Ahead of their next release, Piku, screenwriter Juhi Chaturvedi and director Shoojit Sircar talk about how their films take root in
the routine and the mundane.
Their conversations are seldom lofty. Having known each other for over a decade, screenwriter Juhi Chaturvedi and filmmaker Shoojit Sircar talk of the everyday. Should you eavesdrop on their chatter over the phone, you will hear them discuss a recipe or reveal new ways of meditation.
But in truth, these are anything but routine. It is in the mundane that their films take root. “It’s also how Piku was born. A discussion on living with ageing parents and the need to constantly multi-task, of taking care of them while working, became the starting point for the film,” says Chaturvedi. The film is about the journey of how a dapper, young man is forced to ferry a dysfunctional father (Amitabh Bachchan) and his daughter (Deepika Padukone) from Varanasito Kolkata.
Chaturvedi, who wrote the script for Sircar’s Vicky Donor, was not new to the game. The two were colleagues in 2004 when she wrote ads for a watch brand, which were directed by Sircar. She says it was her “verbose writing for 30-second ads” that made Sircar consider her for his films. Chaturvedi came on board as the dialogue writer for Sircar’s Shoebite, which remains unreleased. Since then she has been his scriptwriter, including for the political thriller, Madras Cafe (2013).
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Sircar says their films are deeply personal, born from the worlds they inhabit. If Piku came out of a conversation about Chaturvedi’s grandfather then Vicky Donor was born from the screenwriter’s curiosity about couples unable to have a baby at a time when she was a new mother. What set Vicky Donor apart were the quirky characters and detailing, such as the kind of house middle-class Vicky (Ayushmann Khurrana) lived in, and the unique relationship between his widowed mother and grandmother, where they complain about one another but also share a tipple at the end of the day.
It is such nuances that people are expecting from Piku, which releases on May 8. Its trailers show the protagonist, Piku (Padukone), dealing with the whims and digestion issues of her Bengali father (Bachchan). “Quirks come from the every day life that we don’t stop to notice,” says Sircar, just like Bachchan’s constipation issue borrowed from Chaturvedi’s grandfather.
They supplement their experiences with research to provide the script a solid ground. Madras Cafe, an espionage thriller was Chaturvedi’s most challenging script, set in the context of India’s controversial intervention in the Sri Lankan civil war and Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. “There were many things we couldn’t spell out, to avoid controversies,” she says.
While the duo usually doesn’t think about casting until the script is done, it’s not true of every film. In Vicky Donor, the character of Khurrana’s mother, Dolly, was penned with Dolly Ahluwalia in mind. Similarly, Bachchan and Irrfan knew that their respective parts were being written by Chaturvedi and Sircar for Piku. “It made it easy for us to etch out the characters, knowing the physical attributes of Mr Bachchan and Irrfan,” says Chaturvedi.
The greatest challenge of writing the kind of films they make, says the duo, is keeping the narrative simple. Says Sircar, “As with Vicky Donor, where we touched upon the sensitive and taboo subject of sperm donation without offending sensibilities, the attempt is to address complex emotions in a simple, humorous way.”