Amongst the most famous first lines of a novel is this gem from Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. ” I never quite agreed, but I’m not one to pick fights with Tolstoy. Let’s just meet the characters before we start judging classic lines.
Amitabh Bachchan is the oldie of your nightmares. He plays Bhaskar, sorry Bhaskor Banerjee. Hypochondriac, abrasive, aggressive, selfish, inconsiderate, loud and obsessed with his bowel movement. How his daughter Piku, played by Deepika puts up with him, no one knows. But she is so like him that you wonder how people put up with her.
So they go on a road trip, and surprise, surprise, no driver wants to accompany them across the country. Except the somewhat smitten Irffffan or Iiirrrfan or however he spells his name these days. Playing a Chaudhary, but a non-Bengali one, to Amitabh’s disappointment, he takes up the arduous task and almost immediately regrets it.
Piku, superficially, is about bowel movement. Many people must have made jokes about this being a real “Motion” picture. It’s also about eccentrics and foul-mouths and incessant talkers and Bengalis. This is a movie about relationships. The father-daughter relationship takes centre-stage. Veering between feminist idealism and utter selfishness, Bhaskor treats Piku such that most will run away. With her constant complains and folk temper, Piku herself is no bundle of joy either. Bhaskor publicly talks about things that no one in their right mind wants to talk about and things no one wants to hear about. He is the poster boy for old age being a second childhood. Far from quiet dignity, he relishes being loud, outside of the society’s “normal”, both endearing and infuriating. But he is a different character ias the film progresses, and the venue changes. That change in venue, along with a change in the company, brings another side of Piku out too. The father-daughter relationship, although crucial, is not all this film is about.
In a few succinct dialogues, all kinds of relationships come alive. From a friend with benefits to overbearing mom to affection in derision to sibling love, and also deep and abiding resentments. Irfan’ character provides an outsider’s view into this quagmire. And his budding relationship with Deepika and her family gives us a way into these guys. These crazy, unique people.
So different in their own way, yes, but to test the Tolstoy quote we need to determine whether they are happy. That’s where director Shojit Sirkar keeps dropping clues. Happiness is a continuum, its also a transience, and occasionally you may be profoundly unhappy with people you love whole-heartedly. The attachment is real, but the behavior is obnoxious
And so here we are, a counter-example to Tolstoy, a family that’s somewhat happy in its own unique way.
PS: Great performances. Superb dialogue. Amazing direction. Muuuuuust watch.