Hindi cinema is big here in Melbourne. The city hosts a huge Indian film festival, several Hindi movies have been filmed here, and we are on the itinerary of Bollywood’s biggest stars. So when I lined up to by tickets to see PK last week, I wasn’t surprised to be surrounded by many other Bollywood enthusiasts—some from India, some Australians from Indian backgrounds, as well as several non-Desi Hindi film enthusiasts. PK had the biggest opening in Australia of any Hindi film ever. It is even attracting movie-goers who have never seen a Hindi film before.
I saw PK at the Northland Mall in Preston, about 9 km north of the city. I love that I can step out the door in my corner of Australia and soon be surrounded by Hindi speakers in a cinema showing a Hindi film. It’s not quite the same experience as seeing a film in India, but it’s close.
The film is about an alien (Aamir Khan) who gets stranded on earth and tries to contact God for help returning to his planet. He learns Bhojpuri, and befriends an Indian journalist (Anushkaa Sharma) who is fascinated with PK’s criticisms of India’s biggest god-men.
My favourite parts of the movie were the comical scenes with the brass band that accepts PK as a member. Brass bands are struggling in India today. For weddings, younger generations now favour DJs over trumpets and tubas. So there is something funny, but also touching, about how the band’s leader (Sanjay Dutt) helps PK in the ways of being human.
I wish the film had room for presenting Bhojpuri as an important 21st-century language, with a rich history and strong future. PK learns the language from a prostitute (Reema Debnath), and his Bhojpuri is one of the reasons people call him “Pee-ke”—literally “drunk.” This reinforces stereotypes of Bhojpuri, and other Bihari languages, as either “spicy” or infantile forms of communication. Despite this, it was delightful to see one of India’s non-Hindi languages featured so strongly in a mainstream Hindi film, even if it is a Hindi-fied version of Bhojpuri.
The film targets charlatan god-men. It attempts to separate these individuals from India’s religious traditions. We are invited to respect the religions, while denouncing tricksters who corrupt them. This message regarding religious tolerance gets muddled in the second half of the film, as does the plot. Nevertheless, many are praising PK for addressing the topic. Others are protesting it for offending religious sensibilities. It is telling that many of the protests are directed at the film’s star Aamir Khan, rather than the film’s director, Rajkumar Hirani—thereby reinforcing the movie’s central argument.
Speaking of Hindi. I enjoyed PK’s complaint about the many meanings of accha—अच्छा… अच्छा!… अच्छा?… अच्छा!?!… अच्छा-आ-आ… अच्च्च्छा-आ-आ…**!अच्छा!— Non-Hindi speakers often have trouble with this, so I may use this scene in my first-year class.