Stars: Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Irrfan Khan, Balendra Singh and Moushumi Chatterjee.
Writer: Juhi Chaturvedi.
Director: Shoojit Sircar.
Watch the trailer here.
Bollywood’s biggest stars revel in life’s smallest moments in Piku, Shoojit Sircar’s sweetly insightful family ‘dramedy’/road movie. As the ailing patriarchal figure, the legendary Amitabh Bachchan brings both dramatic heft and lightness of touch to a showy role, but it is Deepika Padukone who emerges as the film’s heart and soul.
Bachchan plays proud Bengali-born 70-something widower Bashkor Banerjee, a cantankerous shut-in suffering from a severe bout of constipation. The passing of a stress relieving ‘motion’ has become the soul focus of his life, much to the chagrin of his daughter, Piku (Padukone). An architect on the verge of earning partnership status in a top firm, her life has become increasingly consumed by her father’s needs, both medicinal and psychological.
When the opportunity arises for the pair to travel cross-country from their Delhi base to the family home in Kolkata, they employ cab company owner Rana (a very fine Irrfan Khan) to drive them. The 1500 kilometre journey allows for many truths to be explored, the destination representing a spiritual home for both father and daughter. The frankness of Juhi Chaturvedi’s script and the skill with which she forms naturally free-flowing and over-lapping dialogues keeps the film buoyant and energised. The sparse use of lowbrow humour in a film that that explores potential cures for Bashkor’s condition ensures the three key cast members never stoop to puerile scatology.
Still exuding the towering, screen-consuming personality that embodied his iconic character Vijay in Yash Chopra’s 1975 classic Deewaar, a boisterous Bachchan fearlessly goes that extra yard in the name of both truth and laughter; he is a joy to watch. But Padukone, too often lumbered with the ‘pretty girl’ role in recent films, matches the great actor beat-for-beat in occasionally fiery dramatic moments. It seems entirely plausible that the pair have been living together for too long, and that the clashing stems from a very real fear that they will soon not be together anymore. Despite the drama feeling slightly over-extended by the middle of the third act, the tears shed and romantic developments feel very real.
With his fourth feature, Kolkata-born Sircar solidifies his reputation as a filmmaker with an assured touch across a variety of genres. After his 2005 debut Yahaan, a contemporary warzone romance, he enjoyed a critical and commercial hit with Vicky Donor, a smart farce that found favour with international audiences drawn to its ‘sperm-donor’ premise. In 2013, Sircar explored counter-espionage techniques and fervent nationalism in Madras Café, an ultra-realistic action thriller set against the Tamil Civil Wars of the 1980s.
Sircar enters a gentler realm with his narrative here, the likes of which is synonymous with auteur James L Brooks. The Oscar winner’s skill at scripting bittersweet, deeply human moments is honoured in the structure of Piku. It recalls both Terms of Endearment, in which a put-upon daughter (Debra Winger) struggled with an eccentric parent (Shirley Maclaine); and, As Good As It Gets, which posited a churlish curmudgeon (Jack Nicholson) in a car with mismatched travel buddies (Greg Kinnear, Helen Hunt).
Filled with top tech contributors, of particular note is the lensing of DOP Kamaljeet Negi (working with Sircar for the third time). The angles he achieves within the confines of the vehicle aid the character drama immeasurably; a sequence shot in the riverside town of Banaras, captured just after ‘the magic hour’ has passed and lamps are beginning to illuminate the waterfront, evokes a dreamlike, romantic ambience that is particularly beautiful.