Regular readers of my blog already know about my Feminist reviews. These are film reviews done by me after wearing my feminist glasses. So this time I did an exclusive review for the women centric collaborative blog ‘Women’s Web’. Below is the full version of the review, they have put up an edited version.
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. Soojit Sirkar’s Piku entered the bandwagon and 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 this is a feminist review, let me focus on the ‘everything women part’ first.
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 cluttered and pre-occupied by her 70 year old father, Bhaskor Banerjee who is, as any other self-respecting Bengali, constantly obsessed with his bowel movements. It’s either constipation or semi liquid, sometimes its thick, sometimes its green or yellowish green, with mucus, mango pulp like… and he must give all these minute details to his daughter in the middle of her client meetings or dates.
No wonder she can’t have a proper relationship considering all her first dates come to an abrupt end due to her father’s potty related emergency. Not only would he ruin all her dates by calling in the middle of it, he would also caution 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 over demanding tantrums, his obsessive compulsive disorders, and his loathing for everything that the 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. It’s a rut she cannot get out of “Is this how I am going to live my life, discussing your shit?” she worries.
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. A man who would make Bhaskor realize that the greatest gift he could give his daughter was not education or independence but marriage. 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 happened and that’s where Piku raises the bar in telling the woman story. Piku doesn’t have a problem to be solved or a woman to be rescued or a broken heart to be mend. 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. He brings some sanity in her otherwise chaotic world, she seems interested in him and there are obvious hints of romance between them but the script doesn’t overplay the romance. The man doesn’t ‘sweep her off her feet’ because women are supposed to be grounded and not some fragile insecure speck to be so easily swept off. Piku doesn’t throw herself into this man’s 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 stories told through the narrative of noisy melodrama and cacophony. There is Piku’s mashi played by the beautiful Mousumi Chatterjee. She is a gorgeous socialite currently on her third marriage, casually joking about being ready for a fourth one. But she is not cheap or loose and 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 enquires about Piku’s sex life and advises her for a permanent solution to her ‘needs’. 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 with meagre income, she suspects Piku and Bhaskor are planning to sell off the family mansion. 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. She probably has been a union leader. The sister is equally ferocious; her husband has probably left her because she stole her mother in laws necklace. She and her toddler child is now living with Rana without any sense of apology or gratitude. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to explore the back stories of these women?
There are also innumerable moments in the film that speak of women’s liberation in exactly those words. Bhaskor himself is a liberalist sort, who always wanted his wife to have an identity but she gave up her career and dedicated herself to Bhaskor’s ‘service’. This according to Bhaskor is a low IQ decision – to throw your knowledge, respect, identity, brain into the wedding fire. Although it may be debated that she probably gave up everything because of Bhaskor’s over demanding tantrums which would make him a bit of hypocrite but then let’s give him a benefit of doubt.
Rana Chadhary also understands women’s liberation, he speaks of how women in Saudi are fighting for their driving rights, “Driving liberates a woman” he tells Piku. It is not often that the words ‘women’s liberation’ are uttered by the hero of a Hindi film. They are so busy saving the damsels you see.
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 we have been bombarded with images of a responsible father fulfilling his biggest responsibility, giving his daughter in marriage to a suitable man. The TV commercials of suiting shirting brands portray a ‘complete man’ is one who gives the hand of daughter or the one who takes the hand. We have seen heavy handed conservative patriarchal fathers whom the daughters have either feared or bowed in respect (Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, 1995). We have seen poor struggling fathers who have induced buckets of emotions but failed to give their daughters a quality life (Laga Chunari Mein Daag, 2007).
Enter Bhaskor Banerjee and Piku, a father daughter duo that would forever change the way we imagine father daughter relationships.
Piku also pushes the envelope in dealing with tabooed subject. The potty here might be a euphemism for all such tabooed subject about which we are not allowed to talk, the message in the end is to loosen up, let it be. From the nature of the potty to how to wash paccha (Bengali word for buttocks) to the commode jet spray, the ideal body posture for shitting, to women’s night wear, bra, women’s sex life, virginity, sexual empowerment et all. The crassness of our daily lives is so honestly portrayed in the film that it would absorb you and make you a part of Piku’s world.
The attention to details by Shoojit Sirkar in portraying a Bengali family was par excellence. The poster of Satyajit Ray, large frames of Sri Ram Krishna Paramhansa and Sarada Ma on the wall to whom Piku offers prayer before she leaves for work, Telegraph newspaper, mosquito net, the faith in homeopathy, the medicine box, fish cutlet, begun bhaja down to the jharna ghee – every inch of every frame in the film is filled with Bengali-ness.
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 were talking to each other about things other than men.
An edited version of this review first appeared on ‘Women’s Web’