By Sanya Malik:
Mahatma Gandhi once said “God has no religion”. The need to challenge religious divisiveness and understand Gandhi is greater than ever in the present scenario. From the Peshawar killings to the religious conversions at home, religion is being used as a tool to instigate violence and oppress the minorities. The film PK exposes the manipulations of organized religion and it does that exceedingly well. It unmasks the hypocrisies inherent in the idea of religion, unlayering it only to discover there is no true essence of religion.
We as a nation seem to have dumped the secularism of our constitution and are moving towards religious conservatism. Religion has become the centre of heated discussions where anyone/anybody who attempts to pull the curtains off religious orthodoxy is seen as anti-Hindu. In light of the current political mood, high on Hindutva rhetoric, PK seems to be extremely well timed to explore the hypocrisy of the institution of ‘religion’.
A day into its release, Twitter was set ablaze with cries of #boycottPK, criticising the movie for being “offensive” to Hinduism. However, quite soon, Aamir fans and secularists took to Twitter to show their support for the movie with the #WesupportPK hashtag. What this boils down to is the fact that as a group, we have started taking offence easily. Even a simple piece of art seems to “hurt” our religious sentiments. We have reached what one would call “The state of Hurt”. Hindutva supporters have gone as far as to filing a PIL against the movie director. These same Hindutvawadis protested demanding a ban on Haider earlier this year, or the ban of books like Wendy Doniger’s “The Hindus: An Alternative History”, creating another religion-centric discourse. The so called “gharwapsi” by conservative Hindus adds to the woes of the nation. At home, we have ministers like Niranjan Sadhvi walking free of regret even after instigating the “haramzada/ramzada” discourse.
The film has been criticised on grounds of showing Hinduism in a negative light. The movie critiques certain Hindu rituals as “symbols of irrationality and superstition”. According to some, it makes fun of Hindu Gods. Here, one must step out of the foggy vision of religious divisiveness and begin to consider the attack on Hinduism as a metaphor for an attack and unlayering of all religious blindness and superstition.
One must also consider that the movie attacks all blind faith irrespective of religion – conversions by Christian missionaries, and fatwas against education of girls by Islamic fundamentalists. It highlights the irrelevance of certain customs associated with each religion. In the role of a Shakespearean fool, this wide-eyed alien PK, unaware of religious customs, raises a simple question against poojas in temples, baptism in churches and rituals in dargahs – “if God could speak, would he rather you pour litres of milk on him, or instead give that same food to millions of starving children across the country”. As the alien, PK finds it hard to accept the ways of religion. He creates a ruckus at a temple and a church. However, the scene at a mosque shows him being shooed away as he tries entering with wine bottles in his hand. The movie shows a desperate Aamir Khan questioning every religion, maybe Hinduism gains greater prominence in the movie. However, as Kamlesh Singh notes, “It attacks Hinduism more directly than other religions because the story is based in India, 80% of which is Hindu.”
PK doesn’t give you answers served on a platter. It raises questions that make you think – the wide eyed alien PK (Aamir) questions everything, challenges the foundation of every concept you believed was unshakable. As the alien who lands naked from his planet, it is difficult for PK to understand the basis of the religious classification. He checks babies for a stamp, assuming they must be marked with the seal of their religion at birth. Failing to find one, he then derives that religion must be all about fashion. After all it is by the clothes and appearance that those around determine if a certain person is a Hindu or a Muslim.
Another allegation against the movie has been that it mocks Godmen and certain Hindu Gods. What the movie propagates instead is that God exists, Godmen shouldn’t. PK doesn’t question God and his existence but he does strongly condemn the farce marketed by the Godmen. In light of the recent Rampal and Asaram issues, the attack becomes even more interesting. These self proclaimed messengers of God find a sharp critique in the image of the “tapasviji” in PK. The movie exposes the distinction between a God-fearing and a God-loving society. The fear of God, espoused by religion finds echo in the statement “Jo darr gaya woh mandir gaya.”
Saffron ideologues like Francois Gautier have urged audiences to boycott the film because it depicts an inter-religious relationship. The plot line resonates with the fears that Hindutva groups have been expressing about the so-called love jihad theory: they claim that Muslim men are waging a campaign to court Hindu women, so that they can convert them to Islam. Even as Love Jihad remains a touchy subject in the country, PK depicts a Hindu girl falling in love with a Muslim boy from Pakistan.
The crux of the issue becomes obvious when one looks at the following Twitter comments. Even after decades of Aamir being a part of the Bollywood fraternity, he is seen as an outsider, “the other”. Our xenophobia towards Muslims becomes obvious when we question how Aamir, despite having married a Hindu, never dared to target Islam in the way he has attacked Hinduism.
The war between #BoycottPK and #WesupportPK continues. Hindutva supporters will continue to use religion as a weapon of violence. However, demanding a ban on works of art that question stereotypes and make you think beyond the normative defeats the whole purpose of a democracy. Every time a movie is banned, an artist dies, a democrat dies, a secular dies. But the fact that filmmakers continue to make such films is a clear sign of protest against religious orthodoxy. PK does not deserve to be banned, it is thought-provoking in its content, a departure from conservatism.