By Sourabh Harihar:
Constipation. If someone were to tell you that you had to watch a movie that is centred around this often secretive and sometimes disgusting word, you would have cringed. And if someone were to further tell you that three of Hindi cinema’s leading stars were acting in it, you would have been most surprised. Well, that is exactly what ‘Piku’ as a film does. It surprises you, but pleasantly.
While the film is littered with the usage of bowels, motions, and every other word in the common man’s gastrointestinal vocabulary, it gets past all the motion-talk to convey its underlying premise, that is – emotion. As one character sums it up quite straightforwardly, ‘Aadmi ka emotion uske motion se juda hua hai’ (A man’s emotion is linked to his motion). Well, at least in the context of this movie, one could not agree more. ‘Piku’, subtly woven around this oft humorous potty narrative, is simply a joy to watch. And that is because behind the garb of all the shit, is a very strong story, of a father-daughter bond, of a man struggling with his age, of a modern independent woman juggling family and work, of an embittered man rediscovering himself, and of an unseemly pair of people finding themselves come closer.
Amitabh Bachchan as the constipated old father is endearing despite the irritability. The septuagenarian plays the fussy old Bengali ‘baba’ with a mischievousness that is reminiscent of his character in ‘Paa’. With his I-know-it-all dialogues and stubborn antics acted out so wonderfully, Mr. Bachchan makes a permanent room in our heart as Bashkor Banerjee. It is a stupendous achievement that the character, which for most parts of the film makes you laugh, leaves you in tears by the end of it. Watch out especially for his exchanges with his sister in-law, played effortlessly by a flamboyant Moushumi Chatterjee.
Irrfan Khan is, well, Irrfan Khan. He slips into the role of Rana ‘non-Bengali’ Chaudhary, the driver who is not a driver, with the ease that only he can manage. His presence lends this somewhat supporting character a much-needed weight. His silent expressions, especially in response to Bashkor’s very talkative character, are ones to cherish. Through Rana’s personality, Irrfan plays it all- the serious, the humorous and the flirtatious guy, the latter two we’ve not often seen him play in his movies. Somewhere in the second half of the film, Rana explains to Bashkor the merits of an Indian latrine-squat, which is surely one of the comic high points of ‘Piku’.
While all of Piku’s cast is great, including the loyal servant and other family relatives, it is Deepika Padukone who seems to have arrived to the acting stage with this film. While she’s made some strides on this front in some of her previous films, her titular role in Piku stands apart in terms of emoting the many layers of this fairly complex woman. As a girl who loves her father and wants to take care of him, while also longs for a married life which her father openly discourages her from, Deepika as Piku shows both grit and vulnerability. She is at once both modern and traditional, progressive and rooted, and in that she manifests the very dichotomy of today’s Indian woman. This will undoubtedly have to be one of her best performances till date.
Yet, despite boasting a stellar cast, Piku’s real triumph comes in its writing. From Bengali banter to serious family conversation, from medical terminologies to smart endorsements, everything has been accommodated brilliantly in this gem of a script. The comedy comes out subtly and very effectively through a beautiful amalgamation of the written word and its pitch perfect delivery.
Although seemingly a light-hearted comedy, ‘Piku’ as a movie very skilfully manoeuvres its many jokes to ask some very poignant questions. While Rana prods Piku to think about the consequences of forgetting her roots, Piku reciprocates on another occasion by posing a much tougher life question, that of marriage and commitment. “What is so negative about death?” Bashkor asks a protesting Piku. At another juncture, he questions Rana if women are meant to serve men food in the afternoon and sex in the night. Or on a much lighter occasion, after stating in a matter-of-fact way that his daughter is not a virgin, he asks her potential date if his daughter still fits his definition of a ‘nice’ girl. Love them or hate them, Piku’s father-daughter pair and their entourage make you think and reflect when you’re chuckling at their mundane bickering. But while doing so, they do not try to be preachy, moralistic or larger than life. Therein lies the success of ‘Piku’.
‘Piku’ is a gutsy film, not least because it talks so much about the gut and its various complications. It is the very slice of life that Hindi cinema often turns a blind eye to. It is like the journey from Delhi to Kolkata that forms the backdrop of most of the film– long, bumpy and full of stopovers – but if you take it leisurely, you are in for an experience of a lifetime. Go watch this journey unfold.