Pihu Review: An ambitious and gripping premise, this deserved to be treated no more than a short film

Director: Vinod Kapri

Cast: Myra Vishwakarma

A two-year-old trotting about all alone in a high-rise apartment, trying to find her way through the maze of strewn confetti, scattered plates of food and practically survive a steam iron, a geyser, an oven, a burner, the refrigerator and more. Not to mention the heart-stopping moment where she literally dangles off the balcony railing, calling out for her friends who are nowhere near enough to reciprocate her needy affection. Her mother lies lifeless in bed, even as the little one constantly keeps nudging her to wake up, cries incessantly and at one point attempts to unbutton her mother’s top and feed herself. There are more grisly, and in equal parts, heart-breaking details I could give you a sneak peek of, but this is a feat you have to watch to believe.  That an unsupervised toddler in a high-rise flat left alone with electrical appliances and even regular devices to experiment with is a nightmare you never want to experience.

Ever since the trailer first released on YouTube, Pihu succeeded in generating much hype and immense anguish amongst the audience, whose minds were instantly prepped up to face the worst –a horror the premise of the movie is meant to compel adults to ponder – why is a two-year old all alone in the house? Where are the parents? How can anybody be so irresponsible? This is certainly no jovial, cheery Home Alone, but this isn’t anything like last year’s gritty, nerve-wracking Trapped either.

Unfortunately, the manner in which the project has been handled falls on neither side of the spectrum. 

Director Vinod Kapri’s Pihu undoubtedly has a stellar foundation – of taking a frightening “what-if” hypothesis and spinning it around a lone child’s crucial hours at home alone, but this is one that could have been used to build a gripping short film instead of a cruel and arduous 93 minute -feature .

Not even Myra Vishwakarma (as Pihu), the toddler who has now garnered much fame and appreciation for her role in the film, succeeds in doing justice to the plot, which admittedly, after the first 30 minutes or so becomes predictable and manipulative. Solely because, even after the point has been drilled home – that an infant left unattended at home is no pretty sight, the director relentlessly continues to put the child, and the audience, through elaborate illustrations of what those horrors could be. If you’re a parent, you will likely drown in nausea and massive guilt, and if you’re planning to become one you will likely never leave your child unattended. Or commit suicide without having a backup plan for how your toddler will manage to deal with it, especially if he/she has to endure a few hours alone at home.

This brings me to the other eerie elements this film is made of  – the father is evidently away on a trip and makes his presence felt, by vehemently screaming and snarling over the phone. There is first, a clear disdain of his wife’s recriminations pertaining to his fidelity (or lack thereof), and then, conciliatory assurances attempting to prove otherwise. But there is absolute silence on the other end of the phone to match the husband’s frustrated, angry rants. Throughout the film, we are forced to make peace with only the guttural, authoritative voice of this character right till the end.

There are bruises on the mother’s listless body, pointing to domestic abuse.  

Joining in this chaotic, yet terrifying medley are the clueless, angry neighbors who ramble on and on about the power trips happening in the apartment and the water leaking out from Pihu’s house. There are the milkman and a few other random characters whose presence is felt just outside the door, almost as if they are deflected off the solid wooden frame, to retreat back into their mundane, unhappy lives. There are little to no dialogues, leaving plenty of room to still yourself and soak in the happenings.

All of this serves to heighten the anxiety and dread you feel as the audience. There are plenty of could be’and should be’s you map out in our head, as you’re taken through the possibilities rife in today’s modern-day apartment-residency lifestyle. And yet, at one point, it looks contrived and deliberately exploitative, failing to impart the lessons it so tries to convey with this premise. Especially the climax, which seems rushed and scrambles to accord a befitting conclusion to the mayhem you somehow survive in the last 90 minutes or so.

Towards the end of it, I was more worried about Myra than I was about Pihu, wondering how she would react to her innocent, and manifestly, unconsented participation in this project once she is old enough to process it all. Would she be proud? Or would it leave her unsettled and indignant that she was made to be a part of something that she did not understand, but something that actual grownups were in charge of?

For Myra Vishwakarma’s au natural persona in front of the camera and her innocence, for the fact that this is a story that needed to be told (albeit, not in the manner it has been in this film), and primarily because it perturbs viewers and warns them, this is a movie that should be watched. Not as a thriller/suspense (you will get disappointed soon), but as a documentary one can learn from. 

Rating: 3/5  

Author: Shravani

Content-cum-Copywriter by the day. Dreamer and an idea juggler by the night. Foodie, Movie buff, Bookworm, Chai-holic, - in that order. A truckload of money to throw into that mix, and that's all I'll ever need.

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