Of late, Bollywood is hell-bent on fetishising everything Bengali. Films after films guide us through the narrow bylanes of Ahiritola (North Kolkata), feed us sepia-toned images of a city that time seems to have forgotten and tell us that all Bengali women wear exquisite tant sarees and have doe-shaped eyes. The Ranveers, Ranbirs, Sushants of the world don panjabis (Bengalis call kurtas panjabi) and expect us to forget that they are Punjabis. If we are to go by these stereotypes, Bengalis are a race of monkey-capped hypochondriacs who survive on a whimsical diet of gelusil, isabgol, alu Bhaja and tea. Piku too thrives on all these stereotypes but it also warms the cockles of the most hardboiled Bengali heart because of the following reasons.
1. It takes constipation seriously– In Piku, Bhaskar Banerjee’s (Amitabh Bachchan) constipation is not just a plot device to draw in a few laughs, it’s serious business. It’s discussed with that mix of exasperation and humour that families reserve for long-plaguing illnesses. Even when the outsider North Indian, Rana (Irrfan Khan), comes up with remedies for Banerjee’s constipation, there is science attached to the logic. In Bengali households, where packs of isabgol and Gelucil sit along with jam and ketchup bottles in dining tables, stomach-related ailments are a part of everyday life.
2. The Nighty business– In Bengal, the nightgown is a much sexualised attire. It stands for a certain level of liberation that women in haldi-stained, crumpled cotton sarees can only aspire for. Even about a few years ago, Boudis (bhabis) wouldn’t think twice before venturing out in a slinky nighty (with a dupatta draped around the neck) for a round of phucka in the evening, much to the delight of para lafangas. In Piku, Chabi mashi (Moushumi Chatterjee) chides her brother-in-law Bhaskar (Amitabh) for having female relatives who wear slinky, sleeveless nighties without (gulp) a bra. All Bongs have that specific kind of aunties!
3. The ever-suffering Kakima– All our family lores have a highly-educated pishima or a kakima who sacrificed her sparkling career to take care of the family. In Piku, it’s an acerbic paternal aunt who has a cupboard full of grudges against her in-laws. She didn’t take up a prestigious job in Bata in 1979 because the salary was more than that of her husbands’. She constantly needs to converse in her convent accent to remind people that she is more than a housewife.Yet, she cares enough to ensure every meal is perfect. Yes, we have been at the receiving end of that razor sharp tongue!
4. Moshari– In the heydays, Malaria was to Kolkata what Gabbar was to the children of Ramgarh. Every muggy night, mothers would dutifully tie a moshari (mosquito net )over the family bed (of course children sleep with their parents till they are 20) and then proceed to an half-an-hour ritual of swatting the few remaining mosquitoes inside the net. Today, thanks to the relentless filling of waterbodies, mosquitoes too have disappeared from the Kolkata landscape, but the mosquito nets remain, purely for nostalgia value. In Piku, when Piku (Deepika) is shown lovingly tucking the moshari in for her father, tears welled up in our eyes.
5. Konjoos– Let’s face it, we Bengalis are a little miserly. We measure out oil for cooking to our chefs, we keep tabs on the spoons of detergent used for washing and we keep the rice-jar in a locked cupboard to ensure that the domestic help doesn’t help herself to fistfuls. So, when the shocked Delhi domestic help complains to Piku because Amitabh accuses her of stealing phenyl, we weren’t surprised. He should have marked the phenyl bottle to avoid such eventualities.
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