It’s almost certain that anything Rajkumar Hirani does after Munnabhai and 3 Idiots will come with a suitcase full of expectations. So also any film headlining Aamir Khan, even if he is playing an awkward, wide-eyed, badly dressed character with otherworldly charms.
Several of the speculative stories and rumours about P.K. can now be put to rest. Yes, Khan does play an alien who is trying to find his way back to his planet. It is never established as to why he touched down on Earth in the first place because he loses his communication device early on and thereafter his mission is only to locate it and find his way back home.
During this quest, he meets myriad colourful characters, some of which are beguiled and intrigued by his innocence and fresh perspective on the quirky, twisted ways of the workings of our planet. Others simply think he is drunk and the repeated accusation “peekay hai kya” (are you drunk) becomes his adopted name, P.K.
A young eager news reporter sniffs a potential story in P.K.’s idiosyncratic demeanour and worldview. Jaggu (Anushka Sharma) befriends P.K. and promises to help him get back home.
By now, those familiar, will have seen flashes of the Kevin Spacey starrer K-Pax, Steven Spielberg’s E.T. and the 1980 film In God We Trust. As derivative as it is, PK is localized to question differences between faith and religion and oneness and otherness defined on the basis of imposed religious boundaries and self-ordained god-men. Besides a few clever visual depictions, writers Hirani and Abhijat Joshi take an important subject and dumb it down for the audience completely ignoring the idea of show, don’t tell.
PK, who learns through contact, describes himself as an ‘astronaut’ and speaks Bhojpuri. His cuteness is exemplified when he says that he has visited the moon once. “Badi lul jagah hai,” he says. (It’s a very dull place). Accustomed to getting beat up on earth, he places god stickers on his cheeks to deter those inclined to punch him. In this way you see moments of clever satire. Here, Munnabhai’s Gandhigiri has given way to P.K.’s call for ‘wrong numbers’ – calls being put to god by his ‘managers’ which are going astray, and offering incorrect solutions.
Simple and direct in its message, often preachy, just to be sure you did not miss the point, Hirani uses background music to underline every emotion to guide the audience towards how it should feel. Pre-interval P.K. is absorbing, learning and being baffled by humans. Post interval the story takes a very black and white approach – good versus bad, leans on sermons and repetition. Also the songs (Shantanu Moitra) are jaded and could easily be mistaken for tunes you have heard in one of Hirani’s previous films.
Saurabh Shukla as Tapasvi Maharaj is a superb send-up of a god man in flowing white robes and a thriving god business. Sushant Singh Rajput (as Jaggu’s boyfriend Sarfaraz) and Sanjay Dutt (as a Rajasthani band master) chip in with brief but likable performances. Anushka Sharma embraces Jaggu with confidence. But it’s an Aamir Khan show all the way. From his bare-bodied introduction to his loneliness and exploration of human ways and emotions, he has the audience rooting for P.K.. particularly in the climactic scene of Tapasvi and P.K. in a live televised faceoff.
Finally, one must acknowledge the intention of the makers – to use cinema responsibly and spotlight issues – whether it is corruption or religious fraudsters who trade on people’s fears. And while one wishes there was more satire and subtlety, P.K. is by no means a ‘bhaste of time’.
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