3.5 Stars (out of 4)
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PK — filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani’s exploration of religion — is a laugh riot. Hirani points out the absurdities of religious customs without causing offense by filtering his observations through an innocent protagonist: an alien called PK (“Tipsy”).
A spaceship drops the alien (played by Aamir Khan) in the middle of a desert in Rajasthan, with no clothes and no ability to communicate. The first human PK comes into contact with steals the glowing pendant that allows PK to contact his ship and request a lift home.
PK’s best chance to recover his pendant comes when he meets a rookie TV journalist named Jaggu (Anushka Sharma) in Delhi. Six months removed from a heartbreaking end to a whirlwind romance in Belgium with a grad student named Sarfraz (Sushant Singh Rajput), Jaggu is stuck reporting dull human interest stories about depressed dogs.
Hesitant as Jaggu is to believe PK’s alleged otherworldly origins, she’s intrigued by his take on human religion. Everyone he asks for help finding his pendant tells him, “Ask God.” But which god? How is he supposed to pray in order to get an answer?
PK’s bumbling attempts to navigate varying faiths are hilarious. He gets the nickname “Tipsy” because everyone assumes he must be drunk in order to be so clueless. Seeing wine served in a Christian church, he brings two bottles to a mosque. Whenever someone pulls back a hand to slap him, PK puts stickers depicting Hindu deities on his cheeks, since no one would dare slap Ganesha or Shiva. PK calls the stickers “self-defense.”
Even though the jokes relate to religions more common in India than in the West, the movie supplies enough information for international audiences to get the jokes without needing to know anything about Jainism or Hinduism. Besides, the point of the jokes is that they could be made about any religion anywhere in the world.
From the perspective of international accessibility, PK is as good as it gets. The English subtitles are phenomenal, incorporating slang like “chillax” and “kaput.”
A terrific cast helps, too. Sharma and Rajput are completely adorable together. She strikes the perfect balance as an ambitious career woman principled enough not to exploit her vulnerable new friend. Boman Irani is great in a small role as Jaggu’s boss.
Another great supporting performance comes from Sanjay Dutt, playing a band leader who befriends PK shortly after his arrival on Earth. Like Jaggu, he’s canny but honestly fond of the befuddled extraterrestrial.
Khan is tremendous as PK. He’s earnest and not at all goofy, making the ridiculous situations PK finds himself in that much funnier. It’s especially fun to watch PK adapt to his environment. He learns which mistakes will provoke a slap, and he’s always a step ahead of the angry mob chasing him. A scene in which PK figures out how money works is side-splitting.
The story slows down in the second half as laughs give way to serious questions of exactly what the faithful get for their devotion. However, the ultimate payoff to PK’s and Jaggu’s story is beautifully done.
The universality of PK‘s subject mater, the accessible way it’s presented, the nicely incorporated song-and-dance numbers, and the fact that this is just a damned funny movie make PK a great starter Bollywood film.