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Film review: Bollywood’s PK sees alien search for remote control and god

Indian blockbuster examines religions and spiritual crisis, complete with gags and musical numbers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 September, 2015, 6:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 September, 2015, 10:11am

It takes a wise fool to point out the peculiar superstitions accompanying any organised religion, and this entertaining Bollywood musical is so relentlessly buoyant in its charge to ask the big questions it comes close to reaching an epiphany, regardless of its fundamentally superficial propositions.

Named PK (short for Peekay, meaning “tipsy” in Hindi) by random strangers for his seemingly unruly behaviour, the protagonist (played by a bug-eyed Aamir Khan) is really an alien visiting Earth to make contact – only to have his spaceship’s remote control stolen by the first human he encounters.

In a hilarious rite of passage in which PK goes looking for the gem-like gadget, he is repeatedly sent away and told to ask for god’s help, and is thus consequently set on an unlikely course of religion surfing. As the rituals become repetitive and the remote remains unfound, doubt seeps into PK’s mind.

If the director Rajkumar Hirani – whose last directing and co-writing effort was the smash hit 3 Idiots (2009) – had stayed with PK’s search for god the whole time, this film could well have turned out to be one of the more provocatively conceived dramas on spiritual crisis in recent times.

But this being a Bollywood blockbuster, and no self-respecting filmmaker of the tradition would ditch the musical numbers for more downcast soul-searching, PK instead turns to extend its thesis with a most banal moral lesson: a passionate affair curtailed by cultural differences.

In a romance more incredulous than all the religious inquiries surrounding it, the Indian TV journalist Jaggu (Anushka Sharma) falls hard for a Pakistani Muslim (Sushant Singh Rajput) and wishes to marry him right away, only for her religious father to call the thing off on the word of a Hindu guru (Saurabh Shukla).

It is a big cop out that this wealthy religious teacher to be debunked not only happens to be in possession of PK’s remote, but is also evidently a fraud. While the gags are frequent and the energy infectious, the film’s audience outside India may just struggle to appreciate the boldness in its conception.

PK opens on September 3