The year in review

Best of Bollywood 2015 countdown: ‘Piku’

Shoojit Sircar’s family drama proves that the best way to the heart is through the stomach.

The countdown to the year’s best films continues. Next up on the list after Titli and Badlapur is Piku, about unmoving bowels and moving moments.

Piku

The team behind Vicky Donor gives an innovative spin to the idea of holding on tight and letting go in Piku. Directed by Shoojit Sircar and written by Juhi Chaturvedi, Piku uses the set-up of a bowel movement-obsessed patriarch and his single caretaker daughter to explore family ties that bind as well as gag. The movie acknowledges the fears of the elderly but also gently rebukes them for projecting their anxieties onto their guilt-ridden children. The titular heroine, despite being played by Deepika Padukone, has a non-existent love life, and her world revolves around her gripe-infested and needy father Bhaskor Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchan), who is obsessed with his general health and the ebbs and flows of his alimentary canal.

An outsider provides much-needed perspective on the family’s functioning dysfunctionality. Rana (Irrfan) is the owner of a taxi service who is shanghaied into ferrying Piku, Bhaskor and the male help Bhudan (Balendra Singh) to Kolkata. Rana’s own family isn’t exactly perfect, but it’s only when he drives the Bannerjees that he understand Piku’s high-strung behaviour. In a movie packed with sharp and often humourous verbal exchanges, the best one isn’t between Bhaskor and Piku but between Bhaskor and Rana just as they are rolling into Kolkata. Rana deftly puts a stop to Bhaskor’s petulance and makes him see, if only for a fleeting moment, that his daughter is a saint in blue jeans.

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“Every scene of Piku is precious, but this one is my favourite and it came out as perfectly as it was written,” Sircar said. “I told Juhi that she had written a brilliant scene. She was there throughout the shoot, and when it was performed, she had tears in her eyes.”

Sircar shot the road trip in sequence so that the actors could completely slip under the skin of their characters. “The idea is that by the time we arrive at this sequence, we are at the end of the road, and the characters have been through enough,” he said. “A new kind of relationship is also developing between Piku and Rana, and she sees that this person who runs a fleet taxi service also has some personality to him. Bhaskor is dumbstruck that somebody should have shouted at him, and Rana is generally disgusted. A new chapter begins.”

A great deal of preparation went into familiarising the actors with their characters and each other. “This is the kind of movie in which the actors needed to be very comfortable with each other, otherwise the level of performances would not be possible,” Sircar said. “We created the environment of a road trip and left it to the actors. We had done a lot of rehearsals before, and we shot the road trip entirely on the highway.”

Initial plans to use computer-generated backgrounds for the journey from Delhi to Kolkata were mercifully axed. “I had to give the film the right milieu, otherwise it would not have been convincing,” Sircar said. He had shot extensively on the highways in Gujarat, where many of the scenes play out, for his unreleased film Shoebite, and was well-versed with the terrain. Upto four cameras were used in the shoot. What is not seen in the film is the vehicle that is attached by a rope to the car in which the characters are travelling, pulling it along. “We created a mini studio on the road,” Sircar said. “Our rehearsals would take five to six hours, but we should shoot a couple of takes for not more than 20 minutes, and that is what you see in the movie. It was a stop and start shoot, and all the actors were tired. It was all done organically.”

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