- Gaurav Patki
- 18 July 2019
Slice-of-life done well
Script Analysis of Hindi film 'Piku'
(Directed by: Shoojit Sircar Written by: Juhi Chaturvedi)
How do you write such a heartfelt film with rich experiential quality? There’s no template, no familiar tropes, no immediate conflict and yet, Piku went on to become one of the most successful Hindi films of 2015. Let's start with the logline:
‘A working girl in her 30s takes a road trip with her aging father, who has constipation as just one of his eccentricties, accompanied by a taxi-business owner.’
This might not be the perfect logline, but looking at it, we realise that it is not a plot-driven narrative. There is no promise for an end-of-the-world kind of conflict or a thrilling mission. It is clearly a storyline focusing on the characters. So, let’s talk about them:
- PIKU, the protagonist. She is irritated with her dad yet loves him a lot. She knows her responsibility very well, from the beginning of the film.
- BHASKOR BANERJEE is her old father who always thinks and talks about his constipation issues and fears that his daughter may leave him. A typical Indian parent, irritating yet lovable.
- RANA runs a taxi business (failed earlier in his life, lives in a dysfunctional family, himself). He has a soft corner for Piku and thus, he gets ready to drive her to Kolkata.
These are the three central characters. If we sit down to find their character arcs, what do we see? Piku is a responsible child from the very beginning and remains the same until the end. In spite of a great scene in the car, in which Rana explains to Bhaskor how much Piku cares for him, the old man’s attitude doesn't change for a bit. Rana remains who he is till the end. So, we don’t found significant character arcs either. So what makes it tick?
In spite of not having a strong plot or a hookline, and neither having solid character arcs the film still holds us. We feel like watching it again. We can talk about what all we have liked in the film but still, we can’t put a finger on what exactly makes it work (not only on screen but even on the page). What else is the success of a writer, than this?
Piku uses a familiar setting and relatable characters to begin the story. We expect a usual archetypal character-arcs where everybody will realize the significance of other's worldview and they will reach a better synthesis by the end of the story. (Let us agree that there is nothing wrong or bad in achieving these character graphs. It seems simple but it isn't. Anything in screenwriting isn’t simple, anyway. It takes a lot of effort to make even the archetypal graphs work.) But Piku decides not to walk this path.
SO, WE HAVE QUIRKY CHARACTERS! WHAT NEXT?
To begin with, you need to have an interesting set of characters, if yours is not a plot-driven story. So well, you have a young working girl, representing today's women and an old irritating father (you can't get more relatable than this). The bowling scenario is good enough to create toilet humor. But you can't make a film out of it, maybe a sitcom episode (still you will need a couple of more tracks).
Now, after finding these two important characters we should see where they will go. You need the plot to make the characters work! We have been told this time and again. So, when we look at the plot, we can divide it into three parts:
1. The Delhi part
2. The car journey
3. The Kolkata part
Crudely speaking, these are the three acts of the story. Although, we can see that the first act lasts way longer than usual. If you have a very strong sense of structure you will start getting irritated that the story is not moving. But the writer and the director don't worry about it. They're sure that their characters are engaging enough to hold the viewers.
Even at the plot level, it uses the common structure of a road-trip film. Therefore (if you haven’t yet understood the tone of the film during the long and not-very-happening first act) you will surely wait for those epiphany moments towards the end of their journey. And… you don’t get them.
There is no definite endpoint for any character, just like there aren’t any in our lives. Still, Piku doesn’t remain just a collage of beautiful, heart-touching moments. It manages to grow beyond it. How does she manage to do it?
The great threat in developing funny characters is that they can become one-note, coming out of the world of advertisements, serving the purpose of the writer. But here the writer’s purpose itself is to explore them. Borrowing heavily from her personal experiences and similar instances shared by the director Shoojit Sircar, screenwriter Juhi Chaturvedi uses a great sense of realism to build the relationships that she wants to delve deeper into.
So, Piku is not a modern girl who dismisses all the cultural aspects; she is not a conservative girl who refuses the new world either. She is not into dating extensively but her sexual status, as her dad points out, is casual. Yet, she is looking for a companion without villainizing her dad.
Bhaskor is an eccentric old guy with his toilet problems. He doesn't want to sell his old house in Kolkata but that doesn't make him conservative. He likes educated working women and supports his daughter. He supports Piku's casual status because it suits his purpose.
We can see, the characters don’t come from an intellectual exercise of proving any socio-political argument. They come out as real people, complex, contradictory yet true and engaging. Such characters don’t need a simple resolution and one road-trip is not going to change their life-perspectives overnight.
Because you have such rounded characters, the absence of a plot doesn’t trouble, the quirky moments don’t ring false and lack of movement in the story doesn’t bore us.
THE FLAVOR OF THE SCRIPT
As writers, we should know how the films (especially the ones we have loved) are crafted at the script level. In this case, it is not crafting the plot but finding the MOOD of the story. We can find it, as we find the voice of our characters. Here, the writer succeeds in finding the right voices for the characters and that fills up every possible void in the script.
THE SLICE-OF-LIFE NARRATIVE
So, is this film like an essay (or character study) where the story doesn’t matter? For me, the answer is no. However subtle they are, the characters have graphs. Before dying, Bhaskor has a nice motion. The insecurity he had all the while fades out as he comes back to his hometown. The fundamentals of the character remain the same, but he finds happy moments with his family, in Kolkata. Piku’s life, which was stuck around her dad, gets flowing by the end. She has a satisfaction that she has taken good care of him and now she can move on with her life. Rana doesn’t remain as bitter about the father and daughter as he was in the beginning.
What is great about the endpoint of these arcs is that they don’t seem definite. They aren’t irreversible, either. Later, the characters may flow differently and they can even go back to their old traits (even earlier in the story we have witnessed a couple of happy moments between Piku and Bhaskor, indicating an initial equilibirium). In fact, Bhaskor's death comes as a natural halt in the end and does not look like a plot twist to wrap up the story.
The writer doesn’t put a full stop to the lives of the characters. Finally, Piku finishes with a comma, once it has served to its audience a slice of life in the world of its evolving characters.
So, that’s it for Piku. Next, I will take up another film to analyse and discuss it’s significant aspects, from a script point of view. My series will focus on some of the mainstream Hindi films of past ten years that are known for good screenwriting. Let me know your views about my observations, or any queries, in the comment box below or email me.
Here's a list of the earlier articles in the series:
1. The right set of characters - Script Analysis of Hindi film 'Wake Up Sid'
2. When the 'telling' overrules the 'story' - Script Analysis of Hindi film 'Kahaani'
3. Being true to the characters and their world - Script Analysis of Hindi film 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha'
4. The 'switch' you weren't expecting! - Script Analysis of Hindi film 'Badlapur'
5. It's all about everyone's family - Script Analysis of Hindi film 'Kapoor & Sons'