PK: India’s highest grossing film of all time & a lesson in why we need more Bollywood in the Western World

PK is one of those films that exceeds all expectations. Only shortly after its release it surpassed old classics and staunch favourites to become Bollywood’s highest grossing film of all time.

I stumbled across this Bollywood masterpiece by accident. Whilst travelling through India I decided it would be criminal not to sample a taste of India’s colourful screenplay and when told about Raj Mindir, a one-screen auditorium in Jaipur boasting ( ) seats, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to immerse myself in some authentic Indian escapism.

My boyfriend and I arrived at the cinema to a sea of tuk tuks and the sound of excited chatter, despite it being 9.30pm on a Monday evening the awe-inspiring auditorium was packed with eager patrons clearly very excited about the impending film. Of course we had no idea what were about to watch, but we happily parted with the equivalent of £1.50 each for two tickets and made ourselves comfortable.

As soon as the half-naked main character (PK) braced the screen, I immediately recognised him – we’d witnessed weird and wonderful posters of him all over India. What we were not prepared for, however, was the exceptional reaction he provoked in the Indian audience, there was whooping, cheering and wolf-whistling; it felt more like being at a football match than in a cinema, but in a good way! This continued throughout the film and we even found ourselves joining in by the end!

The clearly very popular film was broadcast in Hindi and absent of English subtitles. Whilst I now know the finer details of the film, not understanding the language didn’t detract at all from the viewing experience – the plot was relatively easy to follow and not by not focusing on the dialogue I was able to truly appreciate the dancing, singing and most of all the breath-taking Indian backdrop, the three unique selling points of Indian cinema.

In summary (**contains spoilers**) the plot follows the entwining of lives of PK, a (very buff) alien sent to earth on a research mission, who looses his means of getting back to his mother planet and Jaggu, an Indian tv journalist who is recovering from a broken heart after being jilted at the alter by her Pakistani fiancé, believing the reason to be their religious and cultural differences.

PK travels to Rajasthan in the hope of finding his locket (his transport home). When asking locals where he might find his locket he is bemusedly told by all he asks that ‘only god can help him’. Translating the advice literally PK sets out on a mission to find God. In doing so, he inevitably stumbles across the Muslim, Hindu, Christian & Sikh definitions of God. When his (hilarious) attempts to practice the different religious all fail to produce results he starts distributing ‘missing’ photos bearing the images of different gods.

This unusual behaviour catches the eye of Jaggu, who sees PK as a good journalistic opportunity. At first she finds PK strange and unbelievable but they soon form a strong bond and she sets out to help him find his locket, whilst the world follow his story on TV. They discover that the locket is in the hands of a famous holyman, who preaches that he was handed the locket by God himself. It is this same holyman that Jaggu’s father follows religiously and whom he sought counsel in before Jaggu’s engagement and was that she would be betrayed.

The film then follows Jaggu and PK’s mission to expose this ‘holy’ fraudster and in doing so Jaggu discovers that she wasn’t in fact jilted and her fiancé is suffering from a similarly broken heart back in Pakistan. All the while PK is falling in love with Jaggu and is working up the courage to tell her. Upon finding out about Jaggu’s broken heart, PK makes the decision not to declare his love for Jaggu and back in possession of his locket, he heads home. Jaggu only discovers his love upon looking in his suitcase, it is full of batteries, one battery-powered cassette player and a handful of cassettes all containing clips of Jaggu talking. Jaggu lets PK leave without revealing that she knows his secret, releasing that he loved her enough to let her go.

Whilst the film may sound somewhat cheesy, in reality it is the perfect blend of comedy, romance and philosophy and there’s no denying it’s a real crowd pleaser. Watching PK try to understand the workings of money and human society provides more than a handful of laugh out loud moments, as does his attempt to practice the different religions.

For me, however, the real success in the film lies in the several underlying messages running through its core. The film goes back to basics and covers two of the most common human problems – religious differences and the agony of love. This is no Hollywood romcom – PK is without a doubt the hero of the movie, he is funny, likeable and easy to relate to, his love rival is no match for him, appearing only in the first scene. Depsite this, the hero doesn’t get the girl (take note Hollywood), because in reality the guy doesn’t always get the girl right?

The religious messages really hammer home too, the film demonstrates the (predominately) harmonious way in which India operates as a multi-religious society. And I’ve seen this for myself, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus are neighbours and friends and happily respect each other’s differences. It also draws attention to the fact that at the end of the day a faith is a faith, which one someone chooses to practice is probably ultimately immaterial and if it allows them to lead a better life and take comfort in God, then why should we question or challenge it.

Is is rare to come across a film of this type in Hollywood, the film is so wonderfully simplistic and silly but at the same time subtly powerful. It appeals to children, adults, Hindi and non-Hindi speakers, it contains music, dancing, beautiful shots of what India has to offer and is incredibly enjoyable to watch. I can certainly see why it’s proven such a hit. Whilst my Bollywood film knowledge is severely limited, if other Bollywood films are anything like PK, I would urge the western world to start screening Bollywood movies worldwide, Hollywood might just learn a lesson or two!


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