From the maker of Madras Café (2013) and Vicky Donor (2012), the audience is expecting a fresh perspective and a refreshing story. Shoojit Sircar’s Piku offers both. But as we all know stories do not work because they are told; they work because they are acted well. Piku doesn’t disappoint on this count either. With seasoned and methodical actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Irrfan Khan, Sircar has got his screen brimming with fizz and entertainment.
Set in Delhi, the story revolves around the protagonist Piku (Deepika Padukone), an independent single working woman who shoulders the responsibility of her constipated and hypochondriac 70 year-old father Bhaskor Bhattacharya (Amitabh Bachchan). His tantrums and hyperventilation become a constant source of frustration in Piku’s life. The bend in the routine road of her chaotic life occurs when Bhaskor decides to visit his ancestral house in Kolkata. A short road trip with Rana Choudhury (Irrfan Khan) builds an interesting equation in Piku’s life, which takes an unexpected turn while in Kolkata.
Here is a script that does not want to dramatize a fictional story but wants to locate the dramatic in everyday life. Therefore, the film is not a series of events strategically arranged for an emotional rollercoaster. It simply represents and captures the daily motions and emotions of a Bengali family- waking up in the morning, going to bed, celebrating birthdays, attending social function, doctor visits, visits by relatives and transport arrangements. It is therefore a slice of normal life set before the camera. The scenes are therefore short vignettes from life that the audience can easily identify with. However, the beauty of the script lies in making these small motions into entertaining moments.
The humor of the film is sweet and subtle. Two scenes demonstrate the wit of the humorous script. The first one is when the four characters are set to go to Kolkata and Rana refuses to start the car because he is offended that it is the servant that has taken the front seat and not the beautiful Piku. The second scene is when Bhaskor and Rana lock horns over the knife in the latter’s car and Piku waits in silence for the weaker one to crumble. There are no or minimal dialogues in these two scenes and ironically, they exude great humor.
Ten minutes into the film and the audience learns a new nuance of dialogues. It is everyday speech, laments and tiffs that are written down for actors to render as dialogues. This is a practice that European and independent filmmakers have consciously adopted to make it their signature narrative. To see that in mainstream Bollywood seems bold and beautiful.
While the movie claims to be an emotional journey about ‘motion’, the themes of the film do not stop there. The constipated character of Bhaskor becomes a critical voice to speak for the independence of women as well as the capitalist traps of the tourism industry, preserving one’s roots or even the exploitative hospitals who dupe patients in the name of advanced medical science. This veneer of independence is maintained even in the last scene of the film where Piku does not run into the arms of her knight in shining armor but rather holds herself as an independent, single woman who is gathering strength to deal with life’s realities.
Like all fun cards, this one too has a flip side. When a frame has actors like Bachchan who have adopted the character to its minute details of posture, gesture, speech and gait; an actor like Padukone who has not even perfected the Bengali accent; it reads as an inconvenient mismatch. This acts as a deterrent also because the filmmaker has placed Piku as his protagonist; the irony is that this is the character whose motivations the audience understands the least. There are repetitive facial expressions that this dusky beauty carries throughout the film and after a point the subtle teary eyed giving way to a luminescent smile loses its luster.
The ironical part about Piku is that its strengths also serve as its weaknesses. While it is all right to not have a dramatic script, it is a huge disappointment when you play the premise of a road trip and then do not create the most remarkable moments of your film therein. The proximity between Piku and Rana is visible more during the scenes in Kolkata than on the road. The audience looks forward to the road trip only to reach its end without much sound or stirring. What is a courageous step on the part of the filmmaker is to treat death in the same organic fashion as the occurrence of an anniversary celebration i.e. as part and parcel of life; there is lack of emotional connect with the audience when there isn’t enough time given for drastic shifts in the characters’ lives to seep in.
Thus, while Piku functions with a fluid motion, it also fumbles with a few flaws. Yet, it is worth your while to engage your emotion with this ‘motion’ picture.