Piku is like a treat of golgappas in itself. It is real and hence refreshing.
“Small is the new big.”
~ Seth Godin, business thinker, blog writer
“The personal is political.”
~ 1960s Student movement and second wave feminism slogan, ascribed to Carol Hanisch / Shulamith Firestone/ Robin Morgan
The new breed of Hindi film directors are here. After Lunchbox, Highway and Queen, I have been spellbound by another film recently where small people with their small stories are of supreme importance. Film director Shoojit Sircar did a magic by impeccably blending cultural elements in his recently released film Piku. Piku initially seemed suspect to me. I was disappointed with Finding Fanny which also had glamorous Deepika Padukone in the cast and was about a road journey with “senior citizens”. Hence, I went to the cinema hall, half expecting a black drama with lot of dark humour (the promos are talking about ‘motion’ and constipation only). I was worried about something similar to the insensitivities of throwing a pet cat out of the car and then carrying the carcass as if it was alive by a dumb Dimple Kapadia in Finding Fanny (Homi Adjania’s masterpiece went over my head, maybe). Here I cringed to think of the probable jokes on potty-syndrome and other idiosyncrasies of Amitabh Bachchan and my threshold of expectation was low, to be frank. I was suspecting that the film (which already reviewers were writing to be “simple story”, “not a potboiler and totally different”, and about “a Dad and Daughter relationship”) would either be a mash up of emotions and sentimentalism with lot of typical Hindi filmic weeping-crying-shouting or be stalked with characters reeking of dark humour. Especially presence of Irrfan Khan as a hero suggested a rough edged depiction of human emotions bordering on un-romantic. In sum, I was expecting a bizarre script in Piku – and this is where it surprises me.
The film is refreshing and borders on sentiments but never sentimentalizes. It borders on stereotypes but never stereotypes. It borders on black humour but never overdoes it. People in this movie are full blooded and real. They are humane but in a different sense. They don’t weep at the drop of a hat. They get angry and shout at each other. But at the same time they get under your skin. You can recognize your own grand-father, your own father, maybe your uncle in Bhaskor Banerjee. You can recognize your neighbor girl or yourself in Deepika. You can see your own aunt in Moushumi Chatterjee who is extremely sweet in this film. They are all middle class, may be from the upper middle class. But that is not a discredit for the film – why be so hypocritical? The people who crowd the cinema halls and multiplexes are from middle and upper middle class and they are the people who buy coke with popcorns! They cry and laugh with the film characters just like people from any other class will do and if you have a story about them to tell, tell it like Shoojit. The cine-going middle class audience, I am sure, will relate to it.
Many critics have written that “it’s a simple story”. However, I did not find the story simple; instead, I saw different layers in it. The first layer is the depiction of Bengalis. The stereotypical Bengali of Hindi cinema is mad about Durga Puja and Rashogolla and speaks with an accent. Here all of these are absent. Shoojit portrayed Bhaskor Banerjee as a typical Bengali liberal ‘bhadralok’ in a cosmopolitan Delhi home in a very atypical way. And Amitabh just played the most memorable, adorable old man in this film – not holier than thou, not bitter and neither sweet. He says “low IQ” at the slightest chance, so typically Bengali! He says “I do not praise my wife because I am a critical man” – again a quintessential ‘critical’ Bengali. He asks Irrfan, “You are Mr Chowdhury but not Bengali?” then again, “He is the non-Bengali Mr Chowdhury”. This remark caps it all – clannish but no wonder as audience we salute the minutest details.
What is to be kept in mind is that Bhaskor Banerjee is not similar to the father of Ashima Roy (played by Yami Gautam) in Shoojit’s earlier Vicky Donor who was rather clichéd, though funny. That character was not drawn in full blood and ends up rather bland. This time on, Shoojit has eradicated that cliché element. Hindi cinema has traditionally portrayed Tamils quite gorily. 2 States is one film that dealt with the Tamil stereotype deftly. Shoojit has done the same to the prevalent Bengali stereotype via Bhaskor.
Amitabh Bachchan as Bhaskor Banerjee has delivered full blow – wow, what an actor. You have to pinch yourself every five or ten minutes to wake up and say, hey this man is acting! You can just feel the presence of the old man with his hypochondria, his small box of homeopathic medicines, his natural apathy for things, his possessiveness about the daughter, his quirkiness.
In a sense the second layer is that the family is very Indian. The film pulls the marginal Bengali to the whirlpool of mainstream India. Here families chat, quarrel and talk about marriages and suspect each other. And yes, they open steel dabbas to eat fried farshan while travelling. It touches a chord in the average urban middle-class Indian’s heart. And each generation relates to it differently.
What is worth noting is that the daughter who is constantly fighting her father is actually made into a replica of the father. She is quirky, moody, and irritable. She is individuated, independent and critical – needless to say, an unusual heroine. Deepika delivered this role to perfection.
I ultimately come out of the hall without the urgent need to forget sobbing relatives or nostalgic Kolkata memorabilia. This film, unlike Byomkesh Bakshi of Dibakar Banerjee which got released a few weeks prior, is not an antique shop where you feel congested with cultural icons fearing tripping on a memorabilia piece any time. I come out of the hall without feeling the urge for golgappa as I did after watching Asukh another father daughter movie by Rituporno Ghosh which was claustrophobic and emotionally suffocating. Piku on the contrary is like a treat of golgappas in itself. It is real and hence refreshing. Barring two or three glitches (like the house in Kolkata which Bhaskor says was built by his father – though it looks as if it is at least dated back to the 19th century) which I as a ‘critical Bengali’ could not overlook, the film is a treat.
In the end let me also mention that intelligent contemporary directors like Shoojit can use cultural material deftly and blend them in a film to create the extra flavor. While watching the film I was thinking that Amitabh’s status as ‘Banglar jamai’ (son-in-law of Bengal) and the fact that in his pre-films days he held a job in Kolkata, are somehow evoked in the script. The spectator’s collective memory is subtly titillated here. One of my friends on Facebook posted this important information that in the movie Anand (dir: Hrishikesh Mukherjee), Amitabh’s screen name was Bhaskor Banerjee!!! Is this just a coincidence, we don’t know. But there is no doubt that through Bhaskor Banerjee, Hrishikesh Mukherjee got a tribute from a worthy successor!
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