“Kaheen yeh PK Parvez Khan ya Pasha Kamal toh nahi?” This is what Saurabh Shukla’s god man Tapasvi says in Rajkumar Hirani’s latest film PK, accusing the man who dared question him of being motivated by his religion. The sinister tone and implication of the sentence is easily recognizable and hits home. In the days prior to its release, the filmmakers had guarded the theme closely, perhaps anticipating the kind of reaction the film is now getting. So when people entered the cinema hall last Friday, expecting another “feel good” film as someone called PK on Facebook, the film they saw must have surprised them a bit.
This was not “feel good” at all, this was threatening to question what seemed to be becoming a dominant discourse of the times we live in. After all in the last few months, the issues that have made news have been love jihad, religious conversions and good governance day. A week after its release, real life follows reel. The reel character Tapasvi’s sentiment is now being exactly repeated by real life VHP and Bajrang Dal members on television, on the internet and on the streets. They attack Aamir Khan, the actor. He should not have dared question Hinduism, he should have instead mocked the religion he belonged to himself, they say.
Logic is not part of this argument. Aamir Khan is neither the director nor the writer, and not even the producer or dialogue writer of the film. The film itself is not questioning any one religion, but rituals and the manipulation of religion by godmen. At the same time, in its subtle way, what it does argue against is a version of Hinduism which is majoritarian and exclusive, violent and intolerant. In the scene where Tapasvi attacks PK, Hirani actually anticipated the criticism his choice of lead actor could generate. In a way it makes the film’s argument stronger.
This anger is actually a product of being threatened, a mix of fear and indignation- how dare a mainstream popular film pick holes in their project of Hinduising India which so many, including the mainstream English language television, has bought. And why is such a film making money and getting an audience! By bringing into its narrative a love story between an Indian and a Pakistani, PK even tackles themes like love jihad, and questions the danger that is Hindu majoritarianism.
But there is something else that PK can make us think about. And this is the way we have vastly different standards of looking at Hindu fundamentalism and Muslim fundamentalism. What is unique about PK is that it looks within and talks about the fundamentalism of the majority, a fundamentalism which we are taught to see as less dangerous than Muslim fundamentalism. In the film, the trishul marks on Boman Irani’s TV editor’s body are terrorizing him enough for him to give up the idea of doing any news story that questions religion. That is a bold statement to make. This too is terror with a force of its own, dangerous because it has legitimacy now, being backed by the state. As the protests against PK seem to be taking to the streets calling for a boycott and ban, it is high time all of us realized this.