Gut feel

A slice-of-life bittersweet tale with a constipated theme but effortless acts

By Pratim D. Gupta
  • Published 9.05.15
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Shoojit Sircar lied when he said that his new film Piku has nothing to do with Anand despite Amitabh Bachchan having the same name in both films. He is a different man yes, more like one of the patients whom the original Dr Bhaskar Banerjee would have refused to meet because this Bhaskor Banerji is disheartened when all his tests are normal and wants to pop pills anyway. But in spirit, Piku is very much a Hrishikesh Mukherjee film and when such a film arrives in 2015, it seems like a refreshing raga in the middle of weekly Bollywood noise.

Once in the theatres you are invited into the Banerji family of CR Park in Delhi and you get to spend two hours of your life with them as they continue their eternal struggle with bowel movements. Or the lack of it. The 70-year-old hat-wearing hearing-aid-adjusting Bhaskor (Amitabh Bachchan) has constipation and almost every second of his existence is spent in deep concern over his digestive tract.

His daughter Piku’s (Deepika Padukone) day job is as an architect but all her time is spent catering to the intestinal demands of her Baba.

Now, this potty problem is not just a character trait but the entire film. Yes! Sircar and his writer Juhi Chaturvedi have sat down and put together every possible association, solution and superstition around defecation, to the point that poop is almost romanticised. From its texture –– “mucous” to “mango pulp” –– to its shade of colour –– “greenish yellow” to “blackish” –– to the best posture for pressure, it’s like a walking-talking-discussing Wikipedia on human faecal matter. Even Elvis Presley and the US economy are not spared!

The “baap-beti jhik jhik” is intercepted by Rana Chaudhry (Irrfan Khan), who owns a taxi service in Delhi and is forced to drive the Banerjis to their ancestral home in Calcutta when all his drivers refuse to get on the road with the always agitated and aggressive Piku. Rana quickly learns that the way to the woman’s heart is through her Baba’s stomach and he brings in more funda about waste discharge, from boiling tulsi leaves in water to chewing food like cows. Because cows, he says, never have constipation!

While the shit subject never becomes repulsive, there are not many big laughs either. Piku remains mildly amusing throughout but never quite hits the Vicky Donor scale of howlarious funny, given that both are chatty discourses around the movement of body fluids. The lack of a story here means there is no narrative push and so at points where the chaos dies down, you are a little lost on the road. Also there are too many putting-off product placements in a simple film like this.

But the Piku finish is very strong and is bound to make your eyes well up, when the theme continually suppressed under all things gooey finally surfaces. It comes soon after the best moment of the film –– Bachchan’s Bhaskor cycling through some familiar spots of Calcutta as a happy sarod piece streams in the background. While it is a return-to-roots ride for the man, it is such a special moment for Bengalis to see their favourite jamai take a joyride through their city.

In fact, Sircar peppers his film with many a nostalgic Bong connection. Like Bachchan doing an impromptu twist to Jibone ki pabona or breaking into Ei poth jodi naa shesh hoy, joined in by Deepika. On the dining table there’s Jharna ghee, Ramakrishna Thakur and Sarada Ma on the walls, Rabindra Rachanabali on the bed and, yes,
The Telegraph on the desk.

Of course, Amitabh Bachchan being in the middle of the unputdownable setting makes it that much more special, even if his superstar aura doesn’t help the cause of the character. Because Bhaskor is a little too loud for comfort and his Bangla is worse than Deepika’s, which is a problem if you think about it. No Tagore-tripping Bengali will pronounce kochuri as “kachodi”. But then you wouldn’t be half as interested to see any other man in this country saying and doing the things that AB says and does in this film.

Deepika is splendid. How many times have you heard or read that in the last few years? In her first Bengali role, she will have you at “Kichhu bolbe?” Her character is a little unidimensional at the start but gradually blossoms into a caring and vulnerable woman waking up to her buried dreams and desires. Look at those eyes when she peeks out of the window and watches young school girls return home in Calcutta.

Irrfan is, of course, effortlessly excellent. He has the best lines of the film as he crash-lands into the Banerji bowels. The man is also so very charming as the wooer. How one wishes there were more romantic scenes featuring him and Deepika. 

It’s always good to see familiar Bengali faces in Bollywood fare. Here it’s Jisshu Sengupta again after Barfi! and Mardaani doing an impressive cameo. Moushumi Chatterjee is perfectly cast as the loose-lipped maashi. And filmmaker Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury has a surprise appearance!

In his maiden Bollywood effort, Anupam Roy’s melodious tracks punctuate the Piku experience quite beautifully. The Journey Song is the earworm of the soundtrack even as Bezubaan and the title track creep into your internal jukebox.

Don’t go in with a lot of laugh-out-loud expectations and you will enjoy Piku for what it is –– a simple, slice-of-life bittersweet tale about a family fighting constipation. Because truth be told, when we sit on our “sinhasans” every morning, we are all Bhaskors. Just doing what comes naturally.

 

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