It’s three weeks since the release of Piku and from all accounts it seems to be a surprise hit, in spite of not having any typical mainstream cinema elements. Some people found its preoccupation with bowel movements distasteful, though they are obviously in a minority.
Of course every filmmaker wants to make money, and a feature film does not necessarily have to be realistic; still, one can’t but help be disappointed by the fact that a film had a chance to examine the issue of aging and the problems of geriatric care in urban nuclear families and turned it into a silly giggle.
All over urban areas, women—mostly women, daughters and daughters-in-law—are looking after aging parents and negotiating their way through the pressures of their own lives and careers. So portraying a selfish, mean and cantankerous old man as ‘cute’ is doing all these women (and some men) a great disfavour. There is a scene in which Bhaskar Bannerjee (played by Amitabh Bachchan) sneers at marriage, refers to his dead wife as a low IQ woman and casually insults his sister-in-law (Moushumi Chatterjee) because she has been married more than once. This man must have given his wife a rough time; he continues to harass his daughter Piku (Deepika Padukone) and the domestic helpers; there is one inexplicably loyal slave, Budhan (Balendra Singh), who is not even treated as a human being. He is on perpetual toilet duty and his treatment by supposedly civilised people is deplorable. Who could like or care for such a man? But the filmmaker and screenwriter (Juhi Chaturvedi) want us to.
In so many Indian families the patriarchs are self-centred brutes, who think women and children exist only to serve them. Such men should not be turned into heroes. What kind of father would tell a potential suitor of his daughter that she is not a virgin? Why are we supposed to laugh at this vicious character? If Bannerjee is a horrible man, on the other side is the male lead Rana’s mother (Nutan Mathur), a relentlessly nagging shrew; the difference is that he treats her with disdain while Piku practically worships her father and indulges his every whim. The message being, fathers are more important than mothers—is that it?
The film’s characters seem to exist without a past, though a really good writer would automatically include a kind of history. Two scenes illustrate this: Piku is interrupted at an important professional meeting with a message from her father and she asks the secretary to read it out. It turns out to be her father’s bowel movement report. Would she not have known by then what he is like and at least had the sense not to have the message read out loud?
And then leave the meeting to go home, when she knows perfectly well that there is nothing wrong with her father and the frequency or consistency of his stool is not an emergency.
Another time Piku is interrupted on a date with another of her father’s crap reports; the man she is lunching with understandably loses his appetite. This writer did too!