Raj Kumar Hirani and Anurag Kashyap are two leading contemporary directors. Hirani had three cult movies to his credit before PK – 3 idiots, Munnabhai 1 and 2. Kashyap was the script writer of three top quality movies of the nineties - Satya, Shool and Kaun. He has directed movies like Gangs of Wasseypur 1 and 2; Dev D; Black Friday, Gulal before his latest offering Ugly.
Kashyap and Hirani deal in opposite poles of human existence. Hirani’s lovable gangster heroes in the Munnabhai series have hearts of gold. His Rancho in 3 idiots is almost a prophet. Even the gangster is no less with his Gandhigiri. His villain, Boman Irani in all these three movies, is also driven by most laudable objectives and is quite likeable. His heroines were adorable in Munnabhai. Quite a few hearts swell listening to Gooood Mooorning Mumbai from Vidya Balan. We fall in love with the supporting cast also. Who can forget Circuit of Munnabhai or even a small Milimeter “MM” of 3 idiots.
Thus the result is a heartwarming, energizing time in the theatre. Hirani’s characters are too good to be true. But we can’t help but love them and suspend our disbelief. Thus even a hard-nosed movie buff winks at scenes such as the delivery of a baby aided by a vacuum cleaner in 3 idiots.
Kashyap’s movies are as engaging as Hirani’s. However you come back from the theatre with different emotions. Disturbed and depressed. Kasyhap is always searching for evil in his characters. It is difficult to find a hero in most of the movies directed by Kashyap. His men are mean and destructive. His women do not have much to give. His petite and elegant beauty Urmila Matondkar is a serial killer in Kaun. Love is supposed to be uplifting and life giving. Kashyap’s love in Dev D is decadent and sucks the life out of the characters. Kashyap makes decadent love more believable than life-giving love and we find that scary. He goes into the dark, inner recesses of human beings, unflinchingly and relentlessly.
Hirani enjoys seeing and showing good in us. Hirani, in his three previous movies has been like three monkeys of Gandhi, see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. On the other hand, Kashyap is a purveyor of evil. But their respective single-minded pursuit of good and evil only has limited them as movie makers. They have made decent movies. Not classics.
Human life is an interplay, a duality of good and evil, all the time. We keep creating heaven and hell for ourselves and others. Not upstairs. Here on the ground floor. Every moment. Good art emerges from the attempt to understand and share that dualism. Hirani trying to find god in us and Kashyap trying to find the devil have got them stuck at a certain level of mediocrity in the art of movie making.
In his latest movie PK, Hirani tries to break free of that mould. He tries to deal with the devil in a godman. Speak no evil is given up for double entendre to some extent. However, he is quite out of his depth in handling the grey areas. The first half of the movie is regular Hirani vanilla ice cream laced with trademark Hirani humour. An alien being, pure as snow, is in India. Hirani is on home turf in the first half dealing with goodness and purity spoken with witty and crisp dialogues. Thus the going is good for the viewer. In the second half Hirani has to deal with something which he has never handled before. A devious godman.
The director flounders. Hirani’s earlier movies generally had simple plots. Except for a few twists in 3 idiots. What Hirani has excelled at is making strikingly moving frames. Each of those frames touch you as tiny beautiful flowers with their radiance, fragrance and vulnerable beauty. Aided by the simplicity of the plot, Hirani had produced beautiful rangolis from those gorgeous frames.
In the second half of PK, Hirani loses control of his frames. In this half Hirani has to deal with the conflict of the scheming god man with an alien who is simplicity personified. A classic plot device. But Hirani is not upto it. His frames become stilted. A love story on the side is overly melodramatic, Karan Johar style. The movie becomes preachy. Hirani asks very fundamental questions about religion. However, he is unable to handle the answers. May be he should have just asked the questions and left it there. He takes almost three hours to tell a story which was not good for more than ninety minutes.
On the other hand, Kahyap’s near simultaneous release Ugly takes his love for evil one step further. A little girl goes missing. Her parents, step father, the friends of her parents, other relatives and the police – everybody, tries to do something. Less to search for the girl. More to gratify their own twisted emotions and motives. Lust for flesh, greed for money and revenge against one another dominate the search attempts. The end result of such enterprise is a foregone conclusion sealing the fate of the young girl.
However along the way we encounter human emotions and depravity which leave us gasping. Kashyap’s characters in this movie hardly have any humanity. Almost all of them are devil incarnates. It is an engaging, gripping and disturbing narrative. However, Kashyap overplays his devil hand. It comes across as affected and artificial. The movie had the potential of a classic. If only Kashyap could see some humanity in his characters.
Yet, in being true to his genre Kashyap’s offering is far more engaging than Hirani’s. I hope that Hirani does not falter the way the likes of Ram Gopal Verma and Sanjay Leela Bhansali have gone: losing touch with their muse completely after making some very good movies.