This needs to be said at the outset. I dislike the use of potty humor and consider it totally witless and in bad taste, in almost all situations. Except for that immortal truism that ‘Death and shit can hit anytime’. So I went in to see Piku with some grave doubts about willingly watching a film that was clearly big on potty humor.
But I surprised myself. Not once did I even feel a twitch of unease. The movie swept me completely off my feet. While there is endless potty talk in the movie, there is no potty humor there, really. Constipation is no laughing business for the hypochondriac Bhaskor Banerjee, played with supreme talent and élan by Mr. Bachchan. And it is a topic infused into almost every moment of his long-suffering daughter Piku’s life, played incredibly life like by Deepika Padukone. Piku is shown so overtly immune to the obsessions of her father that she can carry on a sane conversation about bowel movements with his doctor every now and then, on Bhaskor’s bidding. Yet the constant irritation is palpable and has turned her into a spitfire herself. She scolds her cantankerous father, yet indulges him all the same. Their mutual obsessive reality has such a hold on her life that she can discuss poop color and consistency with her father on a loud phone call, even while out to dinner with a new date. No one laughs (expect the audience, of course, who guffaw and ROFL) when the ever-obliging domestic help makes accompanying sounds to facilitate the old man’s urination. Nor when the stylish, bemused and patiently impatient best dressed character in the film, Rana Chaudhary, (played with effortless charm by Irrfan Khan) convinces Bhaskor to try his suggestion for a cure. With the help of an eloquent lecture on the digestive and excretory system illustrated with a diagram on the movement of the crap inside our innards.
This is also standout film for the performances, the well fleshed out characters, the absolutely real life dialogues, the mellow and pleasant music, and the memorable and fresh shots of Calcutta by Kamaljeet Negi. Director Shoojit Sircar is brilliant in getting so much said by just the lighting up of a pair of eyes or the tiniest turn of a lip and conveying to us the unsaid and invisible undercurrents of mind and heart. And of course by now we have all heard or seen how this is a liberal, progressive look at a female character or how this is a film that barely gives even a blink and you miss nod to a typical romance.
But enough said about the obvious. Let us go digging deeper. Which is where the movie became something of a life defining experience for me. I am not much of a moviegoer, and Hindi films by and large leave me untouched. They are good entertainment at times and I have enjoyed a few. But rarely, in decades, have I found a Hindi film that even wants to look at what lies beneath, or tackle everyday issues of regular people issues with much empathy or insight. Rare is the story that goes beyond conventional labels and formulaic filmi-ness, especially in the end when the lead pair suddenly MUST jump out of their big fat wedding, and instead, run after their one true love in the last frame.
And then comes Piku, a film that has raised the bar for all desi storytellers. The taboos picked on by writer Juhi Chaturvedi go way beyond the potty talk, and are more insidious, hidden, and silent. They are the greys that subdue and pervert love in familial bonds. The insights that made this story possible, the sensitivity with which it is written and the light touch given to something as perplexing as parental love and the bonds of birth mark the writer for me as a much needed voice for our collective catharsis. The ability to bring to the light the shadows that cloud our psyche and drive our lives is an act of honesty and tenderness all too rare in our collective culture these days. Never mind all the heartfelt outpourings on FB that are all about what’s on our mind.
The positively vitriolic and supremely insensitive Bhaskar is after all only coping. And trying to do the best by his daughter as he sees it. With his loneliness, his selfish fear of Piku leaving him for another man, his wish for her to be living a ‘high IQ’ life, his fear of an agonizing death in hospital and his fear of his ancestral home being sold off. Piku lives with the thought of an almost certain lack of marriage in her life, the consuming fear for her aged father’s health, her difficulties with domestic staff that are caused by her father, and the commuting accidents with her taxi service sort of caused by her. Rana has his own worries and irritations yet he shrugs them off without quite shutting them out. Everyone is in it together, for the good and the bad, and trying to make the best job of it. They are scared, maybe, but show courage nevertheless, even if it comes out only as plain cussedness.
As the narrative journeys on, through cross conversations and slanging matches and stubborn arguments, we get to touch layers under layers of complicated, mixed feelings that keep people stuck and striking out against the quagmire of bonds that they can’t live with or without. Much like the unsatisfactory motion of Bhaskor Banerjee’s innards, for many of us, our lives move in sluggish starts, seeming to be out of all form and color, and hardly ever with a fully satisfactory outcome. As we hold on to grudges, to resentments, to regrets and memories of what could have been. Many people have loved the film, and made their own meaning out of it. Many have laughed at all the shit going on, but wondered, what was the point? Where was the story, really? To these questions my response is that Piku will give you the meaning and the story you want to look for. Or not, if you don’t want to. At the heart of Piku is the story of characters that seek no escape. And yet who are not quite imprisoned. Who live where they are, with what they have, and try to be ‘practical’ about it, and pay the price for their choices. And that freedom or a release is finally a matter of what we are willing to take on.
And we laugh and cry in the theatre, each one of us able to relate to Piku in some way or the other. And then we come out to our world. Back to being Bhaskor or Piku or Rana or Chobi masi or Kakima….or any variants of them. Few movies blend so seamlessly into life as Piku does.