Margarita With A Straw (2014): At the end of this exquisitely designed film I wasn’t sure whether I had just watched a film about a very special life of a specially-abled girl who can’t move a limb without her mother’s help, but has the hots for …let me see, at least 2 boys and 1 woman. And we are still counting. Or was I watching an extraordinary rendition of the mother-daughter relationship done in shades so distinctive and deep you leave behind a part of your being with the film when you leave the theatre even as you take home with you something invaluable. Margarita With A Straw, so named because its cerebral palsy-afflicted stubbornly spirited heroine would have the cocktail in a tumbler with a straw, but have she will, is a film that leaves you profoundly enriched. The film creates a crisscross of complicated relationships among human beings who seek normalcy in their strenuously challenged lives both within their homes and outside.
But the beauty of it is, the tangles in which human beings find themselves in their quest for kinship tend to solve themselves in the end. It’s the way life works, so what’s the big deal? Says this remarkable film. Shonali Bose’s film never stops to wonder what Laila’s life would have been like had she been ….well, normal. Being normal!…Now that’s a question which the film’s brilliantly written script, never stops to entertain. Non-judgemental to the core and never fearful of peering into forbidden areas of the human psyche(in one of the many bravely executed sequences Laila pleasures herself away from her mother’s watchful eyes after watching porn clips on her laptop), Margarita With A Straw blends commentary on dysfunctional lives with that sense of profound yearning which comes to any individual who aspires to go beyond his her allotted space in life.
Laila’s aspirations take her through a geopolitical emotional and sexual journey that finally leaves her, and us, wiser. All three levels of Laila’s education are textured into the plot with a minimum of fuss. Shonali Bose cuts through moments and montages from Laila’s life with luminous austerity. We see more than what meets the eye, and not only because the film’s editors(Monisha Baldawa and Bob Brooks) have done their jobs effectively but also because this film believes in saying a lot about the quality of human life without wasting time in self-pity. Tears, you will see, don’t get a chance to roll down cheeky cheeks here. It is precisely because the film refuses to ruminate on the tragic grandeur of life that it creates a sense of unassuming dignity in the lives that we see on screen, none more bravely and emphatically dignified in adversity than Laila.
As played by the exceptionally gifted Kalki Koechlin Laila is a bit of a tease….not just with men but with life as well. Kalki makes every encounter in Laila’s life from Delhi University to New York University special and memorable. I especially cherish the mother-daughter scenes between Revathi and Kalki. They are heartwarming and heartbreaking because they never forget to be completely truthful to the given (tragic) context while striving to be supremely cinematic. This is as opportune a moment as any to say Kalki in the central part shines in a space where her character’s disability assumes no pre-ponderance. This is a major transcendental triumph for the actress, as much of her speech is spoken in a slur. Kalki takes Laila beyond the world of words. It is those eyes. The goddamned wounded eyes. They serve as a window to Laila’s soul. Every actor playing a character as varied as Laila’s kid brother to her Sardarji father is seems pre-destined to play the part that has chosen them. Debutant Sayani Gupta as Laila’s militant friend brings to her character an undeniable scrupulosity. But it’s Kalki and Revathy who hold the delicate plot together. Their scenes together, and apart, moved me in ways I’ve not been moved in a movie for a very long time.
The film’s emotional affluence is matched by its technical finesse. The artwork and locational detailing unfussy and matter-of-fact, as well as the casting of every character, is so correct, you wonder how the director got it so right with so few self-congratulations. Sip and savour the delicate tastes of life in Margarita With a Straw. This is a moving heartwarming lyrical and yummy tale of a girl so sassy, she defines the eternal quest to seize the day. After watching her flash her middle finger at a poor unsuspecting woman for sympathizing with her disability I am sure of one thing. No one who watches this film would ever dare to tut-tut at a wheelchair again. Not unless you enjoy being ridiculed for thinking ‘normal’ is all about standing on your own two feet and sleeping with members of the opposite sex. And do give a standing ovation to Kalki. That girl in yellow boots has thrown off those flashy shoes got onto a wheelchair and wheeled herself into eternal fame. Kalki’s performance and the film left me speechless. Kalki made me forget Laila is damaged. She left me confused about the definitions of the normal.
Piku (2015): Could this really be happening? The opening credits feature the long-forgotten sound of the Sarod and Sitar mingling into an excursion into a state of enraptured ecstasy which you thought was dead with Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Pinch me, slap me! Is this really the film that it purports to be? A simple elegant elegiac tale of a hypochondriac over-possessive father and his harassed embittered daughter.Nah! Who makes films about elementary relationships anymore? Who, except a filmmaker who isn’t afraid to let his characters discuss bowel movements as though it was the most exciting things to mull over in life. In Piku Shoojit (Vicky Donor, Madras Café) Sircar brings back quality in our mainstream cinema that seemed to have gone with the whim. Gentleness. There is an innately gentle quality to the storytelling in Piku, like a breeze on a humid summer night that blows through your hair while you are sleeping on the rooftop counting the stars. Speaking of the stars, Shoojit is exceptionally blessed to get the kind of immaculate cast that most directors only dream about. More about that later. Suffice to say at this point that Piku works, as every actor big or small is inured to the director’s vision of a world where domesticity is a domain that drives human life forward.
And the drive is what Irrfan does with such casual elan that you forget he is in it as a reluctant outsider. By creating a character who can look at the blunt selfishness of a father who won’t let his daughter have a life of her own, the script expands the domestic vista without scattering its precious and fragile mundaneness. Piku is a film with an exceptionally keen ear and eye. Shoojit, with the help of his writer (Juhi Chaturvedi) and a cinematographer(Kamaljeet Negi), travels from Delhi to Kolkata(by car, if you please!) without the touristic curiosity of Imtiaz Ali’s cinema. There is a charming inevitability to the shifting locations as the car driven by Mr Desi trots across multi-lane highways with a silent and efficient inevitability. No-fuss, no-frills, Piku’s lyricism flows out without pause for effect. Dinner table conversations in Delhi and Kolkata capture different sounds of the crockery. How does the sound designer do this? And where on earth did composer-singer Anupam Roy find the creative strength to bring back such a homespun sound of music that he injects into the souls of his characters?
I have to confess that at one point in the narration I thought the sheer weightlessness of the drama would overpower the narrative. A miracle happens to the characters’ lives every time they threaten to crumble under the burden of their ordinariness. They renew themselves through a karmic cycle which the film’s narrative holds close to its chest. Piku is an exceptionally intimate character study. The three principal characters bare their frailties on camera as though they were part of a reality show that had no cameras. The emotions are raw and unabashed. The three principal actors sink into their roles like monks bathing in the holiest water on this side of the Ganga.
Mr Bachchan’s eccentric Bangla gentleman’s patriarchal car-wreck of a character who won’t let his daughter breathe or breed could have easily become a caricature. With extraordinary fluency and vigour, Mr Bachchan turns his selfish patriarchal role into an occasion to explore the ‘route’ cause of the craggy journey parents take when they become over-dependent on their children. Deepika’s Piku is filled with implosive anguish that blurts itself out unannounced when we least expect it. Even when she isn’t doing anything on the screen, she makes you look at her. Deepika gets better with every role. Here she imbues her embittered standoffish character with a sense of pride and dignity that no domestic strain—not even a father who obsesses over his bowel movements-- can snatch away. But I’d say it’s Irrfan playing the father and daughter’s reluctant driver who has the toughest role. Into the story of domestic disharmony, he brings a detached bemusement that somehow makes life seem tolerable even beautiful.
In many ways what Irrfan does to the script is what Shoojit’s film attempts to do to the identity of mainstream Hindi cinema. Balancing on the edge of quirkiness, smothered by the sheer ennui of everyday existence, the characters somehow create a spatial harmony for their dreadfully unexciting lives. This is a world so comfortingly familiar and yet so fresh and vigorous you would want to take it home with you. Piku is as emotionally rich and satisfying as any movie experience can get. Shoojit Sircar again confirms his place among the most invigorating filmmakers we have today. His appetite for nuances is admirable. To cite an example, the way Mr Bachchan’s faithful man-Friday sits awkwardly in the car next to him is a posture derived straight from a middle-class household. The actor Balendra who plays the man-Friday or Moushumi Chatterjee who plays Mr Bachchan’s firebrand( married-thrice-wouldn’t-mind-fourth) sister-in-law seems to know he or she is part of a journey whose end is known and yet not the least robbed of excitement by the knowledge of mortality. Come, embrace the quaint disarming world of Piku and her over-demanding father. If you miss this one you miss a glimpse into lives that live their span without aiming for glory. That’s what makes them so glorious.
Image Source: youtubr/viacom18/zeemusic/sonypicturesfilmsindia
Image Source: youtubr/viacom18/zeemusic/sonypicturesfilmsindia