January 04, 2015

What is Controversial about PK?

R Arun Kumar

INDIAN film industry, very rarely and only occasionally produces socially relevant cinema. PK is one such film. The film has once again proved that fundamentalists have no religion. What else will explain the opposition to the film, bringing together the RSS, VHP, Hindu Mahasabha, Baba Ramdev, Swami Swaroopanand Shankracharya, Maulana Firangi Mahal and the Jamat-e-Islami Hind? Surprisingly, it took nearly a week after the film was released for the protesters to express their displeasure. If the film makers thought that acknowledging L K Advani, a known film-buff and earning praise from him for the 'courageous movie', would earn them a reprieve from the religious zealots, they for once have grossly miscalculated. It seems they had over-estimated the 'strength' of Advani!

RSS and the entire Sangh Parivar is back in business now, with the BJP in power at the centre with a majority of its own. A 'cultural organisation' it claims, the RSS had mobilised its entire parivar to protest the movie, which they perceive as 'hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus'. All of them claim that the movie had targeted Hinduism, more than any other religion. This logic is further extended by Subramaniam Swamy, the BJP leader, who wanted to know if the film was funded by the ISI or Dubai (intention might be to point towards underworld don Dawood Ibrahim). Muslim fundamentalist organisations do not agree with these views, but do not find any objection to join the struggle against the film, as they think that their religious sentiments too were severely hurt by the film. The VHP had now extended its demand for the change of personnel and ethos of the censor board!

For once, one cannot but agree with Advani, who termed the film as not only 'courageous', but also as 'wonderful'. Many seem to share this perception and are turning out to watch the movie in droves. According to some random interviews done by a news agency, it seems that many youngsters have taken a liking to the film. They are contradicting the claims made by the custodians of their respective faiths (managers of god, according to the film) and stating that the film in fact did not hurt any of their religious sentiments. Many had indeed commented that all those 'managers' who are opposing the film, might indeed be 'wrong numbers' (according to the film, all those managers of god who cheat people are termed 'wrong numbers').

The film indeed started a timely and healthy discussion on religion and how it is misused in our society. It is this discussion that all the religious fundamentalists do not want and this is what is making them oppose the movie. Even more disconcerting to the fundamentalists is the fact that the film encourages people to question rationally. And they know that the tendency to question, and rationality amongst people, is inimical to their interests. Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, in his seminal works on the philosophical traditions of our country, writes: “...the trouble with logic was that it had the inherent tendency not to remain within the strict bounds of faith and encouraged people to raise questions inconvenient for the law-makers and thereby made people restless and even rebellious. Hence was the decree to hound them out, along with the heretics of course. As he (Manu) decreed: 'One must not even speak with the heretics (nastikas), the transgressors of caste discipline, the hypocrites, the logicians (haitukas), the double-dealers'”. As true upholders of Manudharma, the RSS and the BJP are trying to scuttle all such attempts to question and hence they are keen on stalling the screening of the film. Moreover, the timing of the film's release, which the producers might not have thought about when they had started shooting, is also irking them.

The film was released at a time when the BJP had come to power and is on a thanks-giving mission to two of its best friends – the big corporates and the RSS-led Sangh Parivar. To satisfy the first, it is aggressively pursuing its brand of neo-liberal policies. To mask these policies, with the active connivance of the Sangh Parivar, it is raking up the issues of religious conversions, which also suit the interests of the Sangh. Vatsyayana in his famous commentary on the source-book of Nyaya asserted that 'practice is the criterion of truth', which can be learnt from 'sense-perception'. What best way to hide the 'truth', the effects of the neo-liberal policies on the people, than to take up emotive issues like religion and divide people! The attack on cultural institutions, which started with the demand for changing the school curriculum, has now entered other creative realms like film making and is part of their gameplan. This is what they had done earlier, when the BJP was in power for six years between 1998 and 2004.

This gameplan of the BJP is a lesson they had learned thoroughly from history. To quote again from Chattopadhyaya: “the consciousness of the people, kept crippled under the spell of superstitions, was left with no alternative other than abject obedience to the social superiors of the ruling class”. For this reason, they present a distorted, one-sided history of our culture and civilization. According to them, Indian history is nothing but 'puranic' history, where society was administered as per the guidelines laid down by Manu and his ilk.

Chattopadhyaya explains: “for the political safety of the society considered ideal by them, the law-makers realised that it was not enough to enforce on the people their basic behaviour pattern with the age-old provision of the police and prison; the task became comparatively easier if moreover was enforced a definite thinking pattern on them. For this purpose they decreed mainly two points. First, the Vedas alone embodied scriptural declarations, transgression of which was a punishable offence. Secondly, the Vedas declared the philosophy of Pure Spirit as the only one, hence any tendency to develop a counter-philosophy was a mark of heresy and hence had to be stopped”.

The RSS and BJP too are attempting to 'enforce' a certain 'thinking pattern' on our society and they do not want any 'counter-philosophy' to develop. Films like PK, they fear, might help in the growth of such a counter-philosophy and they want to nip it in the bud. Even this, they had learned from the famed Manu, who as we had already noted, did not want anyone to question and in fact wanted none to 'even speak' with such people.

But history is wise. Our country has a rich tradition of rationality and questioning, which was sought to be extinguished by fundamentalists right through the ancient period, without success. This rational and materialist philosophical tradition, called the Lokayata and Carvaca, bravely faced these attacks and openly rebuked the irrationality of brahmanical world order. Sample how they had challenged the scriptures and brahmins:

·        There is no heaven, no final liberation, nor any soul in another world,

Nor do the actions of the four castes, orders, etc, produce any real effect.

·        If the Sraddha produces gratification to beings who are dead,

Then here, too, in the case of travellers when they start, it is needless to give provisions for the journey.

·        If being in heaven are gratified by our offering the Sraddha here,

Then why not give the food down below to those who are standing on the housetop?

That we are reading these challenges thrown by them itself shows the failure of the ruling classes attempts to trample upon reason. This also proves that whatever be the efforts, questioning spirit among people cannot be quelled. Common, toiling people, by their very nature, intrinsically retain a spirit of questioning and affinity towards materialism. Lokayata itself means, prevalence among people. It cannot be stamped out.

PK, with all its limitations, encourages people to question and think. Howsoever, religious fundamentalists might try – they might succeed in changing the syllabus and banning a film – but they cannot stop people from questioning and thinking. A thinking and questioning society, is a society ready for change – for the better. History stands testimony.