Saturday 20 December 2014

PK (2014) - Movie Review

It’s one thing to go into a film with a general assumption about whether it’ll be good or bad based on what you know about the film beforehand. It’s quite another thing, however, when you go into a film without any idea what to expect because, quite frankly, you don’t know thing one about the film itself. Granted, this is far less a case for people who do the sensible thing and choose what they see at the cinema, but for critics who have to see and give an opinion on as many movies that come out as possible (or idiots like me who have a compulsion to do a similar thing), there can be the occasional blinder. The last time this happened for me personally, funnily enough, was with Happy New Year, another Bollywood movie. This is another one of those occasions: This is PK.

The plot: Tipsy (Aamir Khan) is an alien who lands on Earth and immediately gets the remote to his spaceship stolen, leaving him stranded. He soon turns to God and a local TV reporter Jaggu (Anushka Sharma) to help him get it back, and has to confront a big-time godman Tapasvi (Saurabh Shukla) along the way.

I don’t like making assumptions about other cultures, but consider that I have minimal at best experience with Bollywood films. As such, this is a lot less focused on the music than I am used to. With Kick and Happy New Year, the musical numbers were diversions from the main story and were occasionally jarring; here, the music complements the action rather well. We’re dealing with comedy, so we get some goofy songs like Tharki Chokro as well as some more romantic numbers like Love Is A Waste Of Time. The music itself is very lively with a lot of orchestral elements, making for an energetic and vibrant soundtrack. Easily, the highlight would have to be Bhagwan Hai Kahan Re Tu, where Tipsy sings about his attempts to find and talk to God. It’s the kind of song that encapsulates the core of the film’s intent, and that core is something that honestly needs to exist in Western cinemas.

We’ve seen fish out of water stories with aliens before, and some have even tackled similar subject matter to this before, but this is certainly a refreshing take on an old idea. It takes a certain kind of writer to properly portray that feeling of not knowing thing one about where you are, what to do or what to say, especially through the eyes of a literal alien, but the writing here combined with Aamir’s great performance pulls it off rather well. He has a very Mr. Bean-like innocence to him that makes his actions and decisions kind of adorkable, but not to the point where he comes across as annoying at any point. We see Tipsy interact with human commerce and religion, pointing out how little sense they both make at their respective bottom lines (e.g. Pieces of paper with people’s faces on them, but only specific pieces of paper, are traded for goods and favours from deities), and also how muddled various religions can make things for people who don’t know what they believe in (e.g. Some cultures wear white at weddings, other wear white at funerals). With so many different faiths saying contradictory things to one another, as well as holding traditions that would be baffling to most outsiders at first, it’s easy to see how confusing it could be for someone in Tipsy’s position. As the numerous theologies start to congeal and form something cohesive to Tipsy, the script becomes even sharper as a religious satire and actually began to win my heart a little.

Now, this may all sound a tad sacrilegious but let’s be clear here: This film isn’t attacking religion. This film is attacking organised religion; you know, the people who claim that you can simply buy your way to salvation by forking over money for trinkets or simple donations in the three digit or higher bracket. I’ve discussed before some of my own religious beliefs and how I have a very live-and-let-live approach to other people’s beliefs, but I vehemently have no patience for people like this and personally think that there’s a special place in damnation just for them.

Even with all that said, this film is surprisingly balanced with its approach to faith. While it does have some barbs to throw through Tipsy’s eyes at some aspects of religion as being partially nonsensical, Tapasvi brings up at least a couple of good points about how faith gives people the comfort they need to carry on with their lives. Best, and possibly weakest, part of the film has to be the climax where Tipsy and Tapasvi have a televised religious debate: Best, because it contains some of the most poignant writing I've seen in quite a while; worst, because there is one part that is... questionable. No spoilers here, because this is genuinely one to check out for yourself, but in retrospect it seems extremely obvious that this would happen and it's slightly hackneyed. However, even with that in mind, it's well-handled for what it is.

All in all, given how I went into this film knowing next to nothing about it, this is an extremely pleasant surprise. If you are fine with watching films like Dogma or The Invention Of Lying without getting too offended, then this is definitely one to check out: The acting is superb with Aamir doing a fantastic job as Tipsy; the music is lively and does well at accompanying the film; the romantic side of things thankfully avoids a lot of the more aggravating clich├ęs of the rom-com; and the writing is almost Douglas Adams-esque in its poignancy and wit. Talking about religion, especially in this format, is like poking a hive full of angry bees; thankfully, this film’s writing is nimble enough to avoid getting stung and share the honey that rests inside.

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