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India divided over Bollywood film PK

Aamir Khan's new film is a box-office hit but the religious themes it explores have sparked a fierce debate online.
Aamir Khan in the film PK, which has sparked religious debates on Twitter. Courtesy Rajkumar Hirani Films
Aamir Khan in the film PK, which has sparked religious debates on Twitter. Courtesy Rajkumar Hirani Films

PK has been a huge hit at the box office, in India and around the world – but it’s not been short of controversy.

The film, starring Aamir Khan and Anushka Sharma tells the story of an alien who comes to Earth on a research mission and is robbed of his communication device. When he tries to locate it, he is told only God can help him, and he sets out on a mission to look for God. However, the ways of different religions confuses him, and he ultimately discovers that a Godman has his device. He befriends Sharma, who plays a television journalist on the lookout for a big story.

The controversy began with the poster image of the star Aamir Khan posing nude with just a strategically placed cassette- radio to hide his blushes that caused an outcry.

Then, there was the suggestion by some that scenes from the film were religiously sensitive.

Now, it is the very message of the movie that is provoking criticism in certain quarters and polarising public opinion.

It seems as if Raju Hirani’s latest film will be a controversial talking point for a long time even after it has left cinema screens.

The film, which was released on December 19, is indeed critical of certain aspects of organised religion, satirising and lampooning the commercialisation of faith by some religious ­leaders. But it has been accused of discriminating against Hindus and earned the wrath of right-wing groups of religious activists in India. There have been violent protests at cinemas and petitions have been set up to have certain scenes cut or the film banned outright.

But some of the most heated debates – or out-and-out battles – have been fought on Twitter. The film seems to have divided the country – and Indians around the world – into two hashtag-­toting camps: #BoycottPK and #WeSupportPK.

So intense and passionate has been the discussion that another recent hashtag – #PKdebate – held the top spot on the TrendieIn- Trends (@TrendieIN) list for a day-and-a-half last week.

Here is an unedited selection of the particularly noteworthy tweets by prominent public figures that have been trending:

Shekhar Gupta (@ShekharGupta): Agree #PK overly preachy, boring & frankly, I can’t endure another 3 hrs of Aamir as a noble superman. But insult to Hindus, NO. Pls grow up

raghu ram (@tweetfromRaghu): so glad #PK has “hurt the sentiments” of idiots. calling it jihadi propaganda is proof of their mental problems. another reason #WeSupportPK

Karan Johar (@karanjohar): Attacking a duly censored film has to stop!!! What kind of a democracy are we living in? No film should be targeted or be allowed to.., #PK

TIMES NOW (@timesnow): Had Aamir Khan not been a Muslim actor, would you have protested in the same way? Shobhaa De, Author & Columnist #PKdebate

Juhi Chawla (@iam_juhi): I have some issues with PK. I agree with a lot of things but disagree with some. Now THAT’S a good film. One that stirs thought and discussion.

Shekhar Kapur (@shekharkapur): I found #PK very entertaining. But I still admire the amazing selfless work some of our spiritual leaders r doing for our people #PKdebate

Sachin Gupta (@sachinsachu): My Bhakt frnd watched PK with me, He laughed, enjoyed. Next day Media started propaganda nd he started abusing ­

While it has upset some, PK has not strayed outside of the law or guidelines for films. The Central Board for Film Certification passed the film uncut. They also gave the film’s controversial poster a U/A rating, making it suitable for all.

But even before the film was released, a group called All India Human Rights and Social Justice Front had filed a petition saying some scenes were offensive because of their portrayal of religion. The petition was dismissed by the chief justice of India, R M Lodha, who said: “If you don’t like it, don’t watch the film. Don’t bring religious facets here.

“These are matters of entertainment. If you restrict it, it will affect others’ rights.

Filmmaker Hirani said he made PK with the objective of promoting secularism. He asked people not to judge the film based on isolated scenes.

“Our intention is not to hurt anyone or discriminate against any religion,” he said. “Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and, indeed, all religions teach us brotherhood and love. The intent of the film is to uphold this great thought, ” he told the Press Trust of India.

Senior BJP leader L K Advani described the film as “wonderful and courageous”.

And Bollywood is standing behind PK and its cast and crew.

Yet, the arguments continue. The government of Maharashtra has bowed to the pressure and ordered police officials to examine the film again.

Whether one agrees with the criticisms or not, the controversy certainly raises a few important questions about creative freedom and artistic expression, tolerance of different points of view, and the ability to accept criticism.

The debate is still raging and only time will tell whether PK will help us find any answers.

artslife@thenational.ae

Updated: January 4, 2015 04:00 AM

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