Tag Archives: Juhi Chaturvedi

Movie Review: October (2018)

1 Star (out of 4)

Watch October on Prime
Buy the DVD at Amazon

October is a difficult film to watch, but not for the reasons one might expect. The drama of a young woman’s life forever changed by injury is merely the backdrop for a too familiar story of an undeserving male character’s redemption.

Varun Dhawan stars as Dan, a hotel management trainee with no likeable qualities. He’s a snob who’d rather delegate work than do it himself, especially tasks he deems beneath him, like cleaning rooms and doing laundry. He’s a know-it-all who loves telling more experienced people how to do their jobs. He’s lazy, yet competitive enough to resent fellow trainees who are smarter and more capable than he is.

Among the trainees, the chief recipient of Dan’s bad attitude is Shiuli (Banita Sandhu). Whether his being a jerk to her indicates some kind of stunted elementary school-type crush or if it’s just his standard jerkiness is unclear. Shortly into the film, Shiuli slips from a third floor balcony at a New Year’s Eve party, rendering her comatose and permanently paralyzed.

Dan wasn’t at the party, so he only learns days after the accident that Shiuli’s last words before she fell were, “Where is Dan?” This sparks an obsession, leading Dan to spend all of his time at the hospital in the hopes that Shiuli will wake and tell him why she asked about him.

That sounds like the setup for horror movie, yet we know it can’t be, because Dan fits the mold of a common type of Bollywood hero: the boorish man-child who must finally become an adult. The arc for this character type is so familiar — in the course of falling in love with a good woman, he learns to care for someone other than himself — that director Shoojit Sircar and writer Juhi Chaturvedi treat the hero’s emotional growth as the inevitable consequence of his devotion.

But Dan doesn’t change in October. He ends the movie as much of an obnoxious know-it-all as he is at the start, correcting Shiulu’s mother Vidya (Gitanjali Rao) on how to properly care for her daughter and wanting praise for his contributions (which include hovering over a workman building a ramp for a wheelchair).

Dan’s dedication to Shiuli’s recovery stems from his wanting an answer from her. He uses his obsession as a measure of moral superiority, criticizing her friends for not spending every free moment at the hospital. He can’t understand that they have other obligations — to the rest of their friends and families, and even to themselves — that they must tend to as well.

That’s because Dan’s misanthropy and willingness to ignore his own family leave him with no other relationships beside the one he invents with Shiuli, and he’s willing to sacrifice everything to maintain it. He skips work, stops paying rent to his roommate, and borrows money from everyone with no way to pay it back. He’s mean to hospital staff and other visitors.

But because Dan is the protagonist, his single-mindedness is depicted as positive. The little he does for Shiuli mitigates the rest of his awful behavior. On the rare occasions that he is punished, he fails upward. The movie is determined to maintain Dan’s hero status, in spite of his actions.

All of this is driven by a one-sided devotion. From all indications, Shiuli wasn’t interested in Dan romantically before her accident, and they were barely more than acquaintances. Does she like him hanging around her at all times? If not, she’s physically unable to tell him to leave. Would she want him involved in the minutiae of her healthcare, monitoring things as intimate as the amount of urine in her catheter bag?

In an interview with the Hindustan Times, Sircar said that he and Chaturvedi drew on their own experiences caring for seriously ill parents when creating October. Yet the amount of influence Dan has over Shiuli’s care feels unrealistic. Certainly Vidya knows her daughter better than Dan, thus making her a better judge of Shiuli’s wishes — especially since Dan is neither the one being subjected to extraordinary medical interventions nor the one footing the bill for them. Vidya’s ready assent to Dan’s will reinforces how little agency female characters have in October.

Dhawan is a versatile actor, and it’s nice to see him in a film that requires more subtlety than a loud comedy like Judwaa 2 or Dilwale. Yet, whenever he plays a character who is supposed to undergo substantial emotional growth — be it October, Badlapur, or even Badrinath Ki Dulhania — a woman is always subjected to physical harm in order for him to do so. That’s not Dhawan’s fault, but it does highlight a need for screenwriters and filmmakers to move beyond fridging women as an expedient pathway to male character growth.

Links

Advertisements

Movie Review: Piku (2015)

Piku3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Buy or rent the movie at iTunes
Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon

Rather than the broad, scatological comedy hinted at by the movie’s trailers, Piku is a thoughtful, funny movie about the fraught relationship between an adult children and their ailing, aging parents.

Director Shoojit Sircar and screenwriter Juhi Chaturvedi are proving to be Bollywood’s most interesting behind-the-scenes partnership. Following their surprise hit debut Vicky Donor and the somber war film Madras Cafe (for which Chaturvedi wrote the dialogue), Piku is the duo’s most refined work yet.

Deepika Padukone plays Piku, a 30-year-old Delhi architect who doubles as caretaker for her ailing 70-year-old father, Bhaskor (Amitabh Bachchan). Piku’s mother is dead, and the only help she has in caring for cranky Bhaskor is the patient servant Budhan (Balendra Singh).

Piku is a carbon copy of her dad. Both are intelligent and confident, but also stubborn, opinionated, critical, and unable to admit mistakes. Bhaskor’s blindness to his own failings is particularly troublesome. On principle, he refuses to let Piku marry, lest she waste her intellect as a stay-at-home wife. However, he sees no hypocrisy in calling her home from the office every time he imagines a rise in his blood pressure or temperature.

Their relationship is the focus of the entire film, and there isn’t a lot of action, even when father, daughter, and servant hit the road to visit the family home in Kolkata. The owner of a taxi service, Rana (Irrfan Khan), gets to observe and comment on the family dynamic when pressed into driving them on their 1,500 km journey.

Where Piku differs from many other films about family relationships is that it eschews broad themes. There are no speeches or generalizing statements about love, the importance of family, or the challenges of aging. Piku and Bhaskor don’t learn from each other or Rana; they don’t evolve.

The characters in the film are who they are, and they all know it. Bhaskor and Piku argue without creating permanent rifts. Detailed discussions of medical conditions devolve into laughter. This is a movie about accepting life as it is, making it work, and finding humor in odd places.

It’s a joy to watch the actors portray fully developed characters with such honesty, and Sircar allows the performances to shine. Instead of cutting between closeups of individual actor’s faces as one delivers a line and another reacts, Sircar shoots most of the film’s conversations so that all the actors’ faces are within the frame, simultaneously. When Bhaskor says something ridiculous, we see Piku and Rana look at each other and stifle giggles in real time, all while Budhan naps in the background.

The superb performances are further confirmation of the cast members’ immense talents. Bachchan highlights the absurdities inherent in Bhaskor without making him into a joke. Khan brings warmth and perspective into the story through Rana.

Piku teeters on the brink of unlikability without falling off, thanks to Padukone. The character is a woman whose reserve of patience has been exhausted by her father, and she doesn’t suffer anyone who makes her life harder than it already is. The qualities that make her difficult are the same that make her endearing. She wins over Rana with her wisdom and sharp humor.

Rana and Piku don’t have a typical, dramatic Bollywood love story, but it’s romantic nonetheless. For two hard-headed single people with demanding families and jobs, more drama is the last thing they want. An allegiance based on understanding and compassion is much sweeter and more satisfying.

While the film’s trailer is full of references to bowel movements, they don’t dominate the movie. There’s one visual gag — in which a sink clogged by tea leaves is meant to evoke images of something more disgusting — that should’ve been left out. The movie is too clever for such a cheap joke.

Sircar and Chaturvedi show a real understanding of the emotional complexities of the parent-child relationship as it shifts over time, and the cast is the perfect group of actors to bring the story to life. Piku is really something special.

Links