Friday, December 26, 2014

PK: if only its teeth were as mighty as its ears

For every point I want to raise about PK, a counterbalance also presents itself. Maybe that explains the runtime. Anushka Sharma and Sushant Singh Rajput's romance is sickly-sweet, yet in the gloss is clear evidence of their physical relationship. A kitten and a puppy are unnecessarily manipulative, but Anushka's crumpling face in moments of disappointment and loss feels bang-on. A devout father's decades of obedience to his guru are shaken too easily, but his revelation leads to satisfyingly improved parenting. There is only one real woman of importance—again, for no necessary reason—and another exists solely to provide the hero with a tool he needs to navigate earth, but the heroine does get to talk about work with a female friend and relies on her for success on the job. Sanjay Dutt's character is homophobic in a way that indicates he has no concept of actual homosexuality (we've all seen men hold hands on the streets in India, writers), but he's otherwise sweet, nonjudgmental, and helpful. I wanted more numerous and more expansive song sequences (I'm one of those odd ducks who likes watching Aamir Khan dance, because I think he uses dance as an extension of his characters and characterizations more than other actors do), but "Tharki Chokro" is perfect visually, musically, choreographically, and narratively. PK's "remote" looks like it was stolen from the Ra.One props trunk, but it's a wonderful nod to the beloved-by-me locket half of golden age masala. Dressing people in "wrong" clothing and yelling "Oho! Gotcha!" to prove that religious identity is not innate but a human construct seems facile, but watching poor PK bumble from one faith practice to another cracks me up—why is it that you're supposed to offer a coconut to a god in a mandir but get thrown out on your ear if you try it in front of a crucifix in a church in the same city?

As far as critiques of oppression and exploitation in the guise of religion go, this is no Mahaparush or Devi, nor is it even Guidewhich is the only Hindi film I have seen that I can recall having anything remotely critical to say about religion or religious figuresBut of course it probably isn't trying to be, either, and I commend Rajkumar Hirani and crew for making an entertaining, relatively light-hearted and supple movie that is actually about something—it actually is a critique of how religion can be used by leaders and worshippers alike to both cover and spoon-fed a multitude of sins. If only it did more. I want more, and I want it to be harsher. These were easy targets taken down easily and with great blobs of cheese. Is the tone gentle because a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine down or because the filmmakers don't want to insult their audiences (or the censor board and the great Indian "sensibilities). Even the title might be read as a cop out: is this outsider right, or is he just drunk? The film can have it both ways. Aamir ex masala machina doesn't really solve much (and does anyone even mention investigating the deadly bomb blast?)—one crooked guru on one tv show isn't an answer to anything, and as others have pointed out (like Uday Bhatia here), this big finish elides into and trades on the reality of the actor's tv career.

As with a few other films of 2014—Bobby Jasoos, Revolver Rani, Gundayand, from what I read, Mary Kom and Mardaanai (which I have not seen yet)—the makers of PK have some better ideas in concept than they do in execution. My gut sense is that the very existence of PK, and involvement in it by such big names, is important and may even be one of the year's significant gifts to the future of mainstream Hindi cinema. This is also a film about humans, looking at why we matter and why we should use our powers to help one another. "Well, at least they tried" (and "grumble grumble censor board and political wingnuts") is an unsatisfying assessment, but when other big names have phoned in even their basic concepts or treated humanity cheaply or failed at even being entertaining, thoughtful effort is no small thing.

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4 comments :

Stuart Martin said...

Given your criticisms of this film, which are understandable given your views on religious faith, I'm surprised you speak so highly of Guide. That film sold out the anti-religious message in the biggest way possible right at its climax.
As you say, this film wasn't trying to be a Roy-style demolition of faith, but it also didn't completely invert its own message to satiate its star's ego, either.

cho said...

bro guide was not anti religion. it was against ritualism and oppression in the name of religion. The sense of superiority drawn by a certain group based on a dead language. The movie though was deeply spiritual and was brilliantly captured in the end. the reward to many for the honest sacrifice of the one. Lastly, guide has to be spoken of very highly, coz it is among the best films ever made, India for sure. talk about ahead of its time. if PK is deemed as 'amazing' i 2014, in 1965 guide was beyond...actually 'everything'

Unknown said...

Firstly, I agree with you about AK's use of dance as an extension of the story. One of the most memorable movie scenes for me is his desk dance in Taare Zameen Pur...

Regarding Guide, I would recommend reading R K Narayan's story to become better informed about Guide. It is not specifically anti-religious but rather an example of Narayan's commentary on human behavior. That said, the movie has a typical neat movie ending which irritated him hugely...

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