A few days ago, in the wake of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, I re-watched the Bollywood film, “PK,” in which he has an extended cameo role. It is one of my favourite Hindi movies, and I love it for so many reasons. I first watched it when I was 8 years old, and though I still enjoyed it, didn’t fully understand everything the movie was trying to say. I am now 13 and was able to pick up a lot more of the film’s message. The film raises some great points and while watching it, I realized how it is still extremely relevant in India, and maybe even more so than when it was released. It portrays religion — and the fear and hate that comes with it — beautifully.
Starring Anushka Sharma and Aamir Khan, the film is about an alien who comes to Earth and has his communication device stolen. In the search for his device he learns about humans and our ways, looking at everything with fresh eyes, in a way only children can. His thought-provoking, and often funny, questions and observations are what drive the film and make it such a great discussion on man-made religion.
The movie’s general theme is about not hating others based on something like religion and being together in peace. The opposite is true today in India. Violence in the name of religion has increased since the BJP was elected to power in 2014, and then re-elected in 2019. Lynching of minorities, mostly Muslims or members of Dalit or Adivasi communities, have become very common. In February of last year, Human Rights Watch reported that between May 2015 and December 2018, 44 people were lynched to death, and around 280 people were injured. The attacks are typically done by members of Hindu cow-protection groups.
In late February this year, India also experienced riots in Delhi. Even if the riots were mainly Hindus attacking Muslims, there was violence on both sides, with a death toll of 53. The riots are linked to the protests occurring at the time, which were against the Citizenship Amendment Act – an act that discriminates against Muslims. The riots should be seen to be at least partially instigated by BJP leader Kapil Mishra, who gave a speech in favor of the CAA hours before the riots started.
At this time in India, anything and everything that happens becomes communalized. From an elephant being killed to the spread of Coronavirus, right-wingers keep jumping at the chance to blame the Muslim community. This is something PK draws attention to wonderfully. When the alien, PK, starts to question a religious figure on his practices, he immediately retorts by suggesting PK’s real name to be a Muslim name, and implying that PK is Muslim. His reply to questions from the press is, “Kaun hai yeh PK? Kahin Parwez Khan toh nahin? Ya Pasha Kamal toh nahin? Agar sawaal puchna hai toh jaake uss PK se puchiye – kya hai uska mazhab?” (Who is this PK? Is his name Parwez Khan? Or Pasha Kamal? If you want to ask questions, go ask PK – what is his religion?).
The film reflects anti-Pakistan sentiment in India by showing Jaggu, a reporter who helps PK with his search for his device, and who is in love with a Pakistani man. However, her parents disapprove of their relationship, and even disown her because of it. Since the release of this film, this sentiment has only grown, with BJP leaders using Pakistan as a place for those who criticize the government; one calls the Shaheen Bagh protests a mini Pakistan and another says that voting for AAP over BJP will make Pakistan happy.
One scene that I really enjoyed in the movie is where Jaggu receives a message from her father saying he’s ashamed of her for speaking out against a major religious figure. She starts crying and recounts a childhood memory to PK, of her dad clapping and whistling for a poem she wrote as a child. She talks about how he used to be so proud of her, and now he had sent this message. I’m glad they included this scene in the movie, because it’s so true. Many of us have “lost” loved ones in this way; when we find out they support hatred and are only contributing to the sadness in our world. Our relationship might not have completely ended, like with Jaggu and her father, but it’s still tainted by their bigotry. The fact that we are on different sides of history comes in between us. Luckily, Jaggu and her dad do have a happy ending, once her father realizes she did nothing wrong.
The current atmosphere in India is filled with hate. Prime Minister Modi’s rule is one of Hindutva and intolerance. Communalization, lynching, and riots have all become the sad reality of India. On the other hand, “PK” was a film that spread messages of togetherness and love. It’s obvious that the makers of the film must be deeply saddened to see what India is today.
Iman Mannathukkaren is 13 years old and is of Indian origin. She lives in Halifax, Canada. Her articles have appeared in The Wire and in The Hindu’s Young World. She spends her free time learning dance, violin, reading and making art.