Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Piku: ‘Feel good’ in a different package

Bollywood’s “feel good” romances of the 1990s, a genre re-inaugurated by Hum Aapke Hain Kaun and reinforced by Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge, had a heyday in the hands of Karan Johar, but gradually began to lose steam, when its gelatinous sweetness began to rack the nerves. Plus, the incredibly affluent families in which these romances were usually set also began to appear tormenting, for the sheer un-realism of the abundance of wealth which they shamelessly paraded: expensive kanjivarams as kitchen-wear and designer jewellery in plush hospitals became difficult to digest, although there was an initial awe at Bombay Cinema’s sudden rise from poverty and exaltation of the propertied class, as opposed to its lachrymose moralising against the latter ever since it came into being. However, an economically devastating downslide all through the second half of the 2000s brought in the need for realism, when even first-string production houses, such as Yash Raj and Dharma Productions, devoted to fantastical melodrama and barefaced revelling in opulence, began encouraging a closer brush with everydayness. In a certain way, Karan Johar’s growing friendship with Anurag Kashyap is symbolic of the ‘commercial’ and the ‘arty’ making a conscious effort to enter into an astutely planned arranged marriage. The family drama, the romance set against it, the songs and the dance sequences – all are still sustained, but in a different, more believable package. Shoojit Sircar’s Vicky Donor and his latest venture Piku are both products (endorsed by movie-tycoon Aditya Chopra) of this new trend, which has proved to be successful not only in urban sectors or among multiplex viewers, but also in small towns and rural areas.

Piku is a family drama, sans the mushy sentimentalism of its 90s counterparts, sans an epic range of sugar-sweet aunts and uncles, greying and sagacious grandparents, well-dressed cousins having nothing to do, and plush weddings and tear-jerking funerals. Piku, despite certain ethnic specificities, manages to rise above two overused stereotypes, at least: first, the conventional Bollywood brand of an Indian family and second, Bengaliness. Although highly emotional, Piku saves the sentimentalism by bringing to familiar emotions a comic distance, or by viewing them with brash sarcasm. Father-daughter relationship has been an interesting emotional (and sexual) tie which both cinema and literature have explored time and again; Piku brings to it a mint-like freshness, despite the family’s endless toilet discourses. It’s hilarious how father and daughter alternatively bond and separate over constipation and bowel movement, Piku finding it hard to deal with the tantrums of an ageing hypochondriac father, never satisfied with his toilet ventures. But what comes through is a profound love for each other, the importance of being together, the pleasures of care-giving.

Piku, without being preachy, successfully conveys a social message which is rather timely. At a point, when even nuclear families are breaking down, with children relocating to other cities, leaving their parents behind, Piku brings together certain moments which inspire a strengthening of the parent-child relationship. Perhaps, the film touches a chord with everyone, by stringing together certain easily identifiable familiar moments, moments of despair and happiness, when one has an ageing, almost child-like parent to look after. While the film critiques the power relationship, in which the parent always takes advantage of being the parent, it also unveils the sheer joy in the ability in successfully parenting a parent. In this father-daughter equation, there is often a role reversal, shifting of power dynamics, but what comes through is the pre-eminence of affect, over and above the politics of emotion. Rana Chaudhury’s petulant mother and her regular squabbles with her son reinforce the message that there’s nothing to romanticise about the family, yet, there’s enough reason to stick to it. By associating a dysfunctional digestive system with emotion, Sircar generates a powerful symbol.

It’s interesting how Piku dismantles middleclass social decorum, by veering the narrative through endless talk on the lower bodily stratum, menopause, loss of virginity, nighties, sex life, and nuances of family feuds. This brings the film closer to everydayness, in which none is saintly, none is heinously evil. The ending divested of sentimentalization, delves deep into questions of unpredictability of life and inevitability of death, bringing to the latter a rare ‘feel-good’-ness, when it seems that there was indeed nothing more for which the old father could live on.

Amitabh Bachchan never appeared so lovably cute since Paa, and Deepika Padukone has never been so next-door. Irrfan underplays Rana with a rare panache, while Moushumi Chatterjee returns to Hindi cinema with her characteristic vivacity and chirpiness. The supporting cast is equally brilliant.



Amid the constant father-daughter row, what stands out is 

the consensus on need-based sex...well, that was indeed 

pleasantly surprising, for that one thing was powerful 

enough to dislodge all pretensions of moral high-

handedness and purity associated with the ‘tradition’ of 

old North Kolkatan families residing in palatial mansions, 

endlessly stereotyped in popular culture. 
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