In the age of multiple trailers and comedy-dance promotional appearances, Rajkumar Hirani and Aamir Khan had remained tight-lipped about their latest release apart from revealing that it was a satire about God and godmen, the fallout of which is that this review comes with a warning: spoilers ahead. PK is, in one line, a cinematic version of Khan’s television opus Satyamev Jayate where he plays an alien. Yep, that’s right. That strange bulbous body with Khan’s face, Ajit Agarkar’s ears and Aishwarya Rai’s eyes that you’ve seen in all the posters is actually an alien who has lost his way and landed up on this strange land that worships strange gods. What’s more, he wins people’s hearts by posing tough ethical questions and preaching humanity. “Confujiya gaye?” Us too. Sigh.
The film opens in Bruges, Belgium, where Anushka Sharma, playing an aspiring journalist called Jagat Janini aka Jaggu, meets a suave Sushant Singh Rajput, as Sarfraz Yousuf, a Pakistani Muslim. Their love story from its genesis to a heartbreaking end is covered in exactly one song (prompting a concerned cricket fan in the theatre to scream during the film’s only kissing scene — “Call the Virat Kohli right now!”). Jaggu comes back to Delhi and joins a TV news channel where she’s forced to report on mentally ill puppies trying to commit suicide, with Boman Irani playing her smart but safe boss. Hirani also mixes up hinterland belts by setting the first half of the film in Rajasthan, with a large part of it being filmed in Bhojpuri (supposed to provide a lot of unfunny slapstick humour exemplified by gems such as “Earth ki toh lulli baji padi hai!”). Sanjay Dutt plays Mandawa ka laundwa Bhairon Singh who forges a touching friendship with the air-dropped PK. Our lovable alien, with the help of Singh, learns this strange land’s strange ways, and points outs its flaws (mainly organised religion and its proponents) with striking honesty, resulting in him running from the crowds with his hands erect by his sides through most of the first half.
Saurabh Shukla plays the evil Godman Tapasviji who cons his large following of worshippers by having make-believe conversations with God. PK shows us something that Paresh Rawal showed us two years ago in Oh My God, that God is a profitable business with many companies (religions), each with its own manager (godmen), which we should all shun because underneath, we’re all the same people. But to learn this we have to put up with the longest flashback in history, after which Jaggu comes up with a “khurafati idea” — to pitch PK and Tapasviji against each other and let the public learn the “truth”. It’s like somebody took all of George Carlin’s stand-up acts on religion and translated them into Bhojpuri, but with pithy platitudes, cringe-worthy clichés, and public service social messages, garbed in family-friendly but unoriginal humour (think decades-old kandom adverts and “pee kay” jokes.)
However, one must bow to the power of Khan and Hirani in a country where you see the audience cheering a Pakistani Muslim character with the kind of fervour that Sania Mirza has failed to enjoy till date. It’s a typical Hirani film, and to that end it is a laudable attempt that rallies the public’s collective conscience against the plagues of society. There is the staple of his films, the resounding catchphrase, here too. “Jaadu ki jhappi” of Munnabhai MBBS, “Gandhigiri” of Lage Raho Munnabhai, “all izz well” of 3 Idiots have their counterpart in “wrong number” here.
A predictable climax is played out live on a prime time news show, reminding me of why I’ve stopped watching prime time TV — because it’s usually a Hirani film. He has borrowed tropes from everywhere to package a simplistic movie, with social messages ranging from Malala to the “kiss of love” campaign. It is doubtless an important film, especially in a country where the intricacies of “Indian culture” are at the forefront of some of our most pressing problems, and one can do with such byte-sized versions of sugarcoated sanity.