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RohinGupta

MOVIE REVIEW - PK(Drunkard)

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BACKGROUND - Its a 2014 Bollywood movie in Hindi Language. The post contains mild spoilers.

 

The trailer is available here -

 

 

INTRODUCTION
 
Given the controversy surrounding the movie, two false alternatives have emerged. One that says movie is bad because it hurts religious sentiments of people. And another that says it is good because it destroys religious myths, and is therefore rational. I think the criteria for classifying the movie as good or bad has to be wider. Therefore here I review primary aspects of the movie.
 
THEME
 
The theme of this movie demonstrates the fact about religion. That is how religion in various forms, as it is practiced on earth, is wrong. However, this theme should not be confused with what could have been a completely rational basis for storyline. That is, “there is no God and reason is the only means of living on earth”. The movie does not deny God, and it upholds reason at very few places.
 
REVIEW OF THE THEME
 
The most glaring aspect of the premises is their negativity. That is, while the movie quite comprehensively demonstrates irrational aspects of religions, it does not offer a valid alternative for living. However, one must recognize that religions, at least pagan and polytheistic ones like Hinduism, were an incomplete attempt to define rational code of values. Values, as we know are needed for guiding our short term and long term actions.

In Hindu religious framework, Goddess Lakshmi represents wealth, Goddess Saraswati represents knowledge, Durga the courage to fight evil, Hanuman is epitome of body and mental strength, Krishna demonstrates the power of intellect, and so on. A more rational moral code could not have been written without Plato giving a framework that any philosophy and ethics(including religion) follow. And later Aristotle writing detailed books - explicitly defining, describing, applying concept of logic, and giving his own philosophy based on logic. In fact, it was not until Newton, that culture really started understanding how to use logic for solving their problems. Two-thousand years after Aristotle, and detailed study of his logic in the intermediate period by many scholars.
 
Coming back to the movie, the implicit alternative it does offer to religion is altruism. That is if one sacrifices life and values for strangers, then one is in the right path. This can be judged by the fact that more the two main characters see each other as altruistic, the more they bond with one another. Another approach movie upholds is pragmatism. That is rejection of principles like right and wrong judgment, whenever it is inconvenient. We can see this in facts like the situation where PK is stealing clothes from cars, or money from religious places.
 
History offers a very strong example of philosophy that rejects religion but upholds altruism. Communists claimed to be atheists in letter, but were actually religious in spirit. That is they were mostly dogmatic in claiming that “dictatorship of proletariats” was the right political option. And if we see the most murderous political regimes, it ranges from Stalin to Mao to Pol Pot, all Communists and much worse than Hitler. In short, “rejection of religion”, or any negative premise for that matter, is not a sufficient guide for leading a good and well-reasoned life.
 
PLOT THEME
 
Both theme and plot theme are general statements, and both refer to the events in the story. While the theme covers all or most of the events in story. The plot theme is less general. And it refers to those events which play important role in moving the story forward.
 
So at a plot theme level PK is a story of an alien searching for his stolen transreceiver. And in the process discovers that religion is not the right way to pursue your goals. After his discovery he moves ahead to communicate his views to the mass media audience, because general awakening is the only way for him to recover the transreceiver.
 
REVIEW OF THE PLOT THEME
 
I think the premise of a character searching desperately for stolen object is very shallow and limiting. Personally, in 12000 days of my existence, if I were to recall number of hours spent searching desperately for a thing, it will not exceed 100 hours. Even if we consider impact, overall its our choices that determine course of our lives. Very rarely, an external negative event completely changes our life. Examples of more universal plot themes can be conflict between career and relationships of a travel consultant, in movie Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani. Or during a foreign trip conflict between accepting traditional values and modern lifestyle, in movie Queen.
 
The “premise of turning towards religion” is a valid universal theme, but it has to be in the context of things and situations that occupy our mind more often. Search for a missing object can be a useful plot-theme for children movies, but not for the ones that should connect to adults pursuing deeper values.
 
PLOT
 
Plot of the movie can be divided into following parts(not necessarily chronological) :
 
1. Alien PK trying to look at survival options on earth, Rajasthan India in this case. I will classify this as Survival Phase.
 
2. PK acquiring skills like language, and turning towards religion to search for his stolen transreceiver. I will classify this part as Quest Phase.
 
3. PK meeting female protagonist Jaggu, and Jaggu getting convinced that PK is indeed alien. Meeting Jaggu.
 
4. After being motivated by Jaggu, PK trying to convince Godman that his communication with God is mistaken. Convincing Godman.
 
5. PK discovering that Godman is not mistaken but a lier. True motives.
 
6. PK falling in love with Jaggu. Falling in Love.
 
7. Climax where Godman is comprehensively proven wrong in front of mass audience. Climax.
 
Sub Plot: Before she meets PK in New Delhi, Jaggu's love story in Belgium forms the subplot. In climax the sub-plot gets connected to the main plot.
 
REVIEW OF DRIVING ELEMENTS IN PLOT
 
Here I look in greater detail at various parts of plot described in previous section. In particular I analyze plot elements that move the story forward.
 
1. Survival Phase : PK, while depicted as an alien from advanced civilization, is closer to a savage or a tribal in his method of thinking and acting. An intelligent savage, but savage nevertheless. And actions here are similar to the bully who does not have any major goals in life, and instead troubles people who are trying to live their own lives without causing any trouble to others. A tribal who does not try to reason source of values like food and clothing. But instead is just interested in grabbing by crooked methods.
 
2. Quest Phase : Once he discovers means of survival, mainly through petty thefts, he does apply basic reasoning to discover that finding the transreceiver will require him to develop communication skills. While its a sci-fi movie, and imagination with regard to whats not likely in reality is permissible. I think its necessary to understand an aspect of a good sci-fi movie. That is what can be right technology in such movies, and what is wrong kind of technology. In Atlas Shrugged(novel), experimental and mathematical effort needed for discovering advanced generator was demonstrated. In Jurassic Park, technology like “artificially creating Dinosaurs” had realistic foundations in Genetics and cloning technology. The ability to learn language, and corresponding images and concepts by simply touching humans carries no such rational foundations. And therefore this driving force in plot is closer to supernatural.
 
Further, PK taking religion seriously is another example of putting random opinion of people above one's rational considerations. True, eventually he starts questioning religion, but the extent to which a person changes his lifestyle based on random opinions of society, with very little analysis, is astounding here. One can argue that being an alien he may not be having any other option. But given what I have seen in previous Raju Hirani movies, I think alien context is only a means for the director to project his view of man. A man really comfortable in allowing his life to be run by others, unless faced with really threatening consequences.
 
3. Meeting Jaggu : The actions that convince Jaggu of PK's authenticity and PK of Jaggu's, are not rational actions which one undertakes to achieve one's goals in life. Instead, these actions have altruistic motivations, where each person parts with important values to help a stranger. True, Jaggu had a personal incentive to help PK. But PK was not aware of this incentive, and starts trusting Jaggu because he thinks she helped him selflessly.
 
4. Convincing Godman and his followers : This part of plot and the next(5.) are by far the most rational components in the story. Here PK applies clever reasoning to demonstrate that religions are inconsistent, and therefore wrong. Here too however, basic existence of God is not questioned, even though it is not perceivable. Instead the irrationality of religion is demonstrated by showing that it is possible for person of one religion to dress as another. And that the rituals of all religions are not same, often contradictory.
 
5. True motives of Godman : If we look at methodology of PK in this phase, it can also be considered as a rational phase. Here he makes various observations, and mentally integrates various events to form concepts and judgments forming the basis of religion. Judgments like "most people are motivated by fear to pursue religion". Or a judgment involving Godman, concluding that "he is not mistaken but lying". However, as we see in the next phase, he makes no such rational analysis for positive concepts like love.
 
6. PK Falling in Love : True love, like any natural phenomenon is also causal. It ought to be the objectification of one's deepest values. Mohit Suri movies like Aashiqui 2 (and Ek Villian to lesser extent), are best demonstration of this ordinal nature of love. Ordinal here referring to the measurement of emotion of love. That is, it can be measured by comparing the importance of object of affection to one's most fundamental values. Values like the understanding of music in Aashiqui 2. But in movie PK, love is automatic. And while it may have had some causes here, these are certainly not explored. Except the fact that PK looks at Jaggu dancing and falls for her.
 
7. Climax and sub-plot : Climax to some extent is good, since it connects plot, the sub-plot, states the theme, and resolves the conflict that created plot. Larger than life setting of a television studio also makes a good show. The let down here apart from the speech corresponding to theme, is the discovery of the cause that moved the sub-plot. In a good literary work, its the choices of main characters that ultimately cause major plot twists, and therefore play an important role in demonstrating the power of value judgments. Instead here, a chance event that has remote possibility in normal circumstances, causes the main twist.
 
CONCLUSION
 
In complete review, I would have also focused on aspects like screenplay, cinematography, costumes, music, sets, sensibilities etc. In short, director's sensibilities amount to making a hero out of a bully, or resentment towards even genuine rules like wearing clothes and applying tone and gestures to words for denoting context. Most other aspects are quite good and play an important role in highlighting critical elements in theme and plot. Overall however, these aspects of movie are not as important as theme and plot. Not if you are a non-technical viewer who needs to derive spiritual fuel from an art work.
 
In complete scheme of things, the movie should be given one cheer for standing up to something as fundamentally mistaken as religion, and for depicting technical aspects of cinema well. But art and cinema need to do much more for promoting reason in order to resurrect man. Specifically, more emphasis should be given to plots that are driven by value judgments. Of course, I would like rational values to move the story, but even irrational values as movers in movies like Rise of Planet of Apes, or partly rational values for movies mentioned will do.

 

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Reading your review was quite interesting. You have touched numerous points of the movie. I agree, it does not fall within an objectivist's standard. I do not watch a lot of Bollywood movies. But I was delighted to watch PK. It was a bold attempt to debunk, most (if not all) of the irrationality surrounding religion. I agree it does not deny God. Nevertheless it does not do much to prove existence of God either ? I think the movie would have been banned if they had gone outright denial of God, considering how sensitive India is about religion.

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Movies are not the proper medium to debunk irrationality, especially in a country where movies are taken for granted - "after all it's just a movie, it's for entertainment, why take it seriously, the purpose is to just think differently for one day and then get back to our practical  lives."

 

Besides, context dropping is the most prevalent problem in the 'intellectual community' in India. It has deep roots, really deep roots.

 

Anuj, I think we shouldn't ignore this question - 'at what line do you conclude that it's a lost cause'.

 

 

 

 

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From the preview/trailer one could not tell that the movie is about religion at all. From that, it seems Forest Gump like, the "man from the moon" genre that challenges some societal norms via a protagonist who is ignorant of them (instead of using a real rebel) and who therefore flaunts them or questions them with a degree of innocence and benevolence. Was the focus squarely on religion, or was religion just one of the many societal norms being undermined?

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Movies are not the proper medium to debunk irrationality, especially in a country where movies are taken for granted - "after all it's just a movie, it's for entertainment, why take it seriously, the purpose is to just think differently for one day and then get back to our practical  lives."

 

I think movies are the proper medium. Even more because it is the largest medium in India. The average population is dependent on movies for time pass and entertainment. It will only do good to them if they spend time watching rational stuff compared to other types of crap.. which being the reason why I don't watch a lot of Bollywood movies. 

 

I agree with you on context dropping in India. 

 

Anuj, I think we shouldn't ignore this question - 'at what line do you conclude that it's a lost cause'.

 

I was going to write on how much I wished this movie could have been better. It only limits the scope of Alien's understanding to questions of religious dogmas and superstitions. Half-way through the movie, I was hoping that Alien would turn extremely rational and question not just religion, but also the concept of politics, terrorism and all other irrationality on Earth.  Sadly that wasn't the case. Check out RohinGupta's 'Review of Theme' section in post #1 for more details on  'at what line do you conclude that it's a lost cause'. 

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From the preview/trailer one could not tell that the movie is about religion at all. From that, it seems Forest Gump like, the "man from the moon" genre that challenges some societal norms via a protagonist who is ignorant of them (instead of using a real rebel) and who therefore flaunts them or questions them with a degree of innocence and benevolence. Was the focus squarely on religion, or was religion just one of the many societal norms being undermined?

 

Yup. It is about (questioning) religion more than anything else. And does fall under "man from the moon" genre as you have perfectly described.

 

Interesting. Now that you've mentioned Forrest Gump. I do see some similarities in terms of appearance of Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump and Amir Khan in PK. 

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While I give example of Communism as "non-religious but dogmatic". At a deeper level, unless people have confidence in their own judgment, they will continue to hold to dogma in one form or other. And therefore we need to promote good epistemology. And since majority consume "methods of thinking" through art products like cinema. Cinema has to be rational in all major fronts I have highlighted. In particular in demonstrating power of right and wrong judgments, and in highlighting that a mistake done using own judgment is much better than 10 safe actions using dogma.

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