Sunday, December 21, 2014

pk Movie Review

All roads lead home

(Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers)

Rajkumar Hirani is a firm believer of the idea that cinema is a reflection of society, its times and has the power to change it. His last was about the fallacies and misguided notions prevailing in our nation related to the higher education system; and it could have been a film falling into niche category, but thanks to his peculiarly simplistic approach of exploring the concept and building scenarios, it turned out to be most widely seen film across the country. 

This simplistic approach of his is effeminately companioned with his old-school filmmaking (creating the kind of melodrama we still love to gorge on) learned at Hrishikesh Mukherjee School of Filmmaking from where he liberally draws inspiration for his characters, particularly Anand

In his latest, several things come off as a tribute, more than an inspiration, to the iconic film: central character's habit to record audio and a revelation through it; entire film being documented into a book by the sutradhar- the book-reading session of which closes the film and the film is also kicked off by the two characters (Jaggu- Anushka Sharma and Sarfaraz- Sushant Singh Rajput) wanting to attend one such session by Amitabh Bachchan. (In a meta reference moment later, Rajput's Sarfaraz actually gets to mouth Harivanshrai Bachchan's line "Jo beet gayi so baat gayi").

When Jaggu and Sarfaraz bump into each other in Bruges, Hirani tries to create an unnecessary conflict right from their first chat itself that Sarfaraz is from Pakistan and that fact causes tragedy to fall on Jaggu's face and in the sudden tone of the film. Not that this conflict is completely unnecessary, it is so poorly handled that it looks unnecessary at that point; and the entire Bruges portion ends so hastily that seems like the director is in rush to introduce his titular character and he loves him so much that even during the climax when Jaggu and Sarfaraz reunites on telephone-- which could have been a more affectionate sequence-- they quickly move over to Aamir's (consistent, convincing and confident portrayal of) pk. 

When we meet pk six months after he's introduced naked, we see him in clothes, speaking meant-to-be-funny Bhojpuri. How and from where did he get those clothes and accentuated language could be two bullet points scenes but we have to sit through an entire first half for that, which is quite enjoyable nonetheless.

In his movies, Hirani always wants to keep the viewers engaged and entertained throughout- and he wants to do this intelligently. Being an ace, this desire doesn't come to him as a baggage. He wants his film to constantly communicate with the audience, for which he even goes to the extent of sacrificing subtlety from his otherwise masterful storytelling. Like when Aamir's character pk is alerted that he is about to get bashed up by a few followers of God, he immediately puts up stickers of Hindu gods on his face. We get the logic then; it is even clearer, visually, when the assailants hold back themselves as soon as they see those stickers. But a scene later, Hirani makes his character verbally explain his antic of "self defence"-- just to ensure that the audience, all kinds, doesn't miss a thing. And as long as they are cheering at both the moments- visual and verbal- does Hirani, or anybody, care?

Or in the sequence when pk reads through the mind of the old man who begged away some five hundred rupees from him in the name of his wife's medical operation but he actually had no money to pay the bill at a 5 star for his same wife (oh, love how Hirani covers up political incorrectness with, again, emotions!), and Jaggu follows the man to find out if pk actually could read minds, is pk actually a super-human alien? We know she'll find out that pk was not wrong- the suspense created in her following was unnecessary. But, as soon as we get away from this forced suspense, a wee bit thrill quickly looms over as pk has gone away and now Jaggu has to find him. What if she doesn't find him- ever? What about her journalistic story which she has just found- and lost? 

Had any of these had happened, it would have been a huge plot contrivance. Hirani avoids this to brings in the obvious in no time, and later, quite symmetrically, when the obvious is about to happen, he avoids it and bring in a plot contrivance. These are the moments when you think you know how the story will progress, but Hirani avoids that easy route. Like, when you think Bhairon Singh 'Bhaya' (effortless Sanjay Dutt) will bring along the man who stole pk's pendant "remote control" to confess and pk will get his pendant back, a bomb blast kills both of them- Bhairon as well as the thief. This bomb-blast is a contrived plot-device, but it is also in the favour of plot. After all, who is responsible for the blast? The religion extremists. (Meanwhile, the cynic inside me was wondering if the blast was only a device to eliminate Dutt's character as he had limited time on his schedule during the film's production? If it was, it's a cruel joke because he is in jail after being found guilty in connection to, well, bomb-blasts!). 

We are then left with a terrific scene with pk walking through the black smoke, losing all his faith in this new world, and his radio-- the radio that has a habit of playing situation-appropriate songs, like, "Tum toh thehre pardesi" when alien pk just lands on earth, "Washing powder nirma" when he finds colorful clothes to cover his nude body-- is now playing in Mukesh's voice "Ho rahi hai loot-maar, phat rahe hai bam; aasman pe hai khuda aur zameen pe hum".

This dark, dusted in black scene is in contrast and in complement with another terrific sequence from the first half in which pk is questioning to whitewashed idols of Gods, begging for help, helplessly searching for faith. The questions that Hirani raise through pk's journey and the solutions that he offers are too darn simplistic though logical, and has already been done in Umesh Shukla's OMG: Oh My God! Even a story arc is similar: the godman (Saurabh Shukla here, who looks like Shrek) and the non-believer outsider are pitted against each other like a cricket match and, yes, Aamir Khan gets to reuse his powerful line from his 2002 cricket film in a similar unauthentic Bhojpuri accent here: "Sarat manzoor hai!

When pk starts exploring the religious concepts, it gets interestingly funny: like, when he enters a church with an aarti-thali, it is unreverentially hilarious, and we see a layer of innocence to his character when he tries to enter a mosque with bottles of wine. Aamir's pk is goofy at best during that widow in white or black gag. But then these gags don't seam well into the story and stick out just as gags, and that too gets repetitive. The message in the exam fear one was already communicated in 3 Idiots; the one about currency notes and Gandhi's photo is a self-referencing meta to Lage Raho Munnabhai and perhaps the only satirical bit.

The routes that Hirani choose to unveil the drama aren't the easy ones, but it leads to where Hirani has already been- and that place is now his home. So you just hold his hands and tread along with him because only he can take you through those not-so-easy paths to his home. When Jaggu first tells pk how her father was the only one cheering with whistles till the last in the audience during her poetry competition in school, the scene comes across as very bland. But when such similar scene occurs at the end of her book-reading session and we see it visually, that's when Hirani has revealed his magic wand and you suddenly find your eyes moist and throat lumped. Not all of Hirani's magic has been recreated in this one. The radio show on gandhigiri presented moving cases in Lage Raho..., but a similar one here about "wrong numbers" looks like what a famous cellular network does in their TV ads.

At its heart, pk is an angry film, a naked truth. But, again, Hirani with his simplistic logic makes fun of all the things about which he is angry. And that makes it a fun watch. Does he want to change the world with this film? Yes. But it looks simple only when you are in the dark theater, step out, the world is complicated and beyond repair. In one scene, Anushka's Jaggu says, "Woh jis nazar se duniya ko dekhta hai, hum uss nazar se dekh hi nahi sakte." Perhaps, she was talking about Rajkumar Hirani. 

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