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Director: Shoojit Sircar
Actors: Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Irrfan
Rating: **** (4 stars)
This is what you'd essentially call a comedy about a dysfunctional family. America has a full sub-genre dedicated to such kind of subversive humour. You would've seen and loved films like Little Miss Sunshine or My Big Fat Greek Wedding in the past.
This picture turns on its head what you'd imagine to be a typically upper middleclass, educated bhadralok type Bangali home, or any similar Indian family for that matter. The ones we see on the screen are, albeit, probashis (migrants), living in the traditional Bong neighbourhood Chittaranjan Park in South Delhi.
The proud but clingy dad would much prefer that his daughter, aged 30, never got married, although his reasons seem overtly selfish. He just wants her to be with him. He in fact aggressively cock-blocks potential boyfriends by announcing that she's not a "vaargeen" (virgin) anymore. The mother has passed away. This fact is only made light of rather than actively mourned at any moment. The extended retinue of uncles and aunts and family friends display a set of peculiarities of their own.
Since you must know, this film is named after the daughter. Yeah, that pretty young thing (Deepika Padukone) is called Piku, in public. This is not a surprise. Bengalis, like Punjabis, are known to attach horrendous "pet names" (Poopy, Babla, Kinkini etc.) to their little ones at birth. Those strange names remain stuck with them for life.
The other well-known Bengali oddity this film looks at closely is their strange obsession with bowel movements. I'm told this obsession can be attributed to the British who love making equally long and serious conversations about how they passed wind and much thereafter every morning in the privacy of the loo. For sure, several Bengalis are confirmed Anglophiles. That toilet humour remains central to this film, even while it goes a little overboard on that front sometimes. This is because the quality of motion passed (or not) through the day is central to the life of the father in this film, who is a constipated hypochondriac.
The other problem the old man has is that he can't travel by flight or train. He pines for his hometown Kolkata. The only way he can reach there then is the road. This is therefore also a road movie, set in the swanky, relatively under-explored national highways of shining India as the family travels 1500 kilometres between Delhi and Kolkata. Suffering along with the dad, or mainly suffering the old man in fact, is the daughter, their house-help, and the taxi-driver, or actually the owner of that taxi company (Irrfan), who has no clue what he's got himself into.
The last time I watched a bunch of characters on screen take a road trip for the love of nostalgia for an old man was in Homi Adajania's fantastic Finding Fanny (2014), with Naseeruddin Shah in the lead, and which also starred Deepika in one of the main roles.
That film was in English. This one, which should have well been in Bengali, is still a very different kind of film, although it captures just as well the simple quirks and joys of life, seeking delight in the mundane. The writing (Juhi Chaturvedi: this is her first script after the clever comedy about another type of body fluids, Vickky Donor) is absolutely first-rate. An equal amount of credit must of course go to Shoojit Sircar's unpretentious, unobtrusive direction. Being obviously so strong on craft, he lets the story and his characters do all the talking. This is Sircar's fourth feature as director"after Yahaan (on Kashmir insurgency), Viccky Donor, and Madras Caf (terrific political thriller based on Rajiv Gandhi's assassination). This picture firmly establishes Sircar's cred as a robustly eclectic filmmaker.
Ah, and I haven't even got there yet: Amitabh Bachchan plays the lead character, the old man Bhaskor, in this film. His last work was the thoroughly original and sadly under-rated, R Balki's Shamitabh. At 72, he continues to be at the most creative phase of his career, which is my only issue with this film. The man of roughly the same age that he plays on screen, although haggard and pot-bellied, appears so senile, frail and needy. 70 is the new 50. Bachchan is the prime exemplar of that. Bhaskor should have been written in as a much older man.
Bhaskar incidentally was also the name of the Bengali character Bachchan played in Hrishikesh Mukherjee's timeless, under-stated Anand (1971). More recently he played another Bengali's role"of a crabby, Shakespearean has-been actor, which I'm told, was roughly modeled on Utpal Dutt"in Rituparno Ghosh's The Last Lear (2007). Now that slightly theatrical, over-the-top performance was hardly satisfying, given the standards set by Bachchan himself.
Comparatively here he gets the tone and manner of a frustrated old Bengali bhadralok gent almost pat on. His exaggerated hypochondriac behaviour contrasts supremely well against his calm co-stars"Deepika, Irrfan"for whom less is more, and who speak more or less with their eyes.
Speaking of which, as an audience, Deepika had me with the toothpaste foam around her lips and toothbrush in her hand as she opens the door at midnight for Irrfan, a man who still finds her intriguing, if not irresistibly attractive. You have to see that scene to know what I'm talking about.
Yes, of course, you must watch the film. More than anything else this comedy got me slightly emotional thinking about how distracted we get by life in general that we often begin to take our old folks"parents, grand parents"for granted. We get far too edgy and impatient sometimes dealing with their old-age idiosyncrasies. God knows, at some point, they will be no more. And we will miss them forever...
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