What's made Deepika-starrer Piku such a hit? - Entertainment - DAWN.COM A critical darling, a money-spinner and a cultural touchstone – and to think that Piku is about bowel movements and death.
Its creator, Juhi Chaturvedi, is everybody's favourite screenwriter for the moment. Her humourous and often touching exploration of the frayed ties between Bhaskor Banerjee, a cantankerous and constipated 70-year-old Bengali gent, and his unmarried, harried daughter Piku, is this year's most unlikely family outing movie.
Cinemas across the country are swelling with kids, parents and grandparents, many of whom relate all too well to the movie's themes of inter-generational conflict, anxieties over ageing and death, the difficulty of taking care of ailing parents, and the necessity of handling bodily malfunctions without emotion or embarrassment.
Directed by Chaturvedi's regular collaborator Shoojit Sircar and starring Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone and Irrfan as the outsider who wades into the family muck, Piku has cemented Chaturvedi's reputation as one of the most empathetic and astute chroniclers of middle-class India. Her Twitter timeline is filled with encomiums on how she has held a mirror to basic social realities, and wherever she turns, she is told by admirers of how Bhaskor is so uncannily like their own silver-haired kin.
"The film appears to have touched a nerve – adults can relate to the stress and the guilt of what Piku is going through, while kids like the potty conversations," she said. "Finally, somebody is talking about potty! But the film also deals with the insecurities of old age that parents cannot directly talk about with their kids. And Shoojit shot it all so beautifully."
The soft-voiced writer has previously worked on Sircar's Shoebite, starring Bachchan and made in 2008 but shelved after a copyright battle between its producers. She first came to notice for her witty screenplay for 2012's comedy Vicky Donor, which starred Ayushmann Khurana and was about another taboo subject, sperm donation. Vicky Donor marked Chaturvedi as a writer to look out for, but Piku might prove to be career-altering for the 40-year-old former advertising professional. One of the sparks for Piku was a conversation between Chaturvedi and Sircar about the pressures of taking care of ageing parents. "We spoke so much about it that he said, why don't you write something and see what happens? And shit happened!"
The daughter who was a mother Chaturvedi based Bhaskor's character on her grandfather, who stayed with her family while they were living in Lucknow, but a deeper inspiration for the issues discussed in Piku is her late mother. Mridula Chaturvedi died three years ago after suffering from various ailments for 30 years, and her daughter had to step into the roles of nurse and parent far too early. "My mother had hypertension and then suffered a hemorrhage when I was in the second standard," Chaturvedi said. The hemorrhage eventually led to kidney failure when Chaturvedi was in her late teens, and one of the side effects of the medication was depression.
Chaturvedi's elder brother was in boarding school, so the task of helping nurse her mother fell on the daughter. "You become an oncologist, a cancer specialist, a nephrologist, everything," Chaturvedi said. "Humour held me together. When you are sitting in a hospital corridor for hours, how much can you grieve over things?"
She was a "very quiet" child, who kept herself occupied by helping her grandfather with the gardening. Her eye for observation and ear for conversational dialogue were sharpened by years of being in an attendant's position. "When I would go to other people's houses, I would entertain myself by looking at their photo albums and observing how they kept their houses," she said.
Her grandfather, Dinanath Chaturvedi, and her father, Dhirendra Chaturvedi, were both in the state education department, so her childhood was spent in capacious government accommodation and characterised by the Nehruvian imperative of simple living and high thinking. Chaturvedi is from that generation of middle-class Indians whose exposure to the movies included squatting in front of the television set on Sundays afternoons and taking in the best of Indian language cinema. She describes her growing-up year as being suffused with an appreciation of the arts and literature and a disdain of mainstream cinema. Satyajit Ray, one of Chaturvedi's favourite filmmakers, was perfectly acceptable, but popular Hindi films were not.