Even before 2014 was over it was evident that PK, the new Aamir Khan-starrer, was headed towards becoming a box office hit. And so it has proved to be. On Friday, PK was declared the “highest grossing Bollywood film”, having raked in a whopping, mind-boggling R276 crore within a fortnight of its release.
This is the sort of stuff that the film industry’s dreams are made of. Everybody who makes a film hopes to rake in big bucks. But few actually realise that dream. Hollywood hopefuls could learn a trick or two from the makers of PK, and Aamir Khan, of course.
It is anybody’s guess as to what contributed to the film’s runaway success. Aamir Khan’s fans (they are more than the proverbial legion) would claim that the popular appeal of their schoolboy-faced silver screen idol drew the masses to theatres across the country. Others would say it was the holiday season: with little excitement around, folks chose to go watch the film.
Here’s my hypothesis. The brouhaha over the film’s avowedly provocative pinpricks directed at Hindus, and the media’s over-heated reportage of protests by sundry Hindu groups (enraged faces and posters being torn make for theatrical primetime TV footage), prompted many to go see PK, if only to check out whether what was being claimed was true.
Walked right into the trap: The brouhaha over the film’s avowedly provocative pinpricks directed at Hindus, and the media’s over-heated reportage of protests by sundry Hindu groups (enraged faces and posters being torn make for theatrical primetime TV footage), prompted many to go see PK. File pic
In other words, had the aggrieved (whether their grievance is justified is an entirely different issue, as is the loathsome role of Censor Board chief Leela Samson, whose life mission is to belittle Hindus and denigrate Hinduism) not made such a spectacle, and thereby provided grist to TRP-hungry media mills that excel at manufacturing controversy, it is possible that PK would have made modest money and sunk without a trace. For evidence, ask your friends if they remember a film called Haider.
A friend who is a film buff and far more knowledgeable about Bollywood movies than me, said Aamir Khan and others involved with the making of PK should issue a formal statement thanking the protesters. But for their raucous criticism and loutish activism, the film would not have grabbed so much attention and trade.
He was also of the view that the pinpricks directed at Hindus in the film were calculated to generate heat and dust. It was a trap, a marketing gimmick, and the naïve stepped into it. A fortnight later, the protests will be forgotten; PK will become a footnote of Bollywood history; Aamir Khan and his pals will still be busy counting their money.
And thereby hangs a tale. If Hindus — if not all then a significant number of them — were genuinely upset with the not so subtle mockery of their rituals and faith, they should have sought the intervention of courts. Pursuing the legal course is above board and invoking the law a legitimate right.
Little or no purpose is served by asserting that Aamir Khan would not dare lampoon Christianity and Islam, or make fun of padres and mullahs, or, for that matter, the rites and rituals associated with Sunday mass or Friday namaaz. That’s a truism.
Neither Christianity nor Islam would ever be the subject of any criticism in films, as that would invoke the immediate and stern ire of Christians and Muslims. Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered for his short film on the treatment of women in Islam, Submission. The murderer was a Muslim and there was not even muted criticism of his dastardly deed.
Britain, despite its liberal credentials and multiculti hype, did not allow Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ to be shown in theatres when it was released. Closer home in India, Christians demanded and secured a ban on The Da Vinci Code in several states; in places where it was shown, the film was mangled by censors and its makers were forced to declare that it was a work of fiction.
Examples abound. There really is no point in elaborating on them. Yet it would be in order to suggest that Hindus, or those among them who are offended by PK, need not emulate either Muslims or Christians. How else would we as a nation be different from those countries that have banned Exodus as a brazen demonstration of their anti-Semitism?
I have always held that if a faith — and I mean any faith — is so weak and feeble that a film or a book can damage it then it is not worth adhering to. Conversely, that which is sacred can never be contaminated by the profane.
The writer is a senior journalist based in the National Capital Region. His Twitter handle is @KanchanGupta