The Age of Living Dangerously

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The Age of Living Dangerously

Yesteryear’s ‘Angry Young Man’ plays a crotchety septuagenarian in Piku with aplomb, as the movie sets a new bar in the ‘senior citizen’ club


Khalid Mohamed

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Published: Fri 22 May 2015, 4:16 PM

Last updated: Sun 26 Jul 2015, 3:12 PM

OLD IS GOLD: Amitabh Bachchan turns in a memorable performance as a petulant old man in Piku; Deepika, as his daughter, draws more on her star power
Mumbai’s ever-prolific cinema hasn’t ever been kind to senior citizens. Either they have been portrayed as wheezing, coughing stereotypes on their deathbeds, or as overdressed high-society sorts obstructing the romance between their daughter and the down-at-heel hero. Countless riffs on Romeo & Juliet have showcased the graying (if not snow-haired) patriarchs, as well as matriarchs, breathing fire and brimstone.
No wonder, there are no comparable films to Hollywood’s On Golden Pond or Terms of Endearment, to mention only a couple of examples, which sensitively examined the rift between disparate generations. Fortuitously, now, Shoojit Sircar’s Piku has sought to turn the light on a crotchety old man who must be tended to by his somewhat harried and patient daughter.
Of course, it helps that Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone lead the cast. Their popularity certainly fuels the commercial appeal of a theme tackled rarely in Bollywood, which essentially caters to an audience between the age group of 15 to 35. Researched statistics have asserted this segment comprises the largest number of ticket buyers. Hence, there has been an abiding emphasis on youth-centric romances, action flicks and comedies. Serious subjects, as such, are taboo.

Anyone who has ever tended to an elderly person in his or her family, may find Piku flippant and simplistic. Years of coping with an ailing father’s moods and basic needs are not exactly comic material. Caring for an elder is far more demanding than just keeping a vigil on medication, ablutions and stubbornness. Sircar’s film tends to make even these a laughing matter.
Despite such niggling thoughts, there is something remarkable about the director’s ode to old age. Piku has its moments which ring true, making this effort several cuts above the commonplace. I wouldn’t rave about it for sure, but I wouldn’t rant about it either.
Perhaps no other actor besides the 72-year-old Amitabh Bachchan could have made Piku watchable and thematically significant. So what if he’s been repeating himself this &shtick of the cutie-pie septuagenarian of late? At times, it does work. Whether it is R Balki’s Paa and Shamitabh and now Piku, on screen, the actor seems to be facing serious problems with his digestive tract. Why this lapse into toilet humour, you might ask. Obviously because it draws giggles and guffaws from the spectators. Imagine yesteryear’s angry young man now challenged by stomach disorders!
That’s quite a transition. And to his credit, Bachchan is convincing as an old Bengali man, without overdoing the accent. Incidentally, he played a Bengali babu moshai called Bhaskar Banerjee in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s widely cherished Anand at the outset of his career. His character is named Bhaskar Banerjee once again in Piku. He is methodical and seems to have done his homework diligently, and is particularly winsome when he is curmudgeonly — a quality that was conspicuous by its absence from his disappointing act in Shamitabh, in which he tended to run riot.
Deepika Padukone appears to be becoming a caretaker of the old and cranky. In Homi Adajania’s road movie Finding Fanny, she dealt not only with an eccentric mother-in-law, Dimple Kapadia, but a lovelorn Naseeruddin Shah, and a glad-eyed painter essayed by Pankaj Kapur. Employing a singsong dialogue delivery and a pout to convey her exasperation, clearly she is cut out rather for splashy musicals and bonanza entertainers.
Both in Piku and Finding Fanny, she has been used for her star power than for her acting chops. More credibility and conviction to the role of a Kolkata architect would have been added by Konkona Sen Sharma. But then Konkona, despite her acting abilities, hasn’t made it to the A-list of heroines. A pity.
To wind back, quite curiously, the best characterisations of old people have emerged from Kolkata. The puckish grandma of Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali and the lonely Violet Stoneham superbly enacted by the late Jennifer Kendal Kapoor in Aparna Sen’s 36 Chowringhee Lane are unforgettable. Gulzar’s Mere Apne, featuring Meena Kumari as a derelict woman who tames rival street gangs, is memorable too. Again, it has been sourced from Kolkata’s stalwart director Tapan Sinha’s Apanjan.
Piku may not be perfect, yet you do hope that it isn’t just a one-off effort. After all, senior citizens can be heroes, too.

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