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Why I Don’t Believe In Piku’s Feminism

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By Aditi Saraswat

Piku celebrates a woman. It celebrates her sense of independence: sexual, emotional or financial, in that order. Piku’s father Bhaskor opines, “marriage without purpose is a low I.Q decision” as women often sacrifice their dreams for furthering those of their husbands’ and children. He is more than alright with premarital sex; in fact, at one point he advises Piku that she should keep her relation with a man ‘just casual‘.

piku 2

One wonders how many fathers come equipped with this sense of celebration of their daughter’s sexual independence. After all, many of us have to sit with our parents and patiently explain our many choices – from that off shoulder dress to our ‘live- in status‘. Not for Piku though. At first one is gripped with a tingling euphoria for mainstream Hindi Cinema’s coming-of-age with films like these. But as Bhaksor keeps reminding her that she does not need a married life and actively prevents her from venturing in that direction, one wonders, is her agency being celebrated or subverted?

At the heart of the film is not constipation, but a father who would not let go of a caregiver daughter. Be it dismissing the aunt’s foreboding that Piku should get married or his using her ‘sexually independent status‘ to dissuade potential suitors. Piku is free in all senses of the term, except of course if she wants to marry. The question here is not of the desirability of marriage in Piku’s or any other woman’s life, it is a matter of agency, of choice. By hovering over her horizon at all times, and drowning out her voice by ridiculing her craving for a commitment, he makes his championing the cause for female sexual liberation hollow. Why does one need to marry if they can have all the sex in the world with a resounding permission from their parents? As if marriage was just about sex.

Piku’s father is a worried old man, though mostly worried about his non-existing ailments and yes, that is okay. He wants to be showered with attention and care and yes, that is okay too. There is no denying that Piku wants to take care of Bhaskor and knowingly puts her love life on a backburner for him. In that respect, the film has depicted the sentimental insecurities which our parents face with great beauty and finesse. But should the film be considered a feminist film, as it is being labelled? In my opinion, Bhaskor preaches – almost vehemently- women’s independence in all forms, and that marriage is nothing but shackles. But he practices different stuff, which is noted when we learn that Piku’s mother gave up her job to let Bhaskor’s career soar, or when he never entertains the thought of her marriage. In fact, in his death is a realization which hits the audience hard and square – no longer does Piku look back over her shoulder.

The film’s treatment of the childlike idiosyncrasies of an old parent is a fresh one, and the earnestness with which Piku understands and takes on her father’s hypochondria is heart warming. If it manages to drag premarital sex out of the taboo list into our drawing room discussions, it is a task well begun. If it can start a dialogue on what feminism means in our varied contexts, it is a job well done, and we can congratulate the makers. But as a text, it fails to persuade me as a feminist one.

Also read: What Piku Taught Me About Feminism

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  1. Umang Sabarwal

    I disagree with the reason that you have given for why you do not find Piku to be a feminist film. Fist of all you must set a premise for what a feminist film may consist of. Does it have to actively propagate a feminist ideology, does it have to represent the values that are considered feminist , or is a film a feminist film be just being devoid of sexism. That is another debate. WHy I disagree with your argument is because you are equating the ideology of the film to the ideology of one of it’s characters. The fact that the film shows that Bhaskor did not really follow through with his ideas in practice in his own marriage is a part of the narrative of the film, contributing to building his won character with layers of hypocrisy. The films narrative shows loopholes in bhaskors ideology. That is not the films ideology. No ideology is perfect, hence any film that has to be associated with any ideology cannot be perfect. Moreover, the film is not about feminism at all. So it does not need to give a perfect feminsit reasoning through its characters.
    I dont think Piku is a sexist film, if Piku was associated as a feminist film , I dont think it fails. But it’s not a film about feminism, so it’s not it’s job to make a winning argument on it’s behalf.

    1. Anid

      I agree with what Miss. Umang Sabarwal has commented above. You are making the mistake of equating Bhaskor’s ideology with the ideology of the film. The film for the very reason that it shows us the loopholes in Bhaskors ideology, is a proof that it is not siding with Bhaskor. While being sympathetic towards him, it distances itself from Bhaskors deeds, highlighting the distance between his actions and his ideology. And for that very reason, even if it might not champion the ideals of feminism – for there is still no unifying set of ideals for feminism, as it has many trends that deviate from one another – it is still an important feminist intervention, which may not suit the idea of the perfect Feminist interventionist film you might have in your head.

  2. Durga

    I too felt the same while watching the movie. As is, I think feminism invariably tends to focus on sexual choices, while it is much more.

  3. Charul

    Can we just sometimes watch movies for what they are rather than try to dissect them! Feminism, liberation, oppression…..does a film always have to mean something? does it always have to convey a message? can’t it be sheer enjoyment of the art? can’t it just be our story, a very ordinary matter-of-fact telling of a tale, a memoir, or an anecdote? can’t it just be a film that entertains us, makes us cry or cringe or squirm or laugh….rather than be judged about whether it represents an ideology or not! sometimes it’s fun to ask our logic to go take a break, it’s fun to just sit back and enjoy and not judge!

  4. Aditi Saraswat

    Dear Umang ,Anid and Durga, I agree that care needs to be taken while dissecting a film and one should not mistake the ideology of one character with that of the entire film, the above piece was in response to how wholeheartedly Piku was being advertised, marketed and carried forward as a feminist film. I do agree that feminism engenders much more than sexual freedoms and the likewise and Piku’s economic and emotional freedom(and other things) is as much within the ambit of feminism as her sexual independence. But this was my response to how Bhaskor ‘s character was lauded elsewhere on social media as championing the daughter’s cause.

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