PK, Aamir Khan’s latest Bollywood film, packs an eclectic punch—a stranded alien, Indo-Pak romantic love, a scheming “godman,” a faux version of rustic desis, Delhi and more.
Hindu Sena, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Yuva Vahini and other Hindutva groups have taken to the streets claiming that PK hurt Hindu sentiments by showing Hindu gods, goddesses and ‘godmen’ in poor light.
But Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Mumbai, Agra, Bareilly, Jammu—regions where militant protests have been staged against the film—do not form an eclectic bunch. They’re all places where the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) triumphed in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP on its part has maintained that it can’t take responsibility for the action of other organizations. It hasn’t opposed the anti-PK protests. Nor has it specifically condemned the intimidating tactic of disrupting the screening of PK in certain cinema halls.
But while these protests are purportedly on the grounds that the film offends the sentiments of ordinary Indians, most people in the country would never be able to connect with—or even watch—PK, which is a movie about an alien (named PK) accidentally stranded on earth.
Like much of contemporary Bollywood, the film excludes more Indians than it includes. The contemporary humanoid alien is one of those ideas that have travelled from the West to certain sections of the subcontinent’s elite. Since its first import and subsequent re-imports, it has trickled down to the “masses” but only slightly. Effectively, an alien from another planet is largely an alien concept in the subcontinent.
In the belief of millions, other planets are divine and semi-divine beings unto themselves, not physical homes of other creatures. Science, an increasingly favourite debate-ending and justification tool in certain societies, does not have any evidence supporting the presence of aliens or divines. Depending on which class of Indians you are talking to, aliens are either a concept that does not fit into their general worldview—or is in the far reaches of the realm of possibility.
The folks who will never get to see PK—controversy or not—outnumber all the ones who will buy tickets to see it, by atleast 50 to 1. Anti-PK protesters know it. They know PK is an excuse. PK’s content is irrelevant beyond a point. It’s about barging into an unrepresentative “public” space with a contesting unrepresentative agenda. Game on.
The Hindutva groups or even the BJP don’t represent most Hindus. These self-appointed gatekeepers of Hindu sentiments have scarcely won a majority of Hindu votes. “Uneducated”, “superstitious”, “irrational”, “godman”-adoring, believing Hindus have ensured that—time after time.
But this majority of Hindus and their beliefs are held in utter contempt by the cosmopolitan liberals. And they are hated by the Hindutva folks for their plural, local, non-martial beliefs.
Makers of films such as PK and these protesters who claim to represent the interest of Hindus are actually more similar to each other than they would like to publicly admit. Both seek to exclude things that are not in line with the relative elite that use English and Hindi as its operational tongues, with the former presenting a caricatured version of the subcontinent’s diversity as its face to the world. By sheer money power, insider caste-class networks and predictable urban locations, they seek to limit the lingo and form of ‘public’ debate.
Both secretly wish that they could magically and radically transform the mass’s mentality. They couldn’t care less about the people who find in their sacred groves and holy men some sense of peace and hope. It’s easy for the privileged to vilify the midwives of soul in a soulless world. Mockery couched in the language of secularism doesn’t help. Even the word ‘godmen’ is an invention of the Anglicized cosmo-liberal class.
There was a time when justice meant decreasing inequities.
Yesterday, I came upon a protest that involved buying a Rs300 ticket to view PK at a multiplex. Forget boycott. Now it is time for protest by buying, protest by consumption. This deeply exclusionary and undemocratic form of protest is but natural for the upper class.
If I were anyhow associated with the making of the film PK such that greater box office collections would also financially benefit me, I would parrot glib phrases about freedom of speech. I would also talk about the artist’s right to expression, while secretly hoping that the protest kept simmering so that the controversy remained in focus.
Of course, I wouldn’t want the controversies to boil over to an extent that they actually start hitting my bottom-line. Which is why I would have, like many others of the fashionable “artists” freedom of expression” racket, given regular salaams to the Hindu Hriday Samrat of Mumbai (Bal Keshav Thackeray) if he were still alive.
It’s all about hitting the sweetest spot. PK has hit it very sweet indeed reportedly at Rs376 crore and counting.