Full of crap… in the good way5/13/2015
“Piku” is a film about constipation. Physical, mental and emotional. In some way or another, each of the film’s characters is constipated, unable to get him or herself moving again.
Front and center is family patriarch Bhashkor (the legendary Amitabh Bachchan), whose soliloquies on his bowel movements (or lack thereof) make up a good chunk of the film’s dialog. Just as stopped up — though in less physically uncomfortable ways — is his daughter, the lovely Piku (Deepika Padukone). A young woman with a successful career, Piku’s deep familial obligation to Bhashkor has turned her into a quick-tempered, angry person.
Both of these conceits are laid out at the film’s onset, as Piku and Bhashkor kick things off with an argument over Bhashkor’s toilet habits. Piku then storms out and goes to work but is back home by lunch after receiving an all-too-explicit message from Bhashkor via the company receptionist, detailing his latest efforts.
The film goes on like this. There is really only the scantest framework of plot: Bhashkor is 70 years old and possibly dying (Piku insists he is a hypochondriac). After a bout of shortness of breath, he vows to return to his childhood home in Calcutta to be with his brother. Refusing to fly or take a train from their home in Delhi, Bhashkor insists upon making the nearly 900-mile trip by car, which introduces taxi company owner Rana (Irrfan Khan) into the mix.
From a narrative standpoint, that is all director Shoojit Sircar gives us. The rest of the film plays out alternately as drama, road trip film and romantic comedy but is really little more than a character study. In that regard, the film is hit and miss. For the entire second act of the film, there is literally nothing moving the film forward except for the traffic on the highway between Delhi and Calcutta. At times, even that is not enough. A disagreement between Bhashkor and Rana results in the former sitting on the side of the road, refusing to get back in the car until he gets his way. The scene literally brings everything to a stop, as it leads into the film’s intermission.
And yet, with no overarching narrative and story threads that pop up briefly, only to blow away, never to be seen again, “Piku” retains its charm. There are genuinely funny moments throughout, and Khan and Padukone are both marvelous, such as when the latter expresses the impotent frustration of someone whose life has been stymied. In the third act, Khan’s performance serves as the bedrock of the story’s conclusion. His bluntly direct responses to the things happening around him keep the whole affair from spinning off into the realm of straight-up farce.
“Piku,” as one might expect from the title, is served to us as the daughter’s story, but it is Bhashkor upon whom the story actually revolves. Bachchan is such a force, both within Indian film history and on the screen itself, that he commands the attention of every scene, even when the focus is ostensibly on the other actors. At times this makes for genuinely compelling scenes. Bachchan finds the sweet spot between hilarious and annoying and is thoroughly enjoyable in the role. But just as often it leaves the audience feeling a bit like Piku — overwhelmed by Bhashkor’s presence, wishing for the opportunity to experience something new and different, but ultimately frustrated by the lack of options. CV