Imagine an internationally known actor and a top director coming together to make a movie about what it’s like to be a humanist in a highly religious society. Now imagine that it isn’t a small, independent movie, but a major studio release that breaks box-office records all over the world.
Fantasy? Nope, it just happened. The movie, made in India, is called PK and it’s being shown in AMC Theaters in the United States through December 25. PK opened last Friday and its weekend gross put it in the top-ten movies in America this weekend. Its Indian box office take was even more impressive. In short, the movie has quickly become something of a touchstone.
PK stars humanist Aamir Khan in the title role. His character, known only by the initials PK, is described in the purposely vague promotional material as a stranger in the city who “asks questions no one has asked before.” I will add that the opening shot is of a naked guy standing in a desert in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a boombox. It’s directed by Bollywood filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani, who’s also a humanist and directed the beloved 3 Idiots, and is produced by Vinod Chopra, likewise a humanist and part of the Chopra clan, whose name is synonymous with fabulous movies.
PK starts with a disclaimer that it is not the filmmakers’ intent to offend anyone’s religion. The only thing missing from that disclaimer was the “but….” Complaints have been filed in India that it is offensive to just about every single religious group in the country. (Check out the #pk hashtag and #wesupportpk to get a sense of what the discussion is like.)
I saw the film in Tampa, Florida, in a nearly sold-out theater. Afterwards, everyone was milling about discussing what they’d seen, and from what I heard people thought the message was hugely important and that it was about time someone said what a scam religion is.
What’s perhaps most shocking to a westerner is the fact that this movie isn’t a drama but a crowd-pleasing comedy of ideas. (One of the funniest sequences is when PK is heading to a mosque with two bottles of wine.) It’s also heartbreaking, stunning, and ultimately mind-blowing.
PK is a movie made by and for humanists. Even the side plots are oozing humanism, and the social critique is so pointed as to be shocking. I was equally surprised listening to the audience applaud during the direct critiques of religion. Keep in mind, their applause was not for the critique of religion itself, but for the humanist alternative to religious practice that was being articulated.
If you have free time in the next few days, get yourself to an AMC theater to see this movie. Unless they extend the run, which, given the film’s success, is a possibility, PK is only scheduled to play in the U.S. through Christmas Day. I can’t think of a better gift for humanists!