This is not the usual stuff of Bollywood films. Then again I would not even class it as within the ‘Bollywood’ industry. It is too real. You see blockbuster comedies and action flicks with terrible jokes and theatrical fight scenes, way too much for your eyes to take especially within 3 hours of screen time. Piku took a different turn, a crazy turn for Indian film.
Directed by Shoojit Sircar, it looks at the strained yet loving relationship between a dying father (Amitabh Bachchan) and his daughter (Deepika Padukone) who cares for him, with Irrfan Khan’s go-between character keeping the latter sane. As per old (I cant emphasize it enough) Indian tradition, the daughter should have been married off in her twenties, pure and obedient, but Padukone’s titular character is in her thirties, openly sexually active and argues and orders her father around. She is the feisty strong independent woman of India; an identity all should strive to be in a society still cornering women into a domesticated lifestyle, despite much change. Yes she cares for her father but not because she is a girl, but because she loves him and there is nobody else. Would she leave him in the lurch, to die alone? I would hope not, because then she lacks humanity, and would cinemagoers and film lovers root for a character that is inhumane? Yes she can be mean and destructive in the way she handles her father and everyone around her, pushing away friendship, isolating herself to work in the office AND at home, but does she not represent the life of a young woman with a lot on her plate? If you were a budding architect/full time carer for your sick parent and got a message in the middle of a meeting about your father’s daily bowel flow, would you not become sick of such behaviour? The very incorporation of that scene portrayed her fed up attitude with the crossover of her two lives and the comic lightening of a situation most people will go through themselves in life, whether they are the carer or the ‘caree.’
The film has many examples like this that give it a bittersweet comic element, like the chair (professionally named a commode) her father uses to go ‘potty’ as they call it. Bachchan plays the role brilliantly, any less would be out of character for him. He is a legend after all. (No bias here.) He fits into the role of a bratty old man, sick to the end, who is treated like a small child, fed by his daughter and forbidden from strenuous exercise like sitting down. It is ironic because in real life he is probably the fittest one can be at that age despite his many health scares and operations. He sounds like the typical elderly person who hates doctors and hospitals and refuses to accept he is ill, but in actual fact he calls the doctor over every day, has researched his health extensively and even educates others about what is wrong with him and even themselves. But he does it so they do not have to endure the pangs of old age so drastically as he is. As blunt and irritating his character can be, it comes from a place of love and care. And a sense of want shadows his bratty nature for he merely wants to see the world as he wants to before he bids it goodbye, which he finally gets when he cycled all around his hometown in Kolkata and passed peacefully in his sleep.
This film is filled with subverted stereotypes and they work well within a society and film industry obsessed with tradition and ritual. Another thing about Piku is its lack of monetary investment, yes in the production sense, but also in the reception of the film. In Bollywood it has been known for the box office to be very important, if not the most, so for an independent/ semi-independent film to come out of the industry with blockbuster actors like Padukone and Bachchan, it’s always a pleasant surprise. Then again when Irrfan Khan is starring in the film, you immediately get the indie, or unbollywood feel. His career choices have moved more towards the unconventional and appreciated, with the likes of The Lunchbox, Qissa and Talvar, all three of which have been screened at prestigious international film festivals, like Cannes and Toronto. However, I still wouldn’t class it as an independent film for the considerable amount of financial backing it probably had from the film’s notoriously ‘rich in resource’ production company MSM Motion Pictures (part of Sony Pictures Networks India) and distributor, Yash Raj Films.
Overall a breath of fresh air from the usual ‘bollywoodness’ and I would place it with the like factor of Imtiaz Ali’s road movie Highway and Bombay Talkies, a compilation of shorts commemorating 100 years of Indian Cinema.