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Pihu review: Disturbing, but don't shut your eyes and ears to the wailing child

Release Date: 21 Nov 2017 / Rated: U / 02hr 02min

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Mayur Lookhar

The film needs to be seen by all, even the faint-hearted, for here is a tale that must be seen and heard.

A tragedy usually sends a ripple through the neighbourhood. Among the mourners are not only those who were close to the bereaved family; often complete strangers also turn up to offer condolences.

A pall of gloom descends and people debate what went wrong. Then there are those who pass moral judgement and are quick to come up with their ‘this-could-have-been-averted-if' theories. Rarely, however, does anyone question where they themselves were when the tragedy was unfolding.

Journalist-turned-filmmaker Vinod Kapri poses this very query with his shocking film Pihu. Said to be based on true events, Pihu tells the story of a two-year-old (Myra Vishwakarma) who is left practically alone in the house after her mother Puja (Prerna Sharma) passes out by popping one pill too many.

Pihu opened the Indian Panorama at the 48th International Film Festival of India in Goa last year. It then travelled to a few more festivals before being released in India.

The film needs to be seen by everyone, even the faint-hearted, for here is a tale that must be heard and seen. In the garb of escapism, we have become insensitive, ignorant, and learnt to shut our eyes to the realities around us.

Pihu is a brave attempt by Kapri, for the film's fate rests entirely on little Myra's shoulders. Pihu is the only active character we see throughout the film. And, of course, it would be immature to judge the acting skills of a toddler.

The key to such stories lies in letting the child be a child and react naturally to the situations created around her. With minimal dialogue, Myra does what is expected of a child in dangerous situations. The little girl will only realize the magnitude of her performance when she is older.

Besides the lonely Pihu, it is the scary situations she gets into that cause palpitations. The child is practically alone in a high-rise apartment and the irresponsible father has forgotten to switch off the iron. Pihu unknowingly switches the gas nob on and mistakes phenol for milk.

This reviewer was left with his hands folded, pleading for a miracle, when Pihu climbed the balcony grill. Given that the film is based on a true story, one does not know if the original child survived to recall the horror. Kapri invariably creates drama, but the many heart-stopping moments take us through the worst of things that could happen to a child in such a situation.

The film’s edgy marketing strategy [computer-generated calls that had a child crying for help] was deemed insensitive by a section of the audience, but after watching the film, it is harder to question the strategy as Kapri and the marketing team want society to open its eyes and ears to the wails of anyone in distress.

In the film, the plush apartment in a prime Uttar Pradesh locality appears to have hosted a wild party with alcohol, music and food aplenty as the parents celebrated their child’s birthday with gusto. There are no visuals; Kapri simply shows the celebration through animation in the opening credits. Pihu landing in this delicate situation is no accident, but we can leave that for the cine-goers to decipher.

With a grim subject, minimal casting and the scary situations, sound becomes an important tool in the narrative. It is here that Kapri and his sound designer Subash Sahoo get it right. The duo have created the desired impact. For example, the sound of a balloon bursting is cleverly used.

When an entire film is set in one location, it makes the job of the production designer much easier. Ashim Chakraborty and Kapri set their story in a plush duplex apartment. People can buy plush homes and not necessarily be happy in them. The chaos that we see in the house is also reflective of the relationship Puja and her husband Gaurav (Rahul Bagga) share. The glossy wooden floor helps not only to get a better view of the scattered pills, but the camera panning on the floor also reminds us of the dangers of an overdose. Yogesh Jaini’s neat cinematography helps create the gripping experience.

The common criticism that usually comes with such subjects is the length of the film. One could conceivably argue that Pihu could have been a short film. While it's true that Kapri could have trimmed the film, the current runtime checks our endurance. We often complain that intervals break the rhythm of a film. Here, a longer interval helps you to regain your breath, normalize the heart rate and prepare for the rest of the story.

Kapri had won the National award for his documentary Can't Take This Shit Anymore (2014), a film based on the issue of open defecation. While watching Pihu, there would be moments when you feel you cannot watch the distubing scenes anymore. This statement, however, is reflective of how insensitive we have become as a society. It's time we realize that if we cannot empathize, we shouldn't trivialize either.

A few months ago, the image of a schoolgirl jumping to her death from her Mumbai apartment went viral on social media. More than the suicide itself, what was disturbing was how the incident was recorded by a person from a neighbouring apartment. The person was devoid of any sensitivity to raise an alarm.

Films like Pihu are needed to shake our conscience. The film tells us to keep our eyes and ears open the next time we witness or hear a child wailing. Kapri’s maturity at handling the disturbing tale is what makes you reach out to the wailing Pihu.


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