(This has first appeared on Firstpost.com)
Kolkata’s jhaalmuri is no ordinary bhelpuri. The flavour is tangy, spicy and mouthwateringly addictive. The secret is the pungent mustard oil. One has to acquire a taste for the texture and the strong smell. Piku (Deepika Padukone) is like that hot and tongue burning spicy jhaalmuri and her father, Bhaskor Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchan) is double dose of mustard oil. Difficult to digest or even like initially, but by the time he has properly bulldozed his way into your life, you’ll find yourself longing for that rasping holler of “Pikuuuu!”
This quarrelsome duo never talk. He snarls, she yells. They fight and they scream. The only time they smile together is when they sing a Bengali song. When the two get drunk, expect the time of your life. (The famous Amar Akbar Anthony drunken scene will be forgotten forever. If that was about Amitabh Bachchan’s slurred dialogue delivery, the Piku scene with him dancing in the bedroom is a masterpiece in body language.)
Put a grouchy, old, constipated man, his extremely rude daughter and complaining relatives together at a dining table, and you'd expect some emotional drama and fireworks. At Piku’s table, though, there is only one conversation: on constipation.
How to get satisfactory potty is the subject of every kind of drama here and it’s amazing how director Shoojit Sircar pulls off a 125-minute film, circling around small, daily arguments. Whether it is sperm in Vicky Donor or “motion” in Piku, Sircar and his writer Juhi Chaturvedi are relentless in their focus upon their characters’ obsessions.
The old, constipated man introduces himself simply as “Bhaskor Banerjee, Bangali”. And like a true Bengali, he is proudly critical of anything and everybody. As he puts it, he is “brutal and honest.” So much so that he doesn’t believe in respecting his 30-year-old single daughter’s privacy to ward off a suitor. He bluntly tells the doomed suitor that Piku is “sexually independent”.In fact, this liberated side to Piku is the most intriguing ingredient in her characterization. She looks at sex purely as a “need” and her friend and colleague Syed (Jisshu Sengupta) has an interesting role to play here. The casualness with which the subject is treated, dismissed and not explained in the writing itself, adds a wonderful, unspoken and unseen element that laces this celluloid jhaalmoori.
While Piku is aware of her father’s demanding and selfish need for her to be around forever, she resigns herself to living a single daily drama of her Baba’s major problem — that of achieving the nirvana of a perfect bowel movement. All she asks him daily is, "Hua?” He touches his paunch gingerly and the expression says it all.
Piku’s immediate outlet for her frustration is the cab she takes to work everyday. This results in perpetual taxi wrecks. Somehow, not too convincingly in the screenplay, the wretched owner of the cab company, Rana Chaudhary (Irrfan) finds himself in a nightmarish situation of driving the quarrelsome, weird father and weirder daughter from Delhi to Kolkata.The road trip is accompanied by a big wooden chair with a potty hole in the centre. The kissa kursi ka continues with even more fervour as Rana starts impressing the shamelessly khadoos Bhaskor with his own constipation remedies.
This leads to the most remarkable scene between the two actors — Bachchan and Irrfan — with Irrfan at his candid best, performing the idea of squatting at an Indian toilet, but on a bed and suggesting Bhaskor try the same on the Western commode. The ease of the two actors' comic timing is reminiscent of Bachchan in his older Hrishikesh Mukherjee movies, like Chupke Chupke.
To Sircar’s credit, we don’t glimpse Bachchan’s iconic dialogue delivery or playing to the gallery ways even for a second. All we see is a kurta pyjama-clad, almost disgusting Bhaskor with a big paunch.
One would have thought that these two veterans would take centrestage with their quirky roles. But instead, it is the kohl-eyed Deepika Padukone, with sincerity and deep concern writ on her perpetually-angry face, who steals the show. Moushumi Chatterjee as Piku’s outspoken aunt is a welcome change from the loud Kirron Kher.
Unfortunately, the story while dealing with a most sensitive issue of grownups taking care of ageing parents, does not delve deep into any kind of bonding. Rana’s life at home, with a mother and separated sister (repetition of Vicky Donor’s hero’s aunt) is touched upon, but cursorily. Barring one fantastic scene displaying Bhaskor’s insensitivity towards Rana’s dead father, there isn’t any memorable bonding moment between Bhaskor and Piku.
This lack of deeper emotion and the focus on endless toilet humour takes away from an ending that could have made Piku a film at par with Mili.Interestingly, Sircar chooses not to get cinematic in his use of visuals. The camera ignores all opportunities of classic outdoor shots during the road trip and instead stays close to the characters, in keeping with the intimate, personal drama at the heart of the story. The edit gets a little jerky in its rapid pace in the beginning but the melodious sarod in the opening credits sets the mood of a Bengali household beautifully.
The final stroke at realism comes when Padukone plays badminton like anything but the daughter of an International champion. She is simply Piku.
Sircar’s Piku is khoob bhalo jhaalmuri. Go eat. Digestion guaranteed.