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Piku, starring Deepika Padukone and Amitabh Bachchan just raised the bar for women led movies as well as father-daughter portrayals in Hindi movies.
The Mumbai based Indian film industry has been churning out female oriented films one after the other over the last couple of years, each one with a refreshing out of the box idea. Shoojit Sirkar’s Piku just raised the bar a few notches.
Piku is a heart-warming potpourri of everything Bengali, everything bowel movement and everything women – the strong, independent and liberated kinds.
Since I am writing a feminist review, let me focus on the ‘everything women part’.
Piku, played beautifully by Deepika Padukone, is a fiercely independent architect running her own architecture firm with her business partner Sayeed (played by Jishu Sengupta) who is also her partner in emotional needs, read casual sex. Her personal life is preoccupied by her 70 year old father, Bhaskor Banerjee who is, as any other self-respecting Bengali, constantly obsessed with his bowel movements. Plus, he needs to give his daughter every minute detail of the nature of his potty in the middle of her client meetings or dates.
No wonder she can’t have a proper relationship, considering all her first dates end abruptly due to her father’s potty related emergencies. Not only does he ruin all her dates by calling in the middle of them, he also cautions her that her relationship status better remain casual and not get any more serious.
That’s right! Here is Hindi cinema’s most radical father ever, one who proudly introduces his daughter as ‘financially, emotionally and sexually independent’ and promptly dissuades any prospective suitor by revealing that she is ‘moody and non-virgin’. Marriage is a bad word in this house, because Bhaskor thinks marriage is a ‘low IQ decision’ and he doesn’t want Piku to take that decision.
Understandably, Piku is irritated and frustrated with her father’s hypochondria, his obsessive compulsive disorders, and his loathing for everything that society considers ‘normal’. This makes her a harder person, tough on people, often rude and emotionless. She feels she desperately needs a break but can’t take one because she has to take care of her father.
This seemed like a perfect premise for the entry of a knight in shining armour that would save Piku from the clutches of a selfish father. One who would be able to see the softer side of Piku and make her realize the beauty of ‘true love’ as opposed to casual need (sex) based relationships.
But none of these clichés happen and that’s where Piku raises the bar in telling the woman story. Piku doesn’t have a problem to be solved nor is she a woman to be rescued. It is a simple journey of a woman who is overburdened with the daunting task of mothering a 70 year old man but secretly loves being who she is, loves her father and wouldn’t change a thing about him.
A man does enter her life – Rana Chaudhary, a ‘non-bengali Chaudhary’, a civil engineer with a dubious employment history in Dubai, now the owner of a taxi service, played impeccably by Irfaan Khan. Piku although interested in him, doesn’t throw herself into his arms because this is not about a woman’s desperate search for love. It is about a woman putting forth her priorities and demanding that if a man wants to marry her, he must be ready to adopt her 70 year old father. And that she can make that marriage proposal with a mouthful of egg roll and a silly giggle is what makes Piku a film worth celebrating from the feminist point of view.
Piku is also a beautiful collection of many women’s stories told through the narrative of noisy melodrama and cacophony. There is Piku’s mashi played by the beautiful Mousumi Chatterjee, a gorgeous socialite currently on her third marriage, casually joking about being ready for a fourth one. But she is not a subject of humour or ridicule as we have seen in countless films, like Hum Aapke Hai Kaun or Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge…she is happy, fun loving and enjoys her life to the fullest.
Then there is Piku’s choto kaki, another cranky woman frustrated with the task of managing a big mansion on a meagre income. We get to know that her fears are rooted in the history of her marriage and that if she would have taken up a job Bhaskor arranged for her decades ago, she would have earned a better salary than her husband.
Although their stories remained somewhat incomplete the two women in Rana Chaudhary’s life, his mother and sister, are fascinating characters. The mother is a vociferous woman with no sympathy for the son who lost his job. The sister is equally ferocious; her husband has probably left her because she stole her mother-in-law’s necklace. She and her toddler child are now living with Rana without any sense of apology or gratitude. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to explore the back stories of these women?
It is not often that the words ‘women’s liberation’ are uttered by a Hindi film hero, since they are so busy saving the damsels, but Rana quite casually speaks of how women in Saudi Arabia are fighting for their driving rights. “Driving liberates a woman,” he tells Piku.
The portrayal of women’s sexual liberation couldn’t have been better. Piku has an active sex life, her partner occasionally sleeps at her place even though she lives with her father. This was shown as casually as the ceiling fan and light bulbs in a room.
For ages, whether in film, TV or advertising, we have been bombarded with images of a responsible father fulfilling his biggest responsibility, giving his daughter in marriage to a suitable man. We have seen heavy handed, conservative, patriarchal fathers whom the daughters have either feared or bowed to in respect (Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, 1995). We have seen poor struggling fathers who have induced buckets of emotion but failed to give their daughters a quality life (Laga Chunari Mein Daag, 2007).
Enter Bhaskor Banerjee and Piku, a father daughter duo that will forever change the way we imagine father daughter relationships.
Bechdel testing Piku: The film passes the test with good grades as there are many scenes in the film where two or more female characters talk to each other about things other than men.
Writer, photographer and a story teller. Women and Gender Studies is my theme and media
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