Hope I Die Before I Get Old

Amitabh Bachchan chews the scenery in Shoojit Sircar's ‘Piku’, but provides a compelling portrait of a man suffering the indignities of age.

The Peanut Gallery

Director: Shoojit Sircar
Starring: Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, Irrfan Khan, Raghuvir Yadav, Moushumi Chatterjee, Jishu Sengupta

There’s much to be said for the benefits of a satisfactory morning dump. It is the best cure for hangovers; much more responsible for that spring in your step, that sunny outlook towards life, than most of us are willing to admit, at least in polite company. To be deprived of one for the rest of your foreseeable life is a cruel fate indeed.

Bhashkor Banerjee (Bachchan) longs for just one last chance to savour that emperor of everyday pleasures. One good shit, he says, then he can die in peace. It is the great project of his life: with his homeopath-cum-best-friend, his trusty Man Friday and his reluctant daughter Piku (Padukone), he analyses his daily output and plots ways to improve it, accepting ideas and remedies no matter whence they come—a running gag throughout Shoojit Sircar’s Piku.

Bhashkor Babu’s hobby, however, is the bane of his daughter’s existence, an endless source of embarrassing moments. Just as she and her date are about to order dinner, for instance, Piku has to relay, in graphic detail, the composition of the latest batch to the homeopath, a frizzy-haired, slightly dubious fellow played by Raghuvir Yadav, as dedicated to the study of poop as Annu Kapoor’s Dr Baldev Chadda was to that of sperm in Sircar’s 2012 film Vicky Donor. Another update is read out by her secretary in the middle of an important meeting. Conversations at home inevitably gravitate to the subject of his bowels. (Elvis died of constipation, it seems, because his body was found in the loo.) “We know everything about constipation,” Piku says at one point.

Bhashkor Banerjee (Bachchan) longs for just one last chance to savour that emperor of everyday pleasures. One good shit, he says, then he can die in peace.

It’s not just the poop obsession that drives Piku nuts. Constipation seems to be the only ailment Bhashkor suffers from, but he is an inveterate hypochondriac. He is a terror to the household’s maids, none of whom can stand his constant scrutiny and suspicion for more than a few weeks. (As she quits, the most recent one tells Piku she’ll happily work in her husband’s house, just not her father’s.) He’s stubborn, inconsiderate and boorish—he must have his way no matter how much the people around him are inconvenienced.

Most of the time, of course, the person most inconvenienced is his daughter, and she often finds herself late to or called away from her work as a partner in an architecture firm. The poor cabbies who drive her to work are the collateral damage for this, being constantly harangued to go faster and faster, sometimes even leading to a fender bender. It’s a perennial headache for Rana (Khan), the owner of the taxi stand, who always faces dissent from his staff when trying to send someone to pick up the “CR Park walee”. The prospect of driving her and her father 1,600 km to Kolkata is the last straw; the staff mutinies, everyone switching off their mobile phones on the day in question, leaving Rana to have to drive them himself.

At first glance, that is what Piku is, a road-trip movie with Deepika as straight woman to an over-the-top performance by the old geezer in the back seat, making googly eyes at the driver while she sorts out various tantrums. You know, a Bangla Finding Fanny, with lots of poop jokes. In an interview with Tehelka after the release of Vicky Donor, writer Juhi Chaturvedi had credited her and Sircar’s background in advertising for “[training] them to answer the question, ‘Idea kya hai?’ in one line with no room for dithering, and a clutter-breaking approach.” In other words, the ability to reduce entire movies to one-line elevator pitches. A side-effect of this approach is a lack of depth, something that is evident and annoying both in Vicky and Piku. (Shubhra Gupta’s verdict: “I wanted more motion in these motions.”) In both films, however, Chaturvedi more than compensates by creating compelling characters and making them interact in unconventional, but believable ways—who can forget Dolly Ahluwalia’s Mrs Arora knocking back a few with her mother after a hard day’s work?

Both films are comedies with soul, attempts to “emulate [Chaturvedi’s] cinematic guru Hrishikesh Mukherjee”, as the Tehelka article put it. Bachchan’s character even has the same name as the babumoshai he played in Anand. It’s a nice homage; like Hrishida’s 1971 masterpiece, this film, too, is about reconciling oneself with approaching death. Only, it’s not an early demise from cancer, but much worse: the death that comes too late, making you suffer the indignities of age before it does—the diminished standing in the world, the lack of things to do, the fear of irrelevance.

These deep insecurities are, after all, the reason behind Bhashkor’s selfish, attention-seeking behaviour throughout the film. He picks daily fights with maids because he has nothing better to do, and because servants are the only people he can order around anyway. He won’t let Piku get married—not that she seems too eager to anyway—not because marriage is only for “low-IQ people”, but because he can’t stand the thought of living alone. He’s a hypochondriac, because his health is the only currency he has in order to claim attention nowadays.

Both films are comedies with soul, attempts to “emulate [Chaturvedi’s] cinematic guru Hrishikesh Mukherjee”. Bachchan’s character even has the same name as the babumoshai he played in Anand.

Piku’s response to Bhashkor’s behaviour is very relatable—she’s quick to lose her temper, having almost daily shouting matches with her father, but she never questions why she’s putting up with the old man. However boorish he is, he is her father, and children are supposed to take care of them when they can’t look after themselves. (Of course, the heavy lifting is left to the servants.)

Rana’s entry into the picture during the road trip provides an outsider’s perspective to their relationship. His being the owner, rather than the driver, is important: it puts him on an equal social footing with Piku and Bhashkor, helps him be brutally honest to both of them without fear, to say out loud what has only been shown so far. For this film isn’t about the big confrontation and the dramatic rona-dhona that would normally accompany it. The growing tension, the unsustainability of the almost parasitic dynamic between Bhashkor and his daughter, is subtly treated. That subtlety, aided by excellent performances by the entire cast, is Piku‘s biggest triumph.

After four years of pretending to study mechanical engineering—in Goa of all places—Ajachi Chakrabarti chose to pursue a career in journalism largely because said career didn't require him to wear formal shoes. He writes about culture and society, and believes grammar is the only road to salvation.

Be first to comment