'PK': Film Review

PK Still - H 2014
Courtesy of UTV Motion Pictures

PK Still - H 2014

Human foibles offer rich opportunity for warmly observed satire

Bollywood takes on the archetype of the holy fool

An inquisitive space alien (Aamir Khan) lands on Earth dressed only in his birthday suit, and shakes up society in Rajkumar Hirani’s pleasantly subversive PK. The film deftly pokes fun at the foibles of earthlings — especially their warring religions — with warmth and compassion, and shines a light on the contradictions of India’s strict but unwritten social rules.

This eagerly awaited Khan vehicle is guaranteed brisk business in the week before Christmas, and even if PK doesn’t have quite the deep emotional impact of Hirani’s other message films, distributor Disney India’s decision to release the film on a record 4,844 screens worldwide assures robust returns.

Read more 'PK' to Get Broad Worldwide Release

The film has been kept tightly under wraps in India, with viewers wondering if the titular character — bug-eyed and goofy, with prosthetically enhanced ears — was autistic, otherworldly or even God himself.

That mystery is dispelled in the first scene, when a glowing spaceship deposits him in the middle of the Rajasthani desert as part of his alien race’s research project.

Earthlings, of course, have no idea what to make of him, and quickly dub him PK (“pee kay” means “after drinking,” or “tipsy”).

When PK’s one chance to return home is sabotaged, he is forced to undertake an odyssey that will direct him through the minefield of human relationships — and especially through the inexplicable rituals of religion. In one moving montage, PK joins crowds of nearly every major faith in India, from Jainism to Christianity, Sikhism, Hinduism and Islam (only Buddhists get a pass, it seems).

Read more Disney-UTV Unveils Bollywood Slate for 2014

Writer-director Hirani and co-writer Abhijat Joshi stud their scenes with rich comic details: PK learns early on that when he needs something to wear, he can purloin the cast-off clothes of illicit lovers in parked cars, and a running gag finds him in their successively incongruous and inappropriate outfits. How he learns language, an earthy Bhojpuri dialect from an unlikely source, is another opportunity for some risqué humor. And the familiar face of Mahatma Gandhi is the source of another pointed gag.

Read more '3 Idiots' Film Review

A wealth of top actors beautifully fill out PK’s key roles, including Anushka Sharma as a plucky TV journalist bent on helping PK get home and Sushant Singh Rajput as a young Muslim man she falls in love with against her family’s wishes; Saurabh Shukla as a wealthy Hindu mega-swami; and most memorably, Munnabhai star Sanjay Dutt as a ruffian wedding band musician. Khan’s touching and at times hilarious performance captures the otherworldly oddness of PK.

Rajkumar Hirani holds a unique place in the pantheon of mainstream Indian filmmakers, with a nearly unerring gift for capturing the zeitgeist in films such as Munnabhai M.B.B.S. and Lage Raho Munnabhai, which tackled corruption; and 3 Idiots, about India’s mad rush of college competition. But like those films did, PK defies description and dares to go far deeper.

Production: Vinod Chopra Films, Rajkumar Hirani Films and Disney-UTV Motion Pictures
Cast: Aamir Khan, Anushka Sharma, Boman Irani, Saurabh Shukla, Sushant Singh Rajput and Sanjay Dutt
Director: Rajkumar Hirani
Screenwriters: Rajkumar Hirani and Abhijat Joshi
Producers: Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Rajkumar Hirani
Executive producer: Sanjiv Kishinchandani
Director of photography: Murleedharan
Production designer: Rajnish Hedao, Sumit Basu and Snigdha Basu
Sound designer: Resul Pookutty
Costume designers: Manoshi Nath and Rushi Sharma
Editor: Rajkumar Hirani
Composers: Shantanu Moitra and Ajay – Atul

No MPAA rating, 150 minutes