May 9 2015
New film has two big Bollywood stars and indie favourite Irrfan Khan, who tells us what made him want to do ‘Piku’…
ALMOST exactly two years ago, one of the most recognisable faces of Indian cinema (in the west) Irrfan Khan told us he wanted to make more romantic films.
It was Cannes 2013 and there was a huge buzz around the Indian film, “The Lunchbox”.
The hoopla turned out to be entirely justified – Ritesh Batra’s charming debut production about a lonely, curmudgeonly peon, played by Khan, stumbling into an uncertain and unlikely romance with the plainer (then of the film) Nimrat Kaur through misplaced lunchboxes went onto gross some $15 million and became a cult hit almost wherever it played in the world.
Now, Khan is back at it in “Piku”, an Indian film which has a mature, grown-up and almost ultra-realistic feel to it; and while it doesn’t have the more obvious romance of “The Lunchbox” it possesses something of a sweet and sour edge.
There is some Indian tamasha (fun) around bowel movements and an old man’s constipation issues. It’s funny but perhaps at times a little overplayed and too graphic.
‘Piku’ does has a rather bigger budget than “The Lunchbox” because it has two big Bollywood stars in Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone alongside Khan and it is very much part of the changing landscape of Indian popular/independent cinema, a sort of middle road between Bollywood and independent art house, neither one nor the other.
Khan laughed when we reminded him of his comment at Cannes.
“This has got a combination of things,” he told www.asianculturevulture.com of “Piku” over the phone from India. “I was really fortunate to have got this alongside such a fantastic cast.
“It takes time when you are not adapting yourself to the popular, classical way of Bollywood,” he explained of his decision to move away from conventional Bollywood films after an early TV career in India. “You are trying to create your own way of entertaining people, and trying to find new ways of telling stories.
“I had no choice I didn’t enjoy the regular (Bollywood) way of telling stories.”
In essence, he was far too good an actor just to play it up in Bollywood style and he does feel the winds of change blowing in Indian cinema.
“When you do a film and you hope people will like it and you have a belief. There have been screenings here (in India) and people have their opinion that the film is going to be very popular – Indian audiences are changing.
“Hollywood films are doing more and more business. (“Fast and Furious 7” smashed box office records for a western film in India) and so the audience is looking for different kinds of entertainment. They are looking for variety and more finesse in story-telling.”
There is that in “Piku” – it’s very much a comedy drama and has a different sensibility than that of your typical Bollywood tamasha.
Khan plays Rana, a cab firm owner who ends up taking Bashkor (Bachchan) and his daughter, Piku (Padukone) on a road journey from Delhi to Kolkata, where their crumbling ancestral pile faces almost imminent sale.
It’s one of the smaller sub plots – really this is a road movie with Bachchan, Padukone and Khan playing off each other beautifully – it has an affecting ensemble feel to it.
Piku is dedicated to her father, her father is irascible, demanding and utterly selfish and constantly troubled by his movements or lack of them in a digestive sense; Khan as Rana is outside the family, but has something of a soft spot for the Padukone character. Who wouldn’t?
And yet Dad keeps getting in the way and is quite happy for his 30-something daughter to be single and still waiting helplessly on him.
Quite hilariously and taboo-crushingly, he tells possible suitors his daughter isn’t a virgin and has had several physical relationships. The men almost always run away – literally.
Not Rana, who has something of vague back story in that he was an engineer who had to leave Saudi after a disagreement with bosses there and ends up running his late father’s cab firm.
He lives with his widowed mother and his divorced single sister mum. It’s not a happy household. In some ways, he finds a sort of relief in the bickering Bhaskor and the subjugated Piku. Certainly Bhaskor tests him at every level.
The first half is perhaps a little slow and there isn’t enough dramatic tension, though there are some amusing scenes and dialogues.
The second half is considerably tighter and very deftly handled by director Shoojit Sircar and has more drama than laughs.
Sircar gets good performances from his trio of stars, even if Bachchan is in moments, a tad over-theatrical (but then Bhaskor is like that, he would argue).
It’s very watchable and restrained in some senses and probably will do for Indian audiences what “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” did here – bring an older cinema-going public into theatre in bigger numbers. It is sort of hitting that demographic.
So, do Rana and Piku find happiness together?
“As an actor you want to do love stories,” Khan opined. “It’s just not that sort of single dimensional love story you get in most Indian cinema, so I was eager to do this and I want to do humorous and lighter films.”
Way to go Mr Khan, way to go…
ACV rating: ***½ (out of five)
‘Piku’ is out on general release worldwide from May 8