Among the many infuriating things about Pihu, Vinod Kapri's 'social thriller', are the characters that we don't see but only hear over the phone. From the two-year-old central character's father to a friend of the her mother to a teleshopping agent—these are people who have complete conversations, even when nobody is responding on the other end. These callers even respond on behalf of the people they are calling, assuming they are 'angry.' In fact, the teleshopping agent even yells on the phone: "Why are you wasting my time?" Telemarketers, who are often at the mercy of the mood swings of those they've called, would be the least likely set of people to talk with such arrogance.
Pihu, set in a duplex apartment in Uttar Pradesh, is filled with such silly, annoying writing decisions that translate terribly on screen.
A little girl has been left unsupervised after her mother pops pills and passes out (presumably dead) while the father—an unbearably annoying man who calls from an airplane's bathroom only to yell at his wife—has left for a work trip to Kolkata. The infant is left to her own devices and soon enough, everyday objects in the house turn precarious as the girl tries to manoeuvre her way around—she topples over a hot iron, switches on the geyser, playfully presses the buttons of a microwave. Every item of domestic use turns into a potentially lethal weapon and Kapri exploits this trope in a manner that makes you think he is playing at being rogue Ram Gopal Varma—close-ups, eerily dramatic background score, a shot of a doll creepily smiling, an inflatable penguin bobbing his head, you get it.
After the first few minutes, one starts to question the purpose of the film. If this is a story about parental neglect and abuse, it definitely doesn't warrant the film's running time, which clocks a little over 90 minutes. A shorter film would've sufficed. Is this a film about toxic relationships and how children are often the worst affected? We definitely don't need to see an elaborate scene of a child dangling out of a highrise balcony, her feet inches away from certain death, for that point to be driven home.
That's the problem with Pihu—it uses a child's trauma as an exploitative device to pump up dramatic tension in a film devoid of purpose or story. After a point, it is numbing to prepare for yet another situation that'll be orchestrated to feed that pervasive attempt at horror. The film's narrative feels insincere and voyeuristic because the characters act in ways that defy logic and betray empathy. A father who hasn't been able to talk to his wife for nearly a day, after having a showdown, is likely to panic and not keep the calm the character maintains here. At one point he's heard telling a friend, "I hope everything is okay there." Your wife is unresponsive following a heated argument and your little daughter is babbling nonsense. Get home asap, dude.
The neighbours, the watchman, the milkman, a woman who witnesses the girl almost fall from the balcony, nobody bothers to check on the apartment until it's too late and there's literally smoke and water coming out of the house. Instead, they pass snide remarks about the couple's lifestyle, which we overhear through a voiceover. So then, one feels, maybe the director is trying to pass a biting remark on social isolation, a commentary on the collapse of a social order as nuclear families increase and how despite being hyper-connected, we don't even know what's going on in the house next door.
If that's the attempt, it's quite a poor one because it feels like an afterthought. The film seems to be cashing in on the misadventures of a little girl left alone as the director amplifies tension purely for effect and not to make a sincere comment on the horrors of woefully careless adult behaviour.
The saving grace of this movie is the little girl, played by Myra Vishwakarma, an adorable moppet who shouldn't have had to go through this unconscientious way of filmmaking.
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