Watching PK, And A Memory Of How Religious Rigidity Can Go To Uncanny Extremes

Posted on January 9, 2015 in Media, Society

By Sanghamitra Aich:

I have some distinct memories of a family I once knew. They used to follow a certain guru who lived in Rajasthan. This guru gave strict instructions to all his followers against participating in any other religion’s celebrations, or consuming prasad from any place other than his own. Even as a 10-year-old I did not understand how there could be a God so very self-contained and vicious, that he didn’t let my friend enjoy the Durga Puja festivities with us. On one occasion, when the younger 7- year-old son ate some prasad at a religious function, his mother slapped him and dragged him out. I found this absurd even then.

PK poster

It is now that I realise how religious rigidity and irrationality in India can go to uncanny extremes. Because we conveniently carve God in our own human form, we also transfer our petty vices and whims on to him, restricting participation in cosmopolitan community activities. We also create a convenient barter system of boons, where one year of fasting on Saturdays can ensure a better board result for your kids. The idea of mannat has been distorted to such extents that a 27-year-old unemployed graduate spends his mornings at the masjid, instead of going for job interviews; a society wife just held a lavish puja and dinner party after her husband was appointed as the vice-president of a leading telecommunications company; a husband travelled across the country to pray for the health of his beloved wife. If there is a creator who made us all, would he make you travel across the earth to heal your ailing loved ones? Or would he, like PK suggested, ask you to nurse them and care for them?

And any opposition to this conscious creation of faith in the contemporary capitalist marketplace is vehemently opposed. PK, the latest film by Rajkumar Hirani, too has been vehemently opposed by certain politicians, saints and gurus, and similarly supported by other politicians and film stars. But what has been widely ignored is the wide array of reactions by viewers. The film has been consecrated in the industry as a massive super-hit, but why? Why have large numbers flocked to the theatres, often braving winter chills and crowded shows? And what have they walked away with at the end of the movie?

Tinu Cherian Abraham tweets: “Bhakts are trending #BoycottPK . Then it must be a sensible film. Now planning to watch it. Had no plans earlier.” He echoes the opinion of a wide number of individuals. Even 14-year-old Tania says she decided to watch the movie after the wide uproar it inspired. Everybody wanted to partake a bit of the fire bellowing so much fanatical smoke.

Kaustav, a service professional says that the movie is realistic because it aptly displays the “managers” of religion using religious differences to justify violence and hatred. His comment brings the Peshawar incident to mind. In one of the darkest incidents of recent history, 9 TTP militants stormed the Army Public School in Peshawar, killing around 140 students and members of the staff. This is one example of religious extremism claiming innocent lives: it is not the first, it will not be the last, unless we begin a conscious act of tolerance.

Tolerance stands at odds with the present government and its characteristic hindutva extremism as well. “Again and again the movie makes me feel that the rise of Hindutva in India has been very fast and furious, and it along with all sorts of religious communalism needs to be erased, and censored.”, says Ishita Sareen, a student from Batala. Clearly, even if the present government is not holding our secular value true, the present generation is not so ignorant. Statuses, tweets and blogs flooding social media yield ample testimony to the fact that watching PK is increasingly envisioned as a direct opposition of religious extremism and intolerance.

Even the love story within the movie has invoked much discussion with certain sections claiming its unabashed reflection of love jihad. For viewers it is not the farfetched romantic ending that makes the love story within the movie effective, but the sharp display of how stereotypes and prejudices colour our understanding. The differences between Pakistani and Indian youngsters are largely a fiction of our education. Indian elementary education teaches us our “friend-nations” and “enemies”. Pakistan is introduced as the home to grand mosques, burka-clad women, and terrorist factions. But a close interaction with Pakistani students, proved to me at least, that they are some of the most open-minded youngsters around.

Among foreigners, PK seems to inspire certain experiences which they say, are quintessentially Indian. PK’s utter confusion after his introduction to religion in India is the response of most foreigners. The myriad religions, their rules and regulations all come together to confound the bravest of tourists. Jens Wienstroer of Germany remembers his time in India as “an unabashed orgy of religious excess”. Dina Fernandez, a 61-year-old Australian remembers similar confusion.

Why boycott PK…why not smoking, boozing, drugs, hypocrisy, Dhongi babas, Faku Pandits ?? #WeSupportPK”, tweets Leena Goenka. Yes, there have been better movies. But “PK makes a distinction between belief and religion”, says college student Tarana Farooqui. It can be an important vehicle inspiring secularism in the face of extremist policies. PK has been recognised by viewers as an observant account of religion in India, and as a marked threat to religious extremism and a prejudiced status quo.

The movie’s conclusion, though leaving much to be said, often stirs one into a long chain of experience, memory and action. Most viewers admit that PK raises pertinent questions. For some like me, it brings to fore the irrationality of a childhood incident, for some others it echoes the extremism of every leader screaming “love jihad” in case of inter-religion marriages, and for some others it further establishes the perverted religious logic behind justification for heinous crimes by certain groups. These questions and the consequent consciousness is the reason for viewers across India hailing PK as a “wind of change”. Evidently, tolerance is on the rise and all reactionaries should take note.