Some movies evoke memories of cities, of friends lost in time, of a people who are frozen deep in memory, who you probably knew in bits and pieces, who you maybe passed on the street or knew as uncles and aunts of friends. Seeing Piku reminds me of all the Bengalis who flooded my childhood - the cantankerous men, the shrieking and oh-so-loud women, the homoepathic doctors who were never ever to be rushed, the schools, or rather, the universities of thought they inhabited and the beautiful baris (houses) that they lived in.
Piku is a gem because it gives us a brilliant glimpse into everyday life of people much like us, who live their life maybe a bit differently; it's not about the eccentricities of its characters, about constipated, crotchety old men and their stressed-out daughters; it's about the way they think – women who must be independent - Piku should NOT marry even if her biological clock is ticking; she must be able to handle her finances and she must look after the big baby (her Baba) in the house. That is normal! No stereotypes please! And, when Irfan Khan (the other male lead) calls her father selfish because he wants Piku all to himself, she absorbs the sentiment (and flings it at her dad in an angry outburst) but counters it with a matter-of-fact "but we don’t judge our parents".
Badminton, homeopathy, chronic constipation, constant chatter - all the Bengali must haves are here - along with passing references to “mangsho”( divine mutton curry) and maach (fish).
The actors give brilliant, nuanced performances - Amitabh Bacchan as Bhaskar Bannerjee who is bogged down (quite literally!) by the state of his stomach, Moushumi Chatterjee as the flirty talkative aunt, Deepika Padukone, fiery and fierce as his daughter and Irfan Khan as the ‘ non–Bengali Choudhuri’ caught between attraction and exasperation. Each inhabits their character totally, the direction doesn’t miss a beat, and the cinematography captures beauty in passing images - the Howrah Bridge, the Jetty, maidan, Victoria memorial, Esplanade Dalhousie - beloved landmarks of the city which gives me joy, always.
The movie makes me wish I had never left Calcutta (now Kolkatta). Being an honorary Bengali, I will watch it again for nostalgia’s sake, to laugh and catch any Bengali mannerisms I may have missed. You however, should watch it for all the things it takes for granted: the dignity of women, their right to be heard and pursue individual destinies, the loud rubbishing of convention, the barbs in every family conversation and also the love and the overriding frustration with the other!
And since this column is called Meanderings, let me meander to the other hot topic of the day in India - of justice, served, just as they like it for bailbirds - Bollywood actor Salman Khan and former Tamilnadu CM Jayalalitha (Amma)!
I am ashamed to admit that I did feel an initial pang of sympathy for Salman but the man did not even to step into jail! He killed a human being, he did not stop to help, he furnished outrageous evidence to prove he was not driving and he’s suitably sorry?
I am all for redemptive justice but what about some community service? Some visible indicator of a reprimand? At the very least they could have taken away his driving license, banned him from driving in India for life and made him promote safe driving videos. Jayalalitha’s case is equally intriguing. She has emerged, in her own words 'as tested pure gold'. Makes one wonder, are the rich and powerful truly anaesthetized to all the opinions around them? With inescapable social media it's difficult to ignore public opinion, even when surrounded by sycophants who may try to curtail the criticism. Maybe in the future we will find a truly repentant celebrity, or a politician who admits to temptation. Maybe, a tiny sliver of humanity will slice through the lies and admit to being human, to making mistakes.
It is easy to give in to cynicism and dismiss the entire system as being compromised but that is not how anything will change. To change the system one must be a part of it.
“Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes'.”
― Stephen Colbert
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