Incredibly beautiful; both the film and its titular character!
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Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury
What to Expect?
Little did I know that I’d come to a point in time where penning down my thoughts on an indian Hindi-language film, much less a comedy-drama, would be so incredibly difficult to construct.
Not that I’ve not had faith in Piku; it, in fact, is helmed by director Shoojit Sircar, who – if you’re aware – began his journey as a filmmaker directing this little romance/war-drama Yahaan (lit.: Here). The masses, however, know him for the surprise hit comedy Vicky Donor, through which Sircar – in collaboration with screenwriter Juhi Chaturvedi – would present the audience with a topic hitherto undiscussed within the confines of the industry’s multiple narrative yarns. Additionally, the release of espionage drama-thriller Madras Cafe only cemented his status as a filmmaker who was but unafraid to bring his vision to the table.
The skeptic in me, however, has always had trust issues with films pre-release; for expectations can sometimes lead to rather inflated disappointments. After all, a film with a cast as respected as the lineup in Sircar’s latest does on occasion prove to be a sign of a checklist being slyly hidden somewhere within the pile of multiple script drafts, script breakdowns and call sheets.
Life does sometimes have ways and means of gifting you with exactly what you want of something though. Piku, for this writer, took that one step further, by giving more than what it otherwise superficially promises.
What’s it About?
Piku (Deepika Padukone; Finding Fanny) lives with her eccentric apparent hypochondriac of a father (Amitabh Bachchan; Black), who seems to have a rather pressing problem: he’s locked down with what seems to be chronic constipation. One thing leads to another, and she – along with an unwitting Rana (Irrfan Khan; Life of Pi) – finds herself in the company of her father, taking what could probably be the most important journey of their lives.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
There are some films that grow on you within each passing minute of its timeline. And then, there are some films that you just know you’re going to fall for, right from the very first second of its runtime.
Piku, for this writer at the very least, is strongly the latter.
Blame it on Anupam Roy (Hemlock Society) and his gracious use of the sitar through the piece that covers the surprisingly no-frills opening title-slates, but there’s an intangible element that quietly arrives to stay, inducing within the rest of the film a surprisingly humble charm. Sircar and Chaturvedi bring back the effortlessness through their winning collaboration yet again, introducing to the viewers characters that win us over even through their irritable quirks. Bachchan’s Bhashkor Banerjee is one such fine example. Here’s a character who doesn’t exist just for a singular reason; he’s a lot more than that. His fierceness and self-admitted criticality end up giving the viewers of the film a man who’s loved his wife more than anything, despite strongly having wished of her to have a life of her own. While on the one hand he’s extremely (albeit a tad selfishly) attached to his daughter, on the other, he implores her not to stick to gender stereotypes; more so to be free and her own person. And then there’s the callousness within Irrfan’s Rana. “I have an extremely high tolerance level.”, he claims almost nonchalantly during an otherwise superficially nondescript conversation. Which stands true throughout the film, be it through his interactions with the father and daughter, or his own mother and sister, whom he’s justifiably bitter with.
But it is Piku, of the many rather brilliantly written characters through the film, who forges a bond with the audience. While Padukone’s effortlessness is another story I’ll come to later, it’s the detailing within the nuances of her character arc that gives the film the biggest impact. Screenwriter Chaturvedi brings out the little details – her glazed eyes, the quiet tears and the absent-minded nods; an indication of a lost soul – while Sircar makes her vision his own, bringing out the intimate detailing with fierce confidence.
Human psyche and defense mechanisms are covered ably here. There’s the bringing forth of the rudeness to act as a wall, behind which our titular character hides her emotional state of mind. And then there’s the taking of it all in, until you cannot. There are moments of introspection and some more nondescript-in-appearance things characters do, like the exchange of glances between Khan and Padukone, or her just absent-mindedly staring out of the window at the group of children walking by. These bring out surprising quiet within the loud chatter that runs Piku. And for a film that has a lot to crack on about bowel movements, one would have to admit that the “toilet” humor within the film would probably be the most classily handled throughout, and with confidence, considering the tightrope it is, and the redundancy it could have brought out should it have been handled even a notch below line.
But the best thing about this film is its incredibly genuine portrayal of the different types of Bengalis as individuals. With this film, the audience has the potential to be made to realize that gone are the days when stereotypes (most of which, at one point, would necessarily involve celebrity comedian John “Johnny Lever” Rao through most of the nineties and early 2000s) would rule the roost of regional cultures within the stratosphere of the Indian Hindi film industry. And for a person who has a rather interesting connection with the City of Joy and its people, I couldn’t be happier.
The simplistic production design allows for Kolkata to be reveled at in all its simplistic, epoch beauty. Right from the widely distinctive architecture to the roads and the famed bridge, there’s an interesting side of Kolkata to see, along the lines of its glorious display in 2012’s Kahaani (lit.: Story). Kamaljeet Negi’s cinematography ensures you don’t miss being a part of the trip the protagonists are taking. Alongside how consistently shot it is through its runtime, it’s also ably lit, supporting each scene spectacularly. Chandrasekhar Prajapati’s editing is simplistic, and uses fades often to transition between scenes. It’s his edit decisions that bring out the consistency in the film though. Roy’s background score supports the entire film ably, with his original music ranging from the dreamy Journey to the poignant Bezubaan (lit.: sans the power to speak) shining brightly through their presence in the film, among others. Also, let’s not forget the ravishing utilization of the sitar now, shall we?
To Perform or Not to Perform
The film boasts of an incredible pool of talents who appear throughout the film. There’s Amitabh Bachchan who (I never thought I’d bring these two words together) gracefully hams it up as the old, fierce Bengali – and he works, both as a character study and as a normal person. And then there’s Moushmi Chatterjee who is a marvelous supporting inclusion, pulling off the role like her own. Independent Bengali feature film director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury (director of Aparajta Tumi; lit.: You, Undefeated, produced by Sircar) does a small, yet hilariously succinct, stint as the real estate agent. Raghubir Yadav is excellent as the “family doctor”. Jishu Sengupta plays the moral support with ease. Irrfan Khan is terrific – as usual. He embodies a very restrained character, and within it, gives it many different shades. The star of the show, however, is Deepika Padukone. She steals the show with her brilliant portrayal of Piku, making the audience realize that she’s come far, far from her debut vehicle. What with her surprising ease with nuance, she is her titular character, and that’s what makes it all work.
Little did I know that I’d come to a point in time where penning down my thoughts on an indian Hindi-language film would be so incredibly difficult to construct. But then again, little did I know when I expectantly entered the cinema that Piku would be the movie I would need on a personal, rather emotional, level.
Be it Piku the human or Piku the film, the audiences have gotten for themselves an incredibly beautiful film that they have the potential to relate to as they watch. Director Shoojit Sircar and writer Juhi Chaturvedi have churned up a film that has an incredible heart, without the schmaltziness that could have dangerously seeped in. And from the lanes of Delhi to the quaint Kolkata, you’re taken on more than just a road trip; through the bright and beautiful landscapes and Roy’s emotionally riveting background score, there’s quite a bit of self-discovery in there too.
PS: Is it just me, or does the title feel like an extremely subtle love letter to Indian Bengali-language feature filmmaker Satyajit Ray?
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