Piku And Her Friends: The Joys Of Watching Piku As A Twenty-Something Woman, Film Companion

Not once does Piku apologize for its protagonist. When Rana (played by Irrfan Khan) begins asking Piku (played by Deepika Padukone), “kya tum inhiki ladki ho?”, she promptly cuts him off and retorts, almost in anger,Haan main inhi ki ladki hoon, aur main inse ten times zyada strange, weird, irritating, annoying…main hoon inse zyada.” It is not that Piku can’t bear to listen to her father, Bhaskor (played by Amitabh Bachchan) being criticised. What Piku is saying here is that to be with another person is also to end up and engage with their ‘weird’, ‘irritating’ and ‘annoying’  ways.

Piku is not going to be a ‘nice girl’. Not for her father, not for Sourav – who explicitly says that he is looking for a ‘nice girl’ and is told off by Bhaskor for saying so, in a scene that more fathers would do well to watch – and, not for Rana either. She walks away from the conversation immediately after, seemingly without a care about whether she has jeopardised her budding friendship with Rana.

This is by no means the only time in the film that Piku refuses to play the ‘nice girl’. Again, in a scene where Syed (played by Jisshu Sengupta) and she are getting into the car after having a conversation with Rana about the accidents that the chauffeurs seem to get in every time they are driving her, Syed ends up being a touch patronising when she points out that during their conversation Rana was being rude. Leaving his car, she decides to walk home. Piku may not be in the ‘right’ here, but the film wants us to know that Syed isn’t as ‘right’ as he seems to think he is. While we as the audience expect Syed and Rana to confront Piku about the way in which she has utilized the taxi service, we don’t expect Piku to note Syed’s tone and react to it.

 

And that is the point. The film wants us to know that like anybody else, she has feelings. And even at the cost of being seen as “weird”, “irritating” or “annoying” for expressing “difficult” emotions, she has also decided to be authentic to them. However, it is a testament to the brilliance of Deepika’s acting, that the audience cannot, in fact, see her as “weird”, “irritating” or “annoying” by the end of the film. In one of her recent interviews with Film Companion, she explains that some characters are not written as “likeable” characters, it is the energy that an actor brings to it that often makes the character likeable. While listening to that interview, I couldn’t help thinking: Could Piku have been such a character?

Deepika reacts, you can see her expressions shift. When Bhaskor blunders into mentioning that Piku’s mother, after her death, had also lain at the courtyard of Champakunj, we see Deepika go from preparing to leave with Rana, paying only half a mind to Bhaskor’s words to looking stricken within seconds. Or, when Aniket (played by Akshay Oberoi) refuses to order dinner because Piku has been discussing her father’s health with their doctor in somewhat graphic detail, you see her go from confused, to hurt, to angry. In registering the shift in her expressions, we have repeatedly been reminded to think about what caused it so that by the time she storms out and defiantly tells Syed, “Usne Satyajit Ray ka ek bhi film nahi dekha hai, and he doesn’t vote”, the joke is not on Piku. You do not pity her for being naïve; in fact I found myself agreeing with Piku. There is no need for Piku to legitimise her emotions, but Deepika’s acting ensures that women like Piku are not seen as “crazy”. That her expressions change, ever so subtly but clearly, within the space of a scene, prods the audience to look what might have caused the change.

As a woman, closer now to thirty than to twenty, living in a house almost as unwieldy to maintain as Piku’s ancestral home in Kolkata, Champakunj, who is encouraged to find a (obviously, male) partner, I am quite regularly asked to think about how I am coming across; to express my opinions in ‘nicer’ ways, or, sometimes to not express them at all. It’s not a good idea for me to alienate people – I hear – because “Who will marry you?”, “Who will look after you when you are old?”, “Who is going to look after this house?”

When someone wants me to think that they really only have my best interests at heart, they will usually go with, “But won’t you be very, very lonely, later in life?” To be fair to them, it’s a question that bothers me as well. And the screen to which I often turn does not seem offer much by way of comfort. How often, in Hindi cinema, do we see single women living happy, fulfilling lives? How often do we see older, single women represented on screen?

 

Which is why, with this film, what truly stands out to me is that the denouement does not come with Piku being “punished” with loneliness. In fact, we see Piku actively seeking out her “alone time”. She dodges Syed’s calls when he tries to invite her over to a party, or goes into her room, with a glass of red wine, swaying to the tune of “Jibone ki pabona” floating in from her father’s room and slams the door shut. Mostly, though we see her surrounded with people. Granted, this is sometimes the case because she performs the role of caregiver to her father, and for that, she is forced, often, to give up on her privacy to look after his needs. However,  Bhaskor is not the only person that we see Piku spending her time with. Far from it. We see Piku working on her laptop, as her father and their family doctor discuss fecal matter in great detail. She occasionally chimes in. The soft light of the morning fills the room.

Syed, her business partner, and someone she seems to have a casual relationship with, rushes to her house, his hair disheveled, when he finds out that Bhaskor has fallen ill. With Chhobi mashi (played by Moushumi Chatterjee), Piku stands in the kitchen area. They discuss her Piku’s sex life. As Piku looks on from the first floor balcony at Champakunj, Chhobi mashi and Rana play badminton and playfully flirt with each other.  Piku cannot seem to get a word in as her Kaku, Kaki and Chhobi mashi and Bhaskor all pester Rana to fix their Tullu pump.

Finally, when Bhaskor passes away, Piku finds that she has a roomful of people she needs to address. The film expands the definition of community beyond the hetero-patriarchal institution of the nuclear family, situates Piku within it, and surrounds her – without feeling the need to set her up within a “conventional” unit – with people who welcome her “weird”, “irritating” and “annoying” ways with open arms.  Unlike Aniket, they are very comfortable with her scatological commentary and humour. They smile quietly when Piku informs them that before Bhaskor’s passing, even the one problem that he had – constipation – also fixed itself.

It’s true, what had Piku had told Rana, while returning together from the Ganga ghaat. There’s no need to worry about her. She’s fine.

Piku And Her Friends: The Joys Of Watching Piku As A Twenty-Something Woman, Film Companion

Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.

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