Un-charming an Audience

In the middle of planning an outing to Bajirao Mastani, the latest Bollywood epic extravaganza, I was reminded strongly of another movie that I’d seen the lead actress in.

Padukone has never struck me as someone with a lot of innate talent, though she apparently works hard and is clearly attractive enough for Bollywood’s standards. Part of that impression comes from the roles I’ve seen her do — mostly what’s characterized as “party girl”, easy to root for and mostly ornamental.

But in Piku she plays a character as far from the norm as is possible: a single woman from a wealthy if deeply eccentric family, reluctantly chained to a father who is almost as much of a hypochondriac as he is opposed to marriage. She’s abrasive, unapologetic, as obsessed with her father’s scatalogical complaints as he is, and entirely unashamed of her casual relationship with a coworker. Part of the storyline hinges on her lackadaisical attitude towards traffic laws, an issue that causes the owner of a taxi service (Irfan Khan) to join her and her family on a slightly nutty road trip.

Piku doesn’t end up with anyone romantically at the end of the movie. In fact, she’s left even lonelier when her father passes away. Irfan Khan’s character says something like, “So, you think you’ll be ok?” and Piku replies, “Well, I got plenty of training with my father”. So the entirety of the movie is about a single woman just getting on with her life. In the scope of Bollywood, that’s positively revelatory.

I don’t consider rudeness or hard-as-nails-ness a positive character trait, but I’m equally annoyed that women are usually expected to be somehow nicer, as though we’re supposed to bear the burden of social convention to allow the men to get the really important things done. Piku was a refreshing change of pace. In any event, it seriously increased my respect for Padukone’s acting chops. I’m hoping she uses it as a way to do more interesting stuff.

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