There are times when film-makers break out of the mundane Bollywood convention with scripts so bold and quixotic that it seems like a miracle that something like that even saw the light of release. After years of stagnation and an inexplicable apathy towards experimental cinema, Bollywood is finally breaking out of its comfort zone and accepting films that indulge you in possibilities that would make you gasp at the idea. Films such as Vikramaditya Motwane’s Trapped showed us the brilliant writing and execution of a premise that would never have found a production house in another time. There was no romance in it, no hero, no villain. In fact, it barely contained any of your usual cinematic emotions with which you happily label a film for your private collection. The story of a man trapped alone for a week without food or water in a deserted apartment building right in the midst of the bustling city of Mumbai, was probably a dark metaphor to our utterly disconnected lives in an increasingly connected world. Analogous to Motwane’s film was a masterpiece by newcomer Dipesh Jain who showed a recluse trapped in his own mind in Gali Guleiyan. Here again, there were no Bollywood tropes that you could find. Both of these films revolved around singular protagonists who carried the ethos and the narrative alone, and yet held us captivated for the entire length of the feature.
Directed by Vinod Kapri, Pihu is a fictitious account of a real story wherein a 2-year old girl Pihu is tangled in a horrifying aftermath of a damaged marriage. The intro credits roll with the sounds of a cheerful birthday party in the background. As the scene opens, we see a little girl trying to wake her mother up. The camera glides around the house and an unkempt after-party scene appears on the screen. Meanwhile the little girl is still trying to wake her mother up in her own innocent manner, playing around with her hair, stroking her face while the mother remains unaffected. Before long you realise that there is something wrong here. Just a toddler would be, the curious little girl roams around the house talking to herself, humming the tunes her father taught her. We gradually discover the background story through Pihu’s eyes. Through a series of mishaps, things soon assume a dark turn and only a miracle can save Pihu’s life.
The film largely bases itself on – “what can happen if you leave a child alone in a house without adult supervision.” There is a backstory but it is essentially a premise that has been created to justify Pihu being on her own. Anything that happens afterwards feels unscripted, as moment after nail-biting moment we watch the little girl totter around the house climbing on stools to reach objects, playing around open wires, turning the gas on, etc. Several moments in the film might feel sadistic, aimed at creating a forced situation where you watch a child unknowingly put her life in danger. In the absence of a script, it is a valid emotion as you keep asking yourself – “What is the point of this film ?” or “Why am I watching this ?”. Having said that, it is undeniable that the execution of this whole endeavour deserves attention. Filming a full-length feature with a protagonist that is a 2-year old child is a feat in itself. Aside that, the screenplay has a coherent quality to it where one scene after flows into the other. It is so meticulously planned that it feels unscripted. All of the nail-biting scenes where we watch Pihu get unbelievably close to getting hurt, were all made possible unique use of camera angles and editing. What makes it even more scary is that it is not impossible at all. When the bond between parents is in shambles, it is the children who suffer.
Pihu is probably not a movie you would ‘like’ or even enjoy. It is unsettling to say the least and maybe even depressing in some ways. Mothers, especially, would hate it. Even so, experimental cinema is all about crossing that invisible line and treading uncharted territory.
Pihu is probably not a movie you would ‘like’ or even enjoy. It is unsettling to say the least and maybe even depressing in some ways. Mothers, especially, would hate it. Even so, experimental cinema is all about crossing that invisible line and treading uncharted territory. If a film makes you feel strongly, it has successfully reeled you in. Remember, you chose to watch it consciously or unconsciously. You could have gone anywhere else, watched any other movie. But you came here. The only good thing that we would, perhaps, take away from the film is the realization that our children are vulnerable. We need to take the utmost care and protect them from any emotional and physical trauma that may take away their innocence. If we cannot do this much for them, then who are we ?