"A man’s emotion is directly connected to his motion”, and vice versa. This golden morsel of wisdom is one of the core fundamentals in Piku, a one-half road movie and one-half family drama about stubborn old parents and their even stubborn, head-strong children. At roughly 30 (my presumption), Piku, played with natural unpretentiousness and gruff by Deepika Padukone, is the single daughter of Bhaskor Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchan), an old, cranky coot of 70, whose life revolves around two major issues: his love for argument, and his even greater love – or should I say fascination with – constipation and laxation.
In fact, every major story-beat in Piku either stems from or revolves around digestive issues; inadvertent ponderings of mortality and hypochondria are served as a side-dish.
At present, after one viewing, it is difficult applauding one particular excellence in Piku – there’s the brilliance of performances, the naturalness of Juhi Chaturvedi’s screenplay or Soojit Sircar’s direction. Sircar previous directorial credit is Madras Café, starring John Abraham. In Piku, Sircar is much surer of himself and his talent, and the story, miniscule as it may be, blooms as a consequence.
Most of Piku is shot in confined spaces – a trait also found in Sircar’s previous movie. The limited legroom for cinematography (where Sircar uses too many angles and fast edits), and overcrowded sets, give way to arguments – which, so far in my experience, is a perfect tactic to establish character’s and mindsets. The screenplay, however, runs out of new material and revelations after the first few instances.
Given the reality-inspired take of the story – there aren’t any big, bursting reveals, anywhere here – the execution, and audience’s subtle gratification, develops from Piku and Bhaskor’s routineness. Bhaskor, impatient and uncompromising, fires the help, Piku retaliates, he humiliates her at parties, she leaves him stranded, other relatives come over and everyone argues some more.At one instance, Bhaskor sends a message to Piku’s office discussing his bowel movement; at another instance, he openly tells any suitable suitor that she has no need for relationships. Bhaskor has a strange, irrational, insecure way of keeping his daughter to himself. The squabbles aren’t written to evoke laugh-out-loud responses from the audience; it would, at most, produce brief guffaws, inadvertent smiles or face-palm moments (and sometimes all three, in exact order).
Piku at one point try’s (and fails) to fool us into thinking that the story is about a clear career woman’s independence. It isn’t by a longshot. The idea is simpler: it is about one’s responsibility to family, regardless of the aggravation or humiliation.
For most of the first half, before the road-trip part of the movie takes place, Sircar and Chaturvedi astutely set-up familiarities with both Piku and Bhaskor, letting the second half, flow on daft autopilot. It is here, that another talent takes over and overshadows both Bachchan and Padukone. A roaring round of applause, then for Irrfan Khan as Rana, the owner of a taxi service who, confined by fate, drives Piku and Bhaskor from Delhi to Kolkata.
Rana and Piku have chemistry brewing, but its disclosure isn’t on the cards. At 72, Amitabh Bachchan, is a roaring force of nature. Although he is well-past his age of versatility, the actor still succeeds in bringing oomph to his character. At certain moments, the charisma and screen-chewing experience becomes too strong a force to easily subdue.
The movie, though, doesn’t tilt over. It simply stays locked in a brief bit of time. Sometimes, rather than over-analysing the aesthetics of the craft, it just pays to tag along on the journey.
GABBAR IS BACK
The most interesting sequential set-piece in Gabbar is Back – the title has little to do with Sholay or its big baddie Gabbar – comes just before the intermission. Adi (aka. Gabbar aka. Akshay Kumar) – a righteous man with a calculating mind and mean-streak against corruption – witnesses the epoch of greed in a privately run hospital; a desperate man, and his little daughter,are kept in the dark about his wife’s death until after he clears up his bill. Adi, seeing his agitation and distress, deposits a recently deceased man in the same hospital and waits for the doctors to declare him dead. After spending over 400,000 in cash for life insurance, services of a neurologist, and medicines that are conveniently resold to the pharmacy by the staff, the poor dead man is finally declared lifeless. Adi, in true, infallible South Indian-hero-style, exposes the corruption, breaking a few bones in spectacular style in the process, makes back his money, and tops it with 50 million for the deceased’s impoverished family.
Before and after this tit-bit of over-the-top-extravagance, the concept of ‘Gabbar’ is lackluster and ill-fitting. The notion – though without Gabbar’s name –is used in the original Tamil version, Ramanna (2002), written and directed by this film’s screenwriter A.R. Murugadoss (of Ghajini, 2005 and the 2008 remake, Fame). I can only hope that the original was better entertainment.
This version, directed by Krish (a famed Telugu director), is a punch-less undertaking whose only obligation is checking off scenes in its hectic production schedule. There’s a lack of fore-thought on how to play-out scenarios at their fullest potential.
However, I’d like to note that much of Gabbar is Back is breezy, brash-y filmmaking, running primarily on Akshay Kumar’s star-power, and Sunil Grover’s mute star-making supporting role. Although Grover, who people may recall as Guthi from Saturday Nights with Kapil, stays away from comedy here, he plays a ‘Hawaldar’ driver to a senior officer, who laughs-off his keen detective skills. His character is probably more defined than Adi’s, whose backstory serves as a frail spine to whatever’s happening on-screen.
Gabbar is Adi’s morally-charged, corruption-fighting persona; a voice on a DVD that makes its way to media, and creates India-wide sensationalism. Gabbar, with assistance from key associates, kidnaps and kills dishonest government officials. His terror strikes down corruption in full filmy fashion – one that’s only workable under the confines of escapist, pop-corn cinema.
Adi’s crusade stems from the death of his unborn child and wife (Kareena Kapoor, transparently “acting” in the hit song sequence Teri Meri Kahani, music by Chirantan Bhatt). The real villain (SumanTalwar), a nasty zillionaire construction tycoon, appears right before the intermission.
The dud execution of Gabbar is Back gets picture-perfect support from Shruti Hassan (Kamal Haasan’s daughter), who is creatively named Shruti in the movie. Shruti is a Google-statistic quoting upbeat lawyer in training, who falls for Adi. Ms. Haasan, although trying to be hip and annoying at the same time, is a pale imitation of AsinThottumkal’s Kalpana from Ghajini. The liability is Ms. Haasan, who with her monotone voice, amateur acting skills, and nearly 20 film credits, still cannot effectively pull-off her character – her beauty – minus the wild, styled-tangled frizzy locks– help her none.
While Gabbar’s aesthetics are a mess, its technicality doesn’t fare well either, with ho-hum action choreography, chock full of unimpressive wire-work, by-the-book cinematography and editing and insipid, even child-like dialogues. The argument against corruption and the power of the youth – a sub-topic that somehow echoes the beat of a certain political party in Pakistan – is welcome – almost everything else is stupefying and irksome.Especially the ‘Gabbar’ reference. •