A Look Back At Piku 5 Years On

By Jaisri Nandhini S

“We are mad people, we are making a mad film!”
Says Amitabh Bachchan alias Bhaskor Bannerjee in the BTS clips of PIKU!
So true the words are for the film. Ever thought of watching a film where shit (literally) plays an important part in the entire narrative of the film? Ever imagined the Indian superstar who had been seen killing deadly villains over decades, could play a man whose only villain is constipation? Ever thought the OTT leading lady of Bollywood could be reduced to someone who could be as normal as the girl you meet in traffic could be? This is what PIKU is all about!

The significance of PIKU is all in its authentic writing that clearly defines the plot’s primary characters. Yes, the film is titled “PIKU” and it claims to be a women centric film which it is. But the core essence of the plot lies in the very fact that PIKU is not raised above any other characters. She is neither glorified nor kept in the limelight. She exists, like any other character in
the film. Yet, they make her strike hard and that is where the beauty of the characterization lies. She is neither Rani who explores herself nor Sehmat who experiments with her life. She does nothing special to be a special one, that is what makes PIKU one of her kind. She is neither a descendant from heaven nor a rebel without a cause.

The women flavors we see throughout the film makes us feel that it is written by a woman. Juhi Chaturvedi’s flamboyant writing makes us see PIKU elevated from being just a character to a real person. She is very much a human rather than a mere film heroine. She is someone who keeps eating something or the other. She is someone who stops the car to buy bangles in those roadside shops. She is someone who can’t stop playing with her catch clip. All these moments appear for a fraction of a second. But that’s where we see the real traits. She is blunt, straight, sincere, extremely moody yet adorable. She is as real as a film character could be.

She is hard and tough, yet there is a soft side to her which nobody really saw beyond that resting bitch face, except for Rana Chaudhary. There lies a realistic touch in every shade or emotion Piku shows. She is someone who has the strongest vulnerability and a fragile anger on the outside. When her life was no longer the way she wanted it to be, when she strives towards nowhere yet keeps trying and pushing herself, when she felt the heavy pressure of her parent’s indifference, when she misses her mother the most, all she does is to wander in the supermarket and fetch herself something to eat, in the most carefree fashion possible. But, she gets mad at her driver for her being late.

She is socially responsible. She hated a man on her date because he neither voted nor watched Satyajit Ray films. She even has a Ray poster in her room. She is financially and sexually independent. She is that woman who is aware that sex is a need and she was open about it. She was financially stable enough to take the decision of a break without any second thought and discussion. She believes in marriage, not because she can’t live alone, but she because believes in companionship. She is emotionally dependent. She’s in need of someone to understand her, but she was neither yearning nor desperate to find it immediately. She believed in going with the flow. She is sensitive to insensitivity. When you realize where she comes from, after all it is not an irony to find a “keep calm” poster in her office cabin.

The film’s cinematography is itself a language. It is a cleverly used tool to reflect the core concept of the narrative. Piku’s intro pans out from Ray’s poster, establishing her Bengali origin and her nature. She has more reaction shots than dialogues. Yet, things get conveyed beautifully from her perspective. When the entire family argues and discusses when Rana is about to leave Kolkata, all she does is eat mangoes unbothered by her surroundings. That says more about her than what she could have conveyed through words. The music understands the film and as it’s narrative needs an upper hand flows with it. Every single song has its purpose in the film.

The film is bittersweet until you realize that all got what they wanted. Bhaskor wanted free motion, a death not by constipation and no-hospital no-vein injection and a peaceful death, which he eventually got. He never wanted to sell Champa Kunj, which never happened. He wanted to ride a cycle in Delhi, which eventually happened in Kolkata. Rana’s much needed escape from his bugging family came in the disguise of Piku and Bhaskor. His not-so-evident crush on Piku is now at the stage of a blooming friendship. When Piku wanted to play Badminton with Rana in Kolkata and it never happened, the film ends with her playing Badminton with him in her Delhi home. Even the house maid who left home and promised to return, gets a happy ending.

Everything happens very subtly amidst all the chaos. Rana understands Piku like no other as he resonates with her. He is from a broken family stuck between his intolerable mother and sister. He empathizes with her situation of handling her household more than anyone else. This bond they share comes out openly in the car scene right before they enter Kolkata. There lies a sense of empathy along with the cute attraction he has for her. He can never be hard with her, because she is her softer version with him. This “silent pyaar” they share is the major take away from the film.

Bhaskor Bannerjee is that annoying yet unavoidable person. He has some lovely traits. He is the biggest feminist anybody could meet. He says marriage without purpose is LOW IQ. FACTS. He is high on ideology but falls flat in terms of empathy and emotions. He is a bit extra selfish in this already selfish world. But, Juhi’s success as a writer comes out when she manages to make the annoying Bhaskor Bannerjee lovable too. The balance she strikes between making Bhaskor tolerable and Piku non-angelic is all any writer should aspire to get. This is also pretty evident from her other works like October (wonderful arc Dan has) and Vicky Donor (both the leads). All her characters exist in shades, neither pure white nor plain black. And that is what makes Shoojit Sircar’s Piku one of the most relatable films with among the most relatable characters Bollywood has ever made.

So, mad people making a mad film is not really a MAD THING, afterall.

Until next time, bye.

Thank You For The Magic

How do you mourn the loss of someone you’ve never met? If they are someone like Irrfan Khan, it is difficult to come to terms with it. I never knew him personally but as with millions of others, I feel a deep connection. He felt like he was one of us. This was due to the person he was as well as the roles that he played. His death feels more personal than most celebrity deaths. I wanted to pen down a few thoughts yesterday but I couldn’t find the words. I don’t think I know where I’m going with this but as with life, I just hope that the journey is beautiful.

Irrfan was known worldwide for being one of the best actors of his generation and that is a fact. In the world of cinema, pretty much everything is subjective but ask around and most people would agree that he was among the best. But what made him such a good actor? I’ve thought long and hard about this and I’ve narrowed this down to three things. The first is his voice that seemed to flow like a body of water. Sometimes it used to gush like a waterfall and other times it was as still as a pond. But no matter whether he spoke in English or in Hindi, his words carried a power that most actors can only dream of. It never felt like he had memorized his lines, it sounded like words that were formed then and there. The second factor would be the way he walks. A good way to notice this is when he takes up roles where he has to play someone older.

Think about The Namesake and The Lunchbox, both are different films featuring different characters but Irrfan brings a sense of familiarity with them. With Ashoke in The Namesake, you feel a man who understands the weight of responsibility on him but wants to solider on. In The Lunchbox, we see a withered and resigned man who seems to have given up. It is one thing to bring this out through words and body language but the fact that we can sense this through walking, is a testament to his remarkable talent. And third is the gold standard by which most actors are measured against, reacting.

Whether he was being subtle or going a little over the top, Irrfan always seemed to find the right note for the required reaction. Take the above picture from The Namesake, this is a father teaching his son a valuable life lesson. But the smile does not indicate that he has achieved something, its just an acknowledgement of what he has done. And given what we know of Ashoke so far, it seems like the right reaction. This was a magical quality that Irrfan had and that permeated through every role he played. Whether he was being the badass Roohdar in Haider or the melancholic Pi in Life of Pi and even the student leader Ranvijay in Haasil, Irrfan made all of them feel like different people.

Today as we are reeling from the news of Irrfan’s passing away, the cinematic community gets hit with another hammer blow in the form of Rishi Kapoor’s passing. Two legends taken away from us without giving us any time to grieve. But as we know, the legacy that these stars have left behind is not the money they made but the love they inspired within us. Their work made us root for them, root against them, hate them, love them. Now and forever, they will always be a part of our lives. I’d like to finish this tribute with an excerpt from a poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye that seems apt on a day like this

“When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die”

Until next time, bye.

A Satisfying Meal

As far as debuts go, there are few that are as impressive as that of Ritesh Batra. With The Lunchbox he created one of the best films of 2013. In fact, it is definitely one of the best to come out of this decade. There are a few reasons why I feel this way about the film. First, the performances of Nimrat Kaur, Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. While the latter has a much smaller role in comparison, he leaves a mark on the viewer. Then comes the writing. Using a lunchbox, Batra is able to tell us so much about relationships, love etc. Even though the protagonists never meet each other, the connection between them is visible to us. It makes us care about these people.

the-lunchbox-irrfan-khan-and-nawazuddin-siddiqui

When all these elements come together, the meal (pun intended) is bound to be satisfying. Though the characters shown here are much older than me, I could really connect with their feelings. When Nimrat Kaur yearns for some affection from her cheating husband or when Irrfan Khan is forced to contemplate the fact that he’s ageing, these are examples of how real and universal these emotions are. We have all wanted love and attention from a particular person or have looked in the mirror and been taken aback by how older we look. This isn’t a film that works only for the Indian audience but is something that people will relate to, regardless of where they are from. That may be the film’s real triumph.

Until next time, bye.