Friday, January 02, 2015

PK – the Concept and the Controversy

Amid all the brouhaha, I watched the movie ‘PK’ last night. In my opinion, the movie doesn’t contain anything so offensive that warrants such forceful protests seeking a ‘ban’ on it. The few scenes involving an actor dressed as Lord Shiva, which were mentioned in some TV debates, were not disrespectful to Hinduism. However, if one watches the movie for the sake of getting offended, that is quite another matter.

What the movie does is to offer its viewers some ‘food-for-thought’ regarding the role of religion in one’s life. Instead of taking a stand against any gods or religion, the movie denounces the commercialization of religion by the self-styled godmen who claim to act as messengers of god. In the land of Sant Rampals and Nirmal Babas, this message might threaten such godmen who use the ‘fear of god’ to exploit the commoners.

While the alien PK expresses bewilderment at the seemingly contradictory traditions of various religions of India, the major attack is on a Hindu godman claiming to be in direct communication with the Almighty. This has prompted some to tag the movie as anti-Hindu, as if the fraudster baba was a true preacher of Hinduism. The key reason why the film focuses on a Hindu baba and gods is that it needs to connect with the audience, which is largely Hindu.

If one looks back at the history of religious traditions, Martin Luther’s Protestantism in opposition to Roman Catholic Church stands out as one of the strongest movements against religious orthodoxy. The consequent Age of Reformation was a precursor to the Age of Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution in Europe. The resulting economic growth converted the ‘barbaric’ European civilizations into a region of economically developed nations.

Although the Renaissance movements looked up to ancient Greek and Roman glory as a source of inspiration, the thrust was not on revivalism of age-old concepts. The socio-religious reform movements of 18th and 19th century in India too utilized evidences from ancient scriptures, but were targeted at elimination of existing social evils such as sati. Some contemporary practices too, prevalent in the name of Hinduism, need reasoned scrutiny and reforms. The current Indian society is in need of another round of socio-religious reformation, not another revivalist movement.

While the Protestantism movement could reform Christianity through a direct challenge to the highest Christian authority of the Pope, the absence of any such central authority in Hinduism presents a challenge. One approach might be to initiate a series of bottom-up movements (such as this) within the various Hindu sects, against their respective decadent practices. As Vivekananda equated ‘service of the God’ with ‘service of the mankind’, the intention and purpose of religion needs to be reoriented in that direction.

As PK says in the movie - let us accept and have faith in the God that created us and the universe, and reject the Ones that have been created by some of us for our own convenience and selfish reasons.

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