite everything, believes in the inherent goodness of people. He is yet to make a film where he does not drive this point home. Never has this been more apparent than in PK, where the mirror he holds up to us is at once naive and sinister. Yes, this is us. And yes, this is how we would look to an outsider. And yet, we are endearing in our follies, irresistible in our gaffes, hopeful in our pitfalls. And this is how I came out of a theater with a twinkle in my eye and a helpless smile. Knowing that my current version was still fixing bugs, while the reloaded version waits somewhere in me to take over in time.