I am beginning this review mere moments after completing my morning ablutions. Yes, don't worry, I've washed my hands.
Would you like to know how it went?
Unlike Bhaskor Banerjee (played by Amitabh Bachchan with much enthusiasm), I will spare you the gory details of my business. But Piku, the latest film by Shoojit Sircar (Vicky Donor, Madras Café) is not half as bashful. This breezy comedy about a dysfunctional father-daughter relationship has plenty of poop in it. Not visually, of course, but just as a normal, dinner-table subject of discussion.
Y'know, like marriage.
So there's talk about 'good' motions and 'bad' motions, solid and liquid, consistency, the presence or absence of mucous in it, colour, the efficiency of Indian-style loos over Western-style commodes, and more. Does this sound like a visit to your friendly neighbourhood gastroenterologist? Well, this movie is almost like a two-hour-long 'Told you so' in his or her voice.
Piku Banerjee (a sincere Deepika Padukone) is the movie's central character: a working professional who lives with her pedantic, 70-year-old father in Delhi's Chittaranjan Park. Her dad's pretty chill about most normal Indian dad things. For instance, not only does he not want her to get married, but he's also absolutely okay with her not being a virgin to the point of boastfulness, as depicted in one scene where he terrorises a hopeful art gallery owner (played by ad-man Sumanto Chattopadhyay).
Effectively, the entire track we saw in Vicky Donor about Yaami Gautam's character's life at home, in which the role of her father was played by Jayant Das, has been given its own movie here. As in that case, Bhaskor is a widower who is fiercely protective of his daughter and, ironically, fights for her independence by not giving her any. His life revolves around his constipation problems. As the Bong stereotype goes, he's a hypochondriac who checks his temperature multiple times a day. He gets extra tests done and looks visibly disappointed when they all come out normal.
"Does this sound like a visit to your friendly neighborhood gastroenterologist? Well, this movie is almost like a two-hour-long 'Told you so' in his or her voice."
I wish I could tell you that this is all rubbish and Bengalis aren't actually like that, but that wouldn't be true. As a Bengali who has lived in Mumbai as well as Delhi (although never at C.R. Park), I have also had an on-off relationship with hypochondria (ahem). And yes, Bengalis do talk about digestive problems. A lot.
Piku, meanwhile, is exasperated by Bhaskor but still too emotionally attached to see how his idiosyncrasies are affecting her. She has an ongoing fling with her business partner Syed (Jisshu Sengupta), but finds it impossible to make an actual emotional connection. She is also pedantic and constantly angry -- in one bizarre scene, she lambasts Syed for a monosyllabic reaction. She doesn't have constipation (... yet).
The third main character in Piku, Rana Chaudhry (played with characteristic wryness by Irrfan), runs a taxi service. A civil engineer who came back from a nightmarish job in Saudi Arabia, Rana faces similar problems at home: his mother is shrewish and constantly breathing down his neck, and he doesn't get along with his recently-divorced sister. As he keeps insisting, he isn't Bengali.
There are a number of things this movie aims to be. From father-daughter tale, it switches gears just before the intermission to become a road trip movie, when a deteriorating Bhaskor suddenly decides they must travel to Kolkata. While he rules out going by flight and Piku refuses to go by train, it's not clear why they thought going by car would be a good idea. It's not like India's highways are known for their abundant -- let alone clean -- loos. Meanwhile, although edited briskly (erring on the side of excess), Piku also finds time to squeeze in life-lessons about staying true to your roots.
Writer Juhi Chaturvedi, who also wrote Vicky Donor, comes up with some memorable moments as well as strong (if somewhat broad) characters. Although the first 20 minutes do somewhat feel like a never-ending shouting match, once the movie finds its rhythm, it settles into it comfortably.
"As a Bengali who has lived in Mumbai as well as Delhi (although never at C.R. Park), I have also had an on-off relationship with hypochondria (ahem). And yes, Bengalis do talk about digestive problems. A lot."
Sircar handles the material well enough, but is sometimes guilty of breezing over the film's more interesting and emotionally-challenging moments, just as he is also responsible for (rightly) playing down a few moments that could've easily turned melodramatic.
I wished he'd done some things differently -- a dinner table conversation when Piku's aunt (a terrific Moushumi Chatterjee) comes visiting is cut far too choppily to be truly satisfying, for example -- but his intentions are in tune with the movie's ambition and his lapses, therefore, forgivable.
With its mostly acoustic guitar score, Piku is a movie that urges one to approach life with healthy amounts of levity. It isn't perfect, sure, but it achieves the unique distinction of being a crowd-pleaser while spending a considerable amount of screen-time talking about Things You Don't Talk About, Ever.
No mean feat, that. Just ask your friendly neighbourhood gastroenterologist.