We've been on a road trip with Deepika Padukone before. It was cacophonous, it was fun, it made us want to be in the car with the lot of them, even if it meant sitting next to a dead cat. Piku is another road trip, it's also fun, but you know how this one's going to go down; you've been on this ride already. Yet every time you think you know how things are going to go down, they tease you with an adorable alternative, trumping what you just guessed in your head.
Strapped in with her father Bhaskor (Amitabh Bachchan) and Rana, the owner of a taxi company (Irrfan) who gets roped into driving father and daughter from Delhi's Chittaranjan Park to their ancestral home Champakunj in Kolkata, Piku (Padukone) is a young architect on leave to accompany her father on this trip he's insisting on making. A cantankerous man, constantly chiding his eye-rolling but doting daughter for something or the other, we all have to deal with Bhaskor's shit. More literally than we'd sign up for if we'd been warned in advance. Except, unlike Bollywood's usual fascination with toilet humour, this one doesn't make you want to throw out your popcorn or scrunch your face in disgust. The man's old, he's got bowel problems, it's gonna make him cranky; he's like that uncle or grandfather in your family who you love, but frequently want to make shut up. Because he might call you in the middle of a work meeting to ask what medicine you think he should take when the regular stuff isn't working. Or compel you to discuss his bowel movements in detail with the doctor on the phone when you're sitting across the table from your boyfriend on a date. Piku grins and bears it all for the most part. They lost her mother a little while ago and now it's just the two of them. He's grown entirely dependent on her, and a deep-rooted fear of losing his daughter to a husband has him dismissing any talk of marriage the minute it comes up in the house. In his own words, "shaadi without purpose is low IQ" behaviour. Why should a woman devote her life to her husband? She must be independent. Just not of Bhaskor, when it comes to his daughter. The movie touches on the things we all think about — the roles reversing between parents and children when the parents get old, for instance, but it never tries to emotionally manipulate the audience, which is a welcome relief. Similarly with acknowledging that Piku is an urban woman, who's had her share of casual relationships, is not a virgin, Bhskor knows about it, but it's mentioned casually in passing, without needing to make a big deal or larger point about it. These are exactly the kinds of things that make things so relatable to an urban audience.
What Bachchan lacks in consistency when it comes to portraying a Bengali, especially a character that demands exaggeration, he evenly makes up for with an otherwise impeccable performance and timing — potty problems aside, a scene in which he takes off on a bicycle, riding all over Kolkata with childlike glee, will make you smile for longer than you expect it to. Padukone, like Irrfan in practically ever role he's ever taken on including this one, slips effortlessly into character, delivering lines with ease and surprising maturity. Irrfan, as is becoming usual, is gorgeous in this film. The trio's warm chemistry combined with the excellent writing, witty dialogues and Shoojit Sircar's direction, this film endears you to it all the way to the finish line, where you're standing rooting for the movie on the whole, grateful for a couple of hours finally well spent.
One of the nicest films of the year so far, it draws your attention to the fine craft of storytelling and of subtlety, and most importantly, of delightful surprises. A definite watch, maybe even a couple of times over.