PK is selective in calling out the hypocrisy of godmen and selectively targets Hindusim. But banning PK is not the answer. For now we must put stock in criticism through quality writing which is in any event much better than incoherent fulmination that gets lost in ether.
By the time I watched Rajkumar Hirani’s Aamir Khan starrer PK in the evening of Christmas, the chatter on social media and reports from the mainstream media had managed to create certain notions about the movie, which were neither entirely incorrect nor entirely correct.
The movie shares a lot of thematic similarity with Akshay Kumar and Paresh Rawal-starrer OMG – Oh My God! with the treatment being thoroughly Hirani-esque. In a nutshell, the story revolves around an alien’s (no prizes for guessing who played the role) take on religion (Hinduism), (Hindu) superstition, and religious prejudice (Hindu prejudice) with oodles of mush and sentimentality thrown in for good measure.
I honestly did not find the movie anymore anti-Hindu than other movies churned out by Bollywood. PK, like most Bollywood movies which deal with religion, lacks balance and succumbs to the beaten-to-death plotline of portraying superstitions and bigotry as being a largely Hindu quality, which is safely consistent with the politically correct narrative. This is not to say that there are no references to non-Hindu fanaticism. The movie, in fact, has instances of conversion of indigent Hindus by Christian missionaries and a terrorist attack by Islamists in defence of the ‘religion of peace’, but the conviction with which Hirani takes on Hindu religious practices is conspicuously absent despite the Islamist attack playing a critical part in the script.
There are two aspects of the story that must be dealt with. The first is the stereotyping of Hindus and Hindu gurus (pejoratively referred to as “godmen” by the mainstream media), and the second is Hirani’s rather simplistic one-sided take on inter-faith marriages. None denies the fact that there are superstitions that Hinduism could do without. None can deny the existence of black sheep among Hindu gurus who lead flamboyant and extravagant jet-setting lives. But Hirani’s objective does not appear to be to call upon such people to return to the basics because, had that been his intention, in the interest of balance, he could have drawn attention to spiritual giants like Ramana Maharishi and Ramakrishna Paramahansa who led frugal lives and whose contribution is not limited to any particular faith or creed.
Assuming Hirani’s mandate was indeed to call out the hypocrisy of a few godmen regardless of their faith, why was the treatment reserved only for Hindus? Is it not a godman who calls himself the spiritual head of the ISIS who must be singularly held responsible for all the blood that has been spilt in the name of establishing a Shariah-compliant Islamic Caliphate? Is it not godmen-like DGS Dinakaran and Paul Dinakaran who turn a brother upon another in the name of saving and harvesting souls?
People like Hirani forget that, despite their superstitions, every law that has been imposed on Hindus without their consent in the name of reform has not been met with violence. In fact, one can’t think of any other community that has so passively accepted the parochial treatment that has been meted out to it in its own land. In stark contrast, it is a fact that people took to the streets to question the authority of the highest court of the land to enforce the legally guaranteed rights of a poor Muslim woman, Shah Bano, all in the name of scripture. How is it that not a single movie has been made by a mainstream filmmaker highlighting the plight of women in Islamand calling for reforms? Is it the fear of being ostracised in the industry or is it the fear of being liquidated or both?
As for inter-faith marriages, Hirani expects the audience to believe that it is only Hindus who have a problem with their women being married off to non-Hindus, in particular to Muslims. Hirani has to only look within his own industry to find umpteen examples of Hindu women being married to Muslim men. And, since love conquers all, he should probably inquire how many of these women remain Hindu.
Let’s take this a step further and ask how many educated Indian Muslim families would be open to marrying off their daughters to Hindu men without converting the groom. Different people may have different anecdotes to share, but an authoritative survey is bound to establish that most non-Muslims conjugal partners of Muslims were asked or forced to convert while non-Hindu partners of Hindus were not. Let’s also ask ourselves if a Pakistani Muslim would be willing to give his daughter in marriage to an Indian, especially an Indian Hindu. With all these prejudices staring us in our faces, it takes some chutzpah on Hirani’s part to pontificate to Hindus alone on inter-faith marriages.
The predictably naïve reaction to PK has been the demand a ban on the movie or calls for boycott. It is time the average member of the Indian Right understood that this is counter-productive; it reinforces negative stereotypes of the Right being an irascible reactionary clique. Importantly, with the BJP in power, any ill-thought attempt even by non-state actors to prevent screening of the movie will be invariably attributed to the BJP and false symmetries will be drawn between the Taliban and the Indian Right. There are much better ways of expressing one’s disgust at unfair, selective and disproportionate targeting of Hindus and Hinduism.
This reviewer is not of the view that one must treat movies like PK as just movies and ignore them, because they are not. People like Hirani must know that the times when Hindus could be treated as soft targets are gone, but the way to convey the message is not to walk in the footsteps of those who violently sought a ban on Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses and issued a fatwa asking for the head of an artist or those who pelted stones on theatres screening Da Vinci Code. Neither violence nor a ban is an option worth considering in the first place.
One need not even quote Justice Brandeis to make the point that the cure for bad speech is more speech. Keeping with the finest of our own Indic traditions of argumentation and the examples set by stalwarts of the Indian Right, we must master the art of exercising free speech and expression to effectively convey and advocate our point of view.
One desirable response would be to marshal resources to make a movie which highlights the hypocrisy, ignorance, superstition and bigotry that plague the Indian Muslim and Christian societies, but that requires a lot more initiative and drive, which the Indian Right will hopefully be capable of in the foreseeable future. Until then, we must put stock in criticism through quality writing, which is certainly not a bad option, and is in any event much better than incoherent fulmination that gets lost in ether.
Also read on PK: Much ado about PK & Why Hinduism is not the Target
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