We need to let movies like ‘Udta Punjab’ fly

Photo credit: DNA India

Its been a long time since I watched a movie that broke my heart. Bollywood movies in particular often fail to make me emotional because of their formulaic story lines, stock characters and their inability to depict a world that one can truly relate to. Hindi cinema rarely moves away from the norm: romantic or flawed heroes saving the day, titillating dance or ‘item’ numbers,  the glamorisation of violence and much too often, typical stereotypes in abundance.

But ‘Udta Punjab’, a film about drug abuse in Punjab, is very different. Directed by Abhishek Chaubey, it finally released on June 17th when Indians went up in arms and demanded freedom of expression. This came after the Indian Central Board of Film Certification was set to make a whopping 89 cuts to the film. Despite the Bombay High Court clearing the movie for release with just one cut, the war on drugs was not over when the movie suffered yet more controversy. Two days before its release, copies of ‘Udta Punjab’ were leaked online, free for all to watch. Many claimed it was intentionally leaked by the Indian censor board. If any movie has had difficulty reaching its audience, it has been ‘Udta Punjab.’

The movie’s brilliance however lies in its stellar script and cast. ‘Udta Punjab’ is proof that a good story and impeccable acting can move people out of the comfort of their homes and into the cinema.”Speak the truth even if your voice shakes” is a quote I associate with its release. And the movie sure does speak many truths.

We follow the lives of four people directly affected by the immeasurable drug problem plaguing Punjab, which has now become the well-established drugs capital of India. It focuses on Sartaj, an officer working for the Punjab police, Preet, a doctor dealing with the treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts in her hospital, Kumari, a woman working in the fields who come across a mysterious package and finally, Tommy Singh, a Punjabi singer addicted to cocaine and facing a downward spiral because of it. ‘Udta Punjab’ reveals how these previously unconnected lives come together because of drugs, and its subsequent impact on their lives.

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Kareena Kapoor as doctor Preet and Diljit Dosanjh as police officer Sartaj in a still from ‘Udta Punjab.’ (Photo credit: Indian Express)

But why is a movie like ‘Udta Punjab’ so important? For me, the story really hit a nerve. Somewhere deep within me, I was waiting for the Bollywood film industry to make a movie focusing on my hometown, Punjab. And I didn’t want it to appear on screen all frills and beauty, with generic fields of lush green, funny-sounding horns blaring down the GT road, repetitive dialogue about delectable Punjabi cuisine or shots of colourfully-clothed women singing jaunty songs and celebrating Indian festivals. That’s the kind of Punjab the rest of India and the world dreams about, but it is far removed from what Punjab is really like. I’m glad to say this surpassed my expectations.

As someone who is Punjabi and spent less time in England and more in India, any issue that affects my hometown of Punjab is always one that affects me. Drugs has been one of them for a long time. Back home in India, I have family members addicted to drugs, and have heard many stories of the lengths they’ve gone to in order to obtain illegal substances. I know relatives who have overdosed and nearly died, addicts locked up inside their homes with families seeking help from false representatives of God, people who have hidden little sachets containing smack in their pockets for all their life, and even those who have been high and driven my family and I on 8-hour journeys from Delhi to Jalandhar – just because they can. So when it comes to drug abuse in Punjab, you can say it’s a pretty sensitive subject.

What ‘Udta Punjab’ has done for cinema goers like me is simply astounding. I walked away deeply emotional and affected by what I’d seen. The direction was impeccable and the story line brutally honest. At its heart, the movie showed the destruction brought about by the presence of drugs, and the rapid breakdown of Punjab, a state which is in absolute turmoil. The police force are represented as corrupt, calculating and ready to take their cut of 10,000 rupees at the expense of those dying for just one more hit. Helpless and lost are the young boys on the streets spending money either stolen or forcefully taken from their parents in order to shoot up. Women are sex slaves reduced to objects and abused by sadistic drug lords. Politicians mimic reality and offer drugs in exchange for crucial votes that will keep them in power – a power that will continue to allow illegal drugs into the state and which will ultimately kill thousands of people involved in the trade.

Shahid Kapoor as the drug-fuelled Punjabi star Tommy Singh. (Photo credit: India Today)

Throughout ‘Udta Punjab’ there is a sense of dwindling hope, where trusted members of society become monsters in front of our very eyes. What some would think of as a dystopian nightmare is what Punjab has definitively become. I can see exactly why the Indian censor board was so eager to make cuts to the movie. It doesn’t beat around the bush. Politicians are shown as leading and fuelling the drug abuse in the state, while the police are allies in protecting and assisting criminals in drug trafficking. Women are injected with drugs and gang-raped, blame is deflected and placed on celebrities themselves corrupted by drugs and the youth are demonic, possessed and inconsolable without their daily – if not hourly – fix.

This is how ‘Udta Punjab’ shows my hometown, and I cannot pretend this portrayal is wrong. Some scenes in the movie are so awful that I turned my face away and avoided watching. Beside me, my best friend sat in tears as we came face-to-face with a reality that is still so hard to digest. Hard-hitting. Gut-wrenching. Upsetting. Real. These are just some of the words that come to mind. But most of all, I am embarrassed and ashamed that a place I call home is living with such a crisis, and that nobody is doing anything to stop it. Drug addiction is everywhere, but not more so than in Punjab. The heights the abuse and greed has reached is spiralling out of control. Those who should be helping India to thrive are happily poisoning its name for money and power. Can it ever really end?

‘Udta Punjab’ is bleak and depressing, but for all the right reasons. While hope does come, it almost feels like it’s too late.

Alia Bhatt steals the show with her heartbreaking depiction of Kumari. (Photo credit: IBN Live)



Murdered by my Father’s Kiran Sonia Sawar: “Honour killings is an issue that needs to be dealt with”

Honour killings are confronted head on in BBC Three drama Murdered by my Father. Actress Kiran Sonia Sawar talks to me about ensuring Asian women are respected.

There is a moment in BBC Three drama Murdered by my Father where London teen Salma, played by Kiran Sonia Sawar, flees from her father’s imprisonment and jumps over the nearest balcony in her block of flats. While this happens, the camera pans to an Asian neighbour opposite who sees Salma escaping and in response, speedily closes the curtains. It’s a moment that is small, but extremely significant.

“Any close-knit communities will shut themselves out from directly addressing problems, but instead gossip about them, and I think that’s the problem”, says Sawar. “They’re more than happy to have a conversation with someone else about it, but they’re never going to hit it head-on. And I think that’s what that scene really effectively represents, it’s that problem of ignorance.”

Murdered by my Father focuses on honour killings and the plight of Salma, who becomes victim to her father’s rage after falling in love with cheeky charmer Imi (Mawaan Rizwan). As the title suggests, it ends with disastrous consequences.

Rather than feeling angry or upset about the family dynamic however, Sawar empathised with Salma’s father Shahzad (Adeel Akhtar): “I think it’s a gorgeous relationship, I think Salma really, really loves her dad and brother, and obviously Salma doesn’t see her dad’s demise, she doesn’t see that side of it until it’s too late, but her relationship with her dad is completely one of love.”

Having grown up in a Pakistani family herself, Sawar’s desire for discussions surrounding honour-based violence to be more prominent is palpable. While she has received incredible support from her liberal Asian parents – they have always encouraged her to pursue a career as an actress – Sawar feels a deep connection with Salma “in terms of love, intelligence, a passion for wanting to live your own life and make your own choices and deal with those consequences”. She adds: “That’s how you learn, that’s how you grow.”

But in trying to understand the mind-set of girls and women like Salma, portrayals of honour-based violence can often be inaccurate, dismissing the individual’s internal struggle to make life-defining decisions. “The media can describe it from a westernised point of view,” she says. Sawar understands the misconceptions attached to this issue and when discussing victim-blaming, her objection towards such attitudes is clear.

“It doesn’t make any sense in my mind. How can anyone dare to blame the victim in any situation where somebody is being attacked? Salma goes back [to her family] out of love, out of duty, out of care, out of passion, out of honesty, out of who she is as a person. For someone to want to walk away from their whole lives, from everything that they’ve built, and all their relationships and their parents, it’s a massive, massive, massive deal,” she says.

Sawar’s appearance in Murdered by my Father also comes at a crucial time for BBC Three. The broadcaster is redefining itself as a front runner in producing compelling documentaries and drama, while offering a platform for young emerging talent. And Sawar is no stranger to working with the BBC, having appeared in an episode of BBC One’s Holby City. More recently, she has also starred in the US TV series Legends, which aired on American TV channel TNT.

“My first TV job was only last year in June, which was ‘Legends’, and all three of my TV jobs have been based completely on the fact that I’m Asian. But I think that I’m not somebody who shies away from my culture and who I am, and should the story need to be told, I’m more than happy to comply and tell the story from an Asian perspective. That’s not an issue, but it would be lovely if there were more opportunities to play characters that are a bit different, a bit more daring, definitely.”

She is currently rehearsing for her next role in the world premiere of Brideshead Revisited. Sawar will play youngest daughter of the aristocratic Brideshead family in the adaption of Evelyn Waugh’s novel, set in 1943.

“I find that theatre is much more open to colour-blind casting and to casting based on what somebody can bring to a role rather than their appearance,” says Sawar.

For Sawar, Murdered by my Father is not just about using ground-breaking TV to educate girls. She wants to use this medium to change the mind-set of her male audience too.

“I’ve had lots of lovely messages from young Asian men. They’re going to grow up to be the next dads and uncles and grandads, and they’re just as important in this storyline,” explains Sawar. “If this is being taught to men from a younger age, about their treatment of women and their respect for women and how women are entitled to their own choice of freedom, then I feel like that’s my job being done.

“This is a human issue, it needs to be dealt with,” continues Sawar. “I don’t want honour killings to be another thing that people see and think: ‘oh, that’s not our problem, that’s this problem or that’s somebody else’s problem’, because it doesn’t just happen in Asian communities.”

Published also in The Asian Today:


Sunny Leone produces hostility because India still fears female sexuality

Bollywood actress Sunny Leone was in the firing line this week when journalist Bhupendra Chauby chastised her for being a ‘porn queen’. (Photo credit: Getty)

The internet certainly does not forget. Google Indian-Canadian Bollywood actress ‘Sunny Leone’ and beneath the most recent news articles, her previous profession defines her almost instantly – she is a household name for once being a porn star.

Earlier this week, Leone faced journalist Bhupendra Chauby in a scathing interview where he claimed the actress was “lowering the level of the fine art of cinema” as she promoted her new movie Mastizaade. 

Support flooded in for Leone as viewers were left outraged by the journalist’s line of questioning, as well as his undeniable sexist and misogynist stance. After hearing about the uncomfortable interview and reading Bollywood actor Aamir Khan’s display of support for Leone over social media, the issue felt incredibly important to discuss and naturally, I wanted to weigh in.

Porn is a complex issue to discuss not just in India, but globally. We are sold videos and images of sex through a guarded screen and prefer to keep it that way. Bhupendra Chauby’s interview of Leone reflects a nation’s difficulty to accept when someone – and in particular, a female – transgresses sexual boundaries and then tries to become part of the more ‘normal’ world rather than the sordid, covert and titillating world of porn.

If we attach ‘porn’ to Leone, India and its more conservative citizens are okay with it. Attach ‘Bollywood’ to her and suddenly, we’re in a very, very dangerous territory. Bollywood is sacred to nearly everyone all over India. It is a world that promises action: good versus evil, men fighting for their wives and daughters, women who are usually subservient and sometimes scantily clad and raunchy ‘item girls’ who dance provocatively, often enticing many male cinema-goers. Bollywood is a world of national pride and a place for romantic heroes saving the day. While it is rapidly evolving and producing more edgier stories, Indian audiences leave the cinema after watching a typical Bollywood movie and still feel their morality is intact, their pride in place and their Indian identity reinforced. It is simply not a place for an ex-porn star like Leone to make her mark.

But how can we forget the recent upsurge in sex scenes within Bollywood movies, as well as those Bollywood actresses who happily film them? What do we say about bold actresses like Rekha (who is deemed legendary), Mallika Sherawat, Bipasha Basu, Vidya Balan, Alia Bhatt and Anushka Sharma – all of whom have filmed sex scenes for Bollywood movies? If leading female actresses are already doing sex scenes anyway, how can a journalist stigmatize and dismiss Leone, but not act the same way towards say Alia Bhatt or Anushka Sharma? Is it because they are only marginally naked while she goes all out? While pornography is traditionally said to be more sexually explicit, I fail to see how someone ferociously riding a man in bed as Zareen Khan recently did in erotic thriller Hate Story 2 is considered more acceptable. For some viewers, this could also be sexually explicit and therefore almost pornographic, so where exactly does India draw the line when it comes to chastising someone for their on-screen past?

Equally, this isn’t just a problem in India. As humans, we inherently seem to define and judge people on their past. We define them by the ‘mistakes’ we think they have made. However, in some way, should Leone have expected that someone would inevitably interview her in this way? Surely, if she is going to try and break the Bollywood industry, she should have prepared herself for taunts and judgement about her character considering how conservative and worried the entire nation is about sex – a subject which is taboo, delicate and still associated with shame and weakness.

My answer to that is no. She should not expect or prepare for it. Yes, Leone has starred in many porn films, but we – or Bhupendra Chauby – cannot decide whether it is wrong or right. A problem exists with women like Leone because when consuming her in secret, people have no worries as she is a woman in their control – you can press play, pause, rewind, forward and watch her how you please through that guarded screen. But when she decides she wants to take more control and redefine herself in a more ‘prestigious’ domain, it is not allowed.  Leone is not asking for people to forgive her. She is not ashamed – but what Bhupendra Chauby did was tell her that she should be.

India is morally bankrupt – but so is the entire world. Sunny Leone isn’t someone to blame for increasing rates of porn consumption in the country, and she is certainly not someone who needs to be called out for anything.

We can’t label someone for one thing their whole life. Give her a break.


Amy Jackson is cashing in on ‘Singh is Bling’, but can India really accept her?

Amy Jackson and Akshay Kumar star in Prabhudeva’s latest Bollywood offering, ‘Singh is Bling’. (Photo credit: Daily Motion)

She’s the newest face in Bollywood, flown over from Liverpool to kick-start a career in the illustrious Hindi film industry. Arriving from England to permanently make India home while accepting its culture and language, its undeniable romance and its mysterious, whimsical magic is no mean feat, and Amy Jackson has certainly risen to the challenge.

Making her mark in Tamil movies initially with I and period-drama film Madrasapattinam, Jackson embraced Hindi cinema with movie Ek Deewana Tha, but has now found wider fame through starring opposite one of Bollywood’s biggest superstars, Akshay Kumar.

Through performing commendable stunts and including another eyebrow-raising bikini scene in the newly-released Singh is Bling, fame has quickly landed on Jackson’s doorstep. Yet this has also encouraged hushed whispers questioning Jackson’s place in Bollywood – the obvious issue being how a nation embraces a white, British actress trying to make it big in B-town. And while it isn’t totally unheard of for an international actress to find a place in Bollywood, it is interesting to see how quickly Jackson in particular has carved a career in it, now hinting at upcoming movies with the likes of Salman Khan.

Amy Jackson and Akshay Kumar in Singh is Bling. (Photo credit: India Today)
Amy Jackson and Akshay Kumar in ‘Singh is Bling’. (Photo credit: India Today)

Jackson’s sudden rise to fame is certainly unprecedented, so is it right for Indians to express anger as she fashions a career in Bollywood? Undeniably, it is difficult to process that a white, British-born female is playing the lead opposite Akshay Kumar, but how can we ignore the time when a fresh-faced, barely known Katrina Kaif, also born in Britain, entered the film industry speaking little to no Hindi and was quickly cast in numerous films, with the help of a dubbed Hindi voice-over?

Was it her Kashmiri origins or her familiar sounding name that simply ticked the box and rose her to ‘Sheila Ki Jawani’ fame, or the fact that she looked somewhat Asian, and so got the job done? Why is it that Indians easily accepted Katrina Kaif, for whom it took years to speak and understand the Hindi language, but brush off Amy Jackson, who has fully tried to embrace a new language and culture?

Katrina Kaif (Photo credit: The Guardian)
Katrina Kaif dances in smash-hit single ‘Sheila Ki Jawani’ (Photo credit: The Guardian/Sterling Media PR)

On the flip-side, it’s impossible to also dismiss Bollywood’s casual acceptance of international actresses who cannot speak fluent Hindi, but the odd way in which Kangana Ranaut – winner of the best actress accolade at the National Awards for her groundbreaking role in Queen – was mocked for her ‘inability’ to speak English because of her Haryana accent. Or the way in which Priyanka Chopra, now leading ABC’s Quantico in America, was recently scrutinized for her unconvincing ‘American drawl’ and her failure to stick to more Indian roots.

And that’s not all. It’s also problematic that in Singh is Bling, the make-up team have attempted to make Amy Jackson appear more ‘Indian’ through darkening her skin tone. It is this decision that shines a more negative spotlight on an industry which firstly, has always expressed a clear preference for fair skin and now, has cast a white actress in one of the blockbuster movies of the year, while simultaneously bringing her to a level of ‘acceptable brownness’. Where is the logic in this, and if Hollywood would not get away with making darker a white female actress in order to portray her as Asian or African, how does Bollywood?

With this in mind, wouldn’t Bollywood be better off saving the environment or the like through using less foundation and bronzer – or whatever is slapped onto Amy’s face – by bringing in new talent that is… well, Indian. It is frustrating that Hindi cinema has introduced a white British actress to a nation of Indians, but then made it a ‘requirement’ to be brown, which feels false and controversial when issues surrounding race are concerned.

There is no doubt that Bollywood must branch out and bring in new talent in a positive way, but when that talent draws in harsh, racist criticism, it becomes clouded by issues rooted deeply in India’s contradictory attitudes towards those who are selected to represent them on the big screen. And judging by previous results, if you’re British-Indian and can’t speak Hindi, it’s okay, but if you’re white and British, it’s not.

And if you’re Indian, well, you’re probably more worse off than anyone.

Documentary review: Cobain: Montage of Heck

Poster for Brett Morgen’s documentary on Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain.

For fans, this is as good as it gets. ‘Montage of Heck’ provides a much too intense picture of Kurt’s soaring creativity and ultimate helplessness. ★★★★★

Brett Morgen’s newly-released documentary titled ‘Montage of Heck’ examines the life of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, offering a tangible, pertinent window into a son, musician, father, husband and a ‘rock God’ who was unbearably human. Through interviews with his nearest and dearest, Morgen gives us access to the charm and despair of an iconic figure who was constantly straddling his dreams against his fears.

The documentary begins with home footage of his childhood, a beautiful glimpse into the young Kurt’s world. Morgen goes on to implement fantastic graphics and animations rendering the pained Kurt’s days of rejection from his family, reflecting on his days of songwriting, recording mixtapes and playing guitar while attempting to push Nirvana forward. There is a constant focus on Kurt’s sensitivity, his softness, along with the dread and rage he experienced when feeling shame or humiliation, a burden he potentially carried up till the point of his death.

Nirvana’s success is given exposure, but the focus is on Kurt and his experience of both growing and derailing alongside it. A particularly crucial moment shows his mother, Wendy, informing Morgen that she told Kurt to “buckle up”, and indeed, Morgen makes a point of returning back to Nirvana’s 1992 Reading Festival set and the video of a crowd stretching back as far as the eye can see, a crowd that appear more like worshippers, hanging on to Kurt’s every words, clambering on top of one another to catch a glimpse of him and laughing and applauding his antics on stage. Nirvana’s popularity was stratospheric as they transformed from playing in murky room with an audience of two to subsequently performing for audiences worldwide. The documentary is a surprising work of art that uses often disturbing visuals that attempt to decipher and depict Kurt’s mindset, and all the while an unsettling question hangs over us: did Kurt’s most glorious invention, Nirvana, become his worst nightmare?

As the band’s success grows we follow Kurt’s detachment from the media as he begrudgingly advertised TV channels and appeared frequently disinterested – he sighs, yawns and even feigns sleeping in front of a journalist. Kurt’s voice-over later reveals “sometimes I feel like they (the media) want me to die”, and his intimate journal entries reflect a fragile and increasingly fragmented individual. Inherent in almost everything is a scathing critique of the vicious, bestial media and its intrusion into the most personal and intimate spaces of his overexposed public life. However, the inclusion of home videos shows the blissful family life of Kurt, wife Courtney Love and newborn baby Frances Bean, and these are the moments in which Kurt appears happiest. Courtney, who has received much hatred and is the centre of conspiracy theories surrounding Kurt’s death, is funny, wild and much too obviously in love with Kurt. It is a more intriguing portrayal of their relationship and of the woman many believe had a huge hand in propelling his tragic end.

Morgen also focuses on the drug use that plagued Kurt, showing the struggle of realising that heroin had become deeply ingrained into his life. There is carefully selected footage which focuses on Kurt’s face, showing his often piercingly dazed, tired eyes and a face that masked a lot more conflict than it was willing to express. The documentary carefully proceeds to strip this mask away to reveal a megastar who became the voice of a “disaffected youth” without quite asking for it, who was fetishized, and repelled it to such a huge extent that he could not escape it. While he got what he wanted – the success of Nirvana – Kurt is shown to have wanted only the feeling of playing live, the comforts associated with success and most importantly, a normal life. It is almost a sigh of relief after such a whirlwind that the documentary ends abruptly and decides against dwelling too much over Kurt’s painful death.

Movie Review: Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Michael Keaton as the increasingly unbalanced Riggan Thomson (Photo credit: indyweek.com)

Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) offers an unsettling and riveting exploration into the dark underbelly of fame, following a tenacious actor’s journey to redefine genre, redefine himself and redefine what it means to be both a ‘celebrity’ and ‘actor/actress’ in Hollywood from an equally unsettling angle. ★★★★★

 It is certainly humorous that in his latest release, ex-Batman star Michael Keaton plays the schizophrenic and delusional Riggan Thomson, a washed-out Hollywood star famed for playing comic book hero named ‘Birdman’, who attempts to revive his diminished career through producing an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story, “What we Talk About when we Talk About Love” for Broadway. At a time when actors become famous for emulating superheroes on-screen and gain popularity overnight, director Alejandro González Iñárritu emerges with a terrifying message of what happens when the actors behind these characters – or indeed, any much-loved character – experience the distressing after-effects of no longer being man of the hour.

Keaton’s charm as Riggan comes from a place of emptiness and a void that can only be filled through gaining the fame and status associated with ‘making it big (again) in Hollywood’. Indeed, the film renders true the idea that 15 minutes of fame is simply not enough for some – and particularly for those actors who then struggle to move on from basking in the media spotlight. Keaton plays out the frustration and internal conflict of Riggan impeccably well, reflecting the mental turmoil associated with keeping up appearances in Hollywood while attempting to show that as an actor, he remains current and prominent despite the dark shadow of Birdman constantly lingering over him. He showcases both a fragile and image-obsessed man attempting to make sense of his dwindling career and fame, but switches this marvelously into moments of incredible self-obsession, hysteria and anger to display Riggan’s relentless need to transform himself from comic-strip hero to a ‘real actor’ defying unimpressed critics.

The ever-lurking 'Birdman' preying on Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton). Photo credit: wearemoviegeeks.com
The ever-lurking ‘Birdman’ preying on Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton). Photo credit: wearemoviegeeks.com

Emma Stone finally sheds her quirky, chuckle-inducing persona and shines as the tormented and equally conflicted Sam, recovering from drug addiction and attempting to forgive her father or at least, begin to accept her complex relationship with him. Interestingly, director Iñárritu taps into Riggan’s failure to adapt to technological advancement and his subsequent avoidance of Twitter and Facebook, enforcing those technological divides separating the old and the young in the 21st century while also suggesting that Riggan is truly trapped in a past he helplessly clings to; in their relationship, social media distances but also brings father-daughter together. Stone is compelling as Sam and appears almost ghost-like throughout the movie, forcing Riggan to confront his failures as a father and husband and addressing his tempestuous state of mind. Her presence throughout is refreshing and representative of the acting skills that audiences have been waiting to see.

Edward Norton adds a brilliant touch of humour to the cast as Mike Shiner, the actor who can do it right on stage but finds everyday life a struggle. His conversations and scenes with Riggan are particularly entertaining to watch and his eccentric and youthful persona offers a shift in mood that is truly welcome; in a movie that constantly stresses the weight of acting in Hollywood and exhibits the dangerous seduction of fame, prestige and ‘celebrity’, Norton saves us and adds some (and I say that tentatively) normality to the film.

About the ending? It’s certainly following a new stream of movies which leave audiences in limbo and remind us that films are art and not merely for a few hours of entertainment alone. When Riggan is on stage and saying his lines “I don’t exist” by the end of the movie, we have to question how much of this is true in the bigger picture.

(Photo credit: The Guardian/Atsushi Nishijima/AP)

Movie review: PK

Photo credit: rediff.com


Not too often does a Bollywood movie appear with promotional posters showing a naked man covering his bits with a radio. This is when you know that Indian cinema is beginning to head in a new (and probably eyebrow-raising) direction.

Here’s introducing the new and very controversial release of PK into Indian cinema. Directed by Rajkumar Hirani with a fantastic cast comprising of Aamir Khan, Anushka Sharma, Sushant Singh Rajput, Boman Irani and Sanjay Dutt, the story of an alien’s arrival on Earth to complete a research mission quickly escalates into his quest to find the stolen “remote control” that will get him home. This results in a hilarious journey which sees the breaking of Indian taboos and some frank discussions on issues that would much rather be swept under the carpet by the larger Indian majority.

Aamir Khan is an endearing, loveable PK with no knowledge about life on earth and implicitly poking fun at how Indian society works, from judging people based on their clothing (the white colour signifies an Indian widow but is also the colour a bride wears when she gets married) to critiquing the way in which people carry condoms in their pockets but refuse to talk about sex and using protection. The main premise on which PK is built underscores the need to question India’s various religious and social beliefs as well as the corruption and falsity often attached to them.

This is done in a perfect balance that sways between extremes of shock, sadness and humour, and Aamir Khan proves his versatility as an actor through the precision with which he captures a non-human’s response to Indian society. For example, at a stall market selling miniature statues of Hindu Gods and Goddesses at varying prices, PK asks: “but does the one costing 20 rupees do the same thing?” Later, when he asks God to help him find his remote control and get him back home and receives no answer, he asks the stall owner “have God’s batteries run out?”

The social message behind the movie is simple and direct: we instill a huge amount of faith in religion, where people in India go to huge extremes in order to prove their religiosity and devotion, but does it bear fruit for them or for those who capitalise from it? And on a wider scale, what happens when you try every path and you find no resolve? It is indeed a controversial movie to make and market within India, and there has been uproar at the mockery made of religion and particularly Hindu dharma, but PK dramatizes in a completely ingenious way the questions everyone thinks about but refuses to ask, whether in Indian society or not.

A beautiful soundtrack interweaves throughout this colorful and vibrant movie as well as a quirky romance that keeps the movie from becoming too overbearing or righteous. Anushka Sharma also shows a transformation in her role as the charismatic and bubbly Jaggu, who has a style and fashion sense I fell slightly in love with.

PK is a strategically paced movie bringing provoking questions to the forefront of Indian cinema. It is one of a few Bollywood movies attempting to decode and unravel the complexities of Indian thought and society and leaves audiences with moments of utter comedy and despair. ★★★★★