Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Piku - telling a tale with subtlety and grace

There was a time when Bollywood was obsessed with Punjabi culture. Even if a plot was located far off Punjab shores (London, New York etc), it had to have a Punjabi family at its heart. Now, at least this year, that obsession seems to have moved to Bengali culture. Piku is the second big movie this year to have a Bengali setting. But, unlike those Punjabi-oriented movies which were culturally Punjabi but geographically elsewhere (or everywhere), the Bengali-oriented ones are either fully set in Calcutta (Detective Byomkesh Bakshi) or partly but substantially set there.

But that’s not the only thing I liked about Piku. The movie is a refreshing take on a father-daughter relationship. Again, in a departure from filial relationships shown in Hindi movies in earlier decades, the relationship Piku has depicted is realistic with mutual love, concern and respect and without unquestioning reverence. While Piku objects to someone expressing contempt for her father’s senility, she shows understanding and accommodation when someone is genuinely annoyed with Bhaskar Banerji. Sujit Sirkar has skillfully avoided the clich├ęs of parent-child relationship and has caught its nuances beautifully.  

Bhaskar Banerji (Amitabh Bachchan), a widower, stays with his daughter, Piku (Deepika Padukone), in a Bengali neighborhood of Delhi. Bhaskar is old and grumpy and suffers from constipation; the daughter is a working girl who takes care of her father and is a little exasperated by his old-age tantrums, just as everybody else inhabiting the world of Banerjis is, domestic helps, family friends, relatives etc.  Apart from constipation, another old-age affliction keeps Bhaskar occupied: his belief that he has some serious health issue, although for a seventy year old he is quite fit and healthy.

The family travels to Calcutta (Bhaskar’s home town) and there, unbeknown to Piku, Bhaskar goes for an extensive nostalgic cycle ride taking the viewer through the narrow alleyways of North Calcutta and such famous landmarks as Dalhousie. The cycle ride gives Bhaskar more than a nostalgic relief; after the ride, he relieves himself to his heart’s content. The next day Bhaskar dies, his last wish fulfilled.

The performances are masterful. Bachchan is excellent playing different shades of the character, his age and crankiness, to perfection…but where he has particularly scored is in emulating Bengali mannerisms. Deepika is very natural as Piku and Irfan has almost made it a habit to be  excellent movie after movie.

Another notable feature of Piku is it maintains a good pace without too many twists and turns in the tale. With a subject like constipation it was easy to resort to front bench slapstick; instead Sujit Sirkar has dealt with the subject gracefully without missing an opportunity to tickle your funny bone reminiscent of the Basu Chatterjee movies of the 70s. And like those Basu Chatterjee movies, Piku has its share of social commentary, concerning women and relationships, made in an understated manner.  

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