Thursday, December 25, 2014

Let Me Count The Ways I Hate PK

alien with a ripped body
AK’s PK is meant to be a satire that attacks the status quo, primarily by critiquing the arbitrariness of our religious and cultural codes. It repeatedly mocks the arbitrary nature of our conventions, customs, protocols, and ideologies—mainly religious ones. But, I’d claim that what this movie is really about—what's really at the heart of this movie—and what animates every single bone of this film is what I call “the ideology of the one”: the belief that we should all stick to one way of doing things, that a thing should have only one meaning, that we should all follow only one god, and so on. It’s a belief that privileges oneness, sameness, homogeneity, commonality, and community over multiplicity, difference, heterogeneity, diversity, and individuality. In short, it's the belief of the Nazis! The Nazis wanted to homogenize the society by erasing all forms of diversity and individuality. What AK(Aamir Khan) and Raju Hirani(the director) are really espousing through this movie is exactly that! They are basically preaching the sentiments of the Nazis.

Take, for instance, that scene where PK mistakes a bride for a widow. It’s a scene that makes fun of the arbitrary nature of our cultural codes: a woman wearing a white dress means, in one culture, that she is a widow and, in another culture, that she is a bride. Here Hirani is making fun of the fact that the same thing has different meaning in different culture. What’s implicit in this critique is the belief that a thing should mean just one thing, and that meaning should be the same for everybody: a woman wearing a white dress should either mean that she's a widow or it should mean that she's a bride, and this denotation should be the same in all culture. In other words, this movie is implicitly telling us that we should all follow the same conventions, the same customs, the same protocols, the same beliefs, and the same God. That is to say, that we should all think alike, act alike, dress alike, live alike. Now, isn’t that exactly what the Nazis were trying to do? Weren’t they attempting to homogenize the society by making us all follow the same beliefs, customs, and culture? And how did those bastards try to achieve that goal (or rather what was the only way they could achieve it)? By trying to eliminate all the human beings who were unlike them! By getting rid of all those things that make us distinct from each other: our individuality, our identity, our uniqueness, our style, our desires, our inclinations, our beliefs, our perspectives, our past, our culture; in short, all those things that make us who we are. The Nazis wanted to wipe out all those things. Hirani is implicitly asking us to do the same! "Get rid of your clothes, because you are all the same from inside! Why are you all following different customs and cultures? Get rid of them and follow a common way of doing things! Get rid of your arbitrary and figurative languages that make words mean many different things and follow a language that is direct and literal! Why are you all worshipping so many different gods? Get rid of your multiple gods and worship just one!" Isn't that what PK is telling us throughout this movie?

Therefore, I wasn't surprised at all that PK is an "alien", and not a human being. It was inevitable that Raju Hirani would come up with this “character”. Hirani's entire career consists of looking at the status quo through the eyes of an outsider. And what better way to look at it than through the eyes of an alien—someone who literally comes from outside of this planet? In fact, I’d claim that PK is not even an alien. Of course, none of us knows what an actual alien would look like, but it's obvious in PK's case that he's an alien made in the image of man. An anthropomorphic alien! Physically, he looks very much like a human being (he looks like Ajit Agarkar, for god's sake!) However, he isn't a human being, either. I'd go so far as to say that he isn't even a character! Do we really get to know anything about his historical or family background? About his past? About himself? About his inner thoughts and feelings? We don't! He is, in a sense, a vacuum! An empty vessel through which Hirani can torture us with his inane and infantile didacticism. PK is a mere voice (and an annoying one at that)! Notice that even when PK absorbs human knowledge through his psychic power, he merely absorbs its language. Hirani isn't really interested in creating a character; he is only interested in creating a medium through which he can openly vomit his fascistic ideas. You could substitute PK for Rancho and Rancho for PK and it wouldn’t make much difference. In fact, this whole movie is basically a remake of 3 Idiots

[Raju Hirani is, in a way, making the same film over and over again: an outsider enters an insular institution and immediately starts questioning and critiquing its status quo. He then preaches fashionable bourgeois beliefs (all those things that the stupid audience secretly wants to hear! Things that reconfirm their own petty beliefs! Things that make them feel good!), and just when he realizes that things might get a tad complex, he takes a cop-out either by offering ridiculously simplistic solutions or by dodging the real issue at hand (PK begins by questioning the existence of God, but ends by simply criticizing the god-men. In this sense, this movie is very similar to another stupid film, of another AK, called Oh My God!). Also, have you noticed that the antagonists in Hirani's films always tend to be mere caricatures? In 3 Idiots and Munnabhai MBBS, it was the character of Virus and Dr. Asthana respectively, played by Boman Irani, and, in PK, it's the character of Tapasvi Maharaj, played by Saurab Shukla (I haven’t seen Lageraho Munnabhai, so I can't comment on that.) His antagonists are NEVER well-formed characters or formidable opponents. After all, it makes it easier for Hirani to convincingly ridicule and attack his opponents if they are represented by some  stupid, laughable figure. But, because he does so and because he is always trying to deal (however superficially) with serious social issues, his movies always, always, always end up distorting, misrepresenting, and simplifying the real issue at hand. What Hirani commits over and over again in all his movies is the fallacy of the straw man (see logical fallacies). That's why his movies are actually quite unhealthy and dangerous to society!] 

Think of all the scenes that are supposed to be "funny" in this movie. Almost all the jokes in this movie (PK mistaking a bride for a widow and a statue for God, him trying to follow Hindu customs in a church, etc.) arise solely through Hirani's exploitation of the arbitrariness of our cultural codes, or, to be more precise and technical, the arbitrariness of the relationship between what Ferdinand de Saussure called the "signifier" and the "signified". For Saussure, the fact that a signifier (words, signs) has no direct correlation with the signified (objects, concepts) and that the same signified can be designated by several different signifiers shows that language is arbitrary. For example, the word “stone”(signifier) has no actual correlation with the object “stone”(signified), and this object "stone" can also be denoted by several other words in several other languages ("dhunga" in Nepali, “patthar” in hindi, "though" in Sherpa, "pierre" in French). This idea of the random relationship between the signifier and the signified is exactly what Hirani is basically exploiting in different forms over and over again throughout this movie. 

Therefore, it is no wonder that this movie ends up with PK poking fun at the arbitrariness of our language. PK (Aamir) tells us (with his annoyingly, self-righteously, sanctimoniously sarcastic tone) that when we say “I love chicken,” what we mean is not that we love that chicken (the animal) per se, but that we love to eat that animal as our food. This is where PK's deeply flawed beliefs become transparent. PK is implying that when we say "I love chicken," we should literally mean that I love chicken (the animal), and not something else. Just think of how stupid that belief is! That's like saying the word "rose" should mean only the flower "rose", and none of its figurative meanings or connotations. It should not mean the past tense of rise, or a person named rose, or a symbol of love, and so on. Just imagine how limited our language and our world-view would be if we were to adopt PK's beliefs! Poetry, art, knowledge, association, communication, and even language itself operate, almost entirely, figuratively. In fact, the main catchphrase that PK uses in this movie "Yeh wrong number hai" (This is wrong number) functions exactly the same way the sentence "I love chicken" functions. That is, they both operate figuratively. When PK says "Yeh wrong number hai", we all instantly know that he does not mean that this numerical digit (this mathematical symbol used for counting) is the incorrect one. To assume so would be the height of stupidity. But, according to the logic of this movie, that's exactly the kind of relationship we should have with language: that when one says "Yeh wrong number hai," one should literally mean that this numeral (this mathematical symbol used for counting) is the wrong one! How ridiculous is that?! In fact, this movie is so atrocious that while I was watching it I kept wanting to scream: "YEH WRONG NUMBER HAI!"

p.s. I usually don't like to write about movies that I don't like (why give your precious time and energy to something that you don't like?), but I decided to write about PK because I see so many of you being floored and fooled by this disgusting film--as well as by almost all other films of AK and Hirani (I haven't seen even one negative review of PK, let alone a thorough critique!). And, since this movie is making all kinds of stupid claims about many serious issues, I thought it was very important that someone write a thorough, detailed, eye-opening critique of this movie.