Pi(c) ku of the bunch!
Piku is that melodious strain of santoor, that welcome first drizzle of rain that soaks your soul ever so gently and makes you want to be a better person, at least till the effect lasts. And the best thing is that it does that without preaching, nothing is overt here but the messages are loud and clear. And they make you suddenly realize that it is possible to be better - a better father, daughter or a friend. The sheer positivity is the film’s biggest strength.
Shoojit Sirkar, whose last outing was the brilliant ‘Vicky Donor’, which was around the tricky, could-have-been sleazy topic about sperm-donation, revives the old Hrishkesh Mukherjee world in Piku and deals with the endearing father-daughter relationship under the guise of a family battling with… gawd-help-us…. constipation.
Piku is about the road-trip the father-daughter take from Delhi to Kolkata, and Rana, the person who wily-nilly ties the fussy father’s make-shift ‘mobile’ potty atop his cab and drives them there.
The film opens like that hidden window through which you eavesdrop on this cantankerous Bengali family consisting of just two members – Piku (Padukone) and her 70 year old father, Bhaskor Bannerjee (Bachchan). It’s quite a different thing that the old man is more than a handful, with his perennial obsession with his constipation, his eternal suspicion of maids taking him for a ride and his firm belief that marriage is for women with ‘low IQ’ not for Piku.
We see and empathize with the frustrations of the hectic life of this working, unmarried girl as she juggles with a demanding career, her difficult father, her household with all its attendant problems of quitting maids, choking drains and accumulating cobwebs. Along with all this she tries to maintain some kind of a social life alive too. She seems to have given up the idea of ever marrying as she feels duty-bound to care for her cranky, old father and doubts if anybody will agree to take her along with her ’70-year-old child’.
The way the father gets on his daughter’s nerves with his eternal pre-occupation with his health in general and his bowels in particular and the way she shouts back at him is so ‘us’ that we thank God that the days of mutely self-sacrificing daughters and angelic dads are finally over. We also completely identify with the real concern which lies just under the surface, in those small moments and unsaid things like the soft looks the father keeps for her daughter and the way she skips four stairs at a time when she hears that her father is unwell.
Rana Chowdhary (Khan) enters this volatile equation in the unenviable position of the man who has to ferry them to Kolkata in his cab. Caught between the baffling duo, he earns their respect with his common –sense and ready wit. The old man finally meets his match in him when his unreasonable demands are rebuffed in no uncertain terms. The understated attraction between Rana and Piku is again a reminder how love happens in the real world.
The performances in ‘Piku’ are decidedly among the finest for all its actors. The paunchy Bachchan excels while throwing tantrums about just about everything and is hilarious when he gets sad that all his reports were normal! It is magical how this man conveys more with a blink than any other actor with pages of dialogues! Padukone can chalk this too up as a winner with her nuanced portrayal of a frustrated but arrogant girl finally finding her peace and balance with the earthy ‘Rana’. And as Rana, Khan speaks more with his eyes and body and conveys as much as he does with his sharp one-liners. On screen after years, we find Chatterjee as Piku’s aunt, as vibrant as and feistier than she was in her hey-days, giving back as well as she gets from her brother-in-law.
The biggest credit goes to Juhi Chaturvedi for her brilliant screenplay and dialogues. The screenplay is the hero of the film which overrides any need for over-the-top drama or larger-than-life platform to bring home some pertinent questions whether it is about caring for one’s parents however problematic that may be or true woman’s emancipation by the way Piku unself-consciously admits to physical needs and the ultimate truth that our roots are us. Chaturvedi manages to pack this and more in without once going preachy or moralistic.
Cinematographer Kamaljeet Negi deserves applause for bringing alive the milieu of the dusty narrow lanes of Chittranjan Park and the beauty of Kolkata without taking us on a scenic-city-tour. And finally, hats off to the captain helming the show, Sirkar has the advantage of being a Bengali, but it also needs minute attention to detail to bring alive the sheer Bengali-ness. The nighty-clad lady of the house, deftly chopping vegetables on a ‘boti’ (a gadget typical to all Bengali homes to chop anything from vegetables to fish) ; the circular ‘alpana’ in the open yard; the way a simple conversation can explode into a full-blooded verbal battle and yes, the hypochondria every self-respecting Bengali suffers from is guaranteed to bring a sheepish but delighted smile of recognition on every Bengali lip.
With ‘Piku’ Shoojit Sirkar has firmly established himself in the pantheon of this new breed of directors like Rajkumar Hirani (of Munnabhai, 3 Idiots, PK fame) and Vikas Bahl (Chillar Party, Queen) who may just bring back story and performance- oriented movies which do not need the crutches of violence and sleaze oozing out of every frame.