Crafting a film from scratch takes courage, timing and a hell of a lot of planning. So, to suggest centring a feature-length film around a two-year-old girl, who is not only the leading character but the only character featured in the entire film, seems like absolute insanity. Yet for writer/director Vihod Kapri, the insanity works brilliantly in his favour.
Pihu is based around an unnamed true story of a young girl, also named Pihu, who is left to fend for herself in her family’s apartment after her birthday party; her father having flown to Kalkota for a business trip and her mother unable to be woken by the child. As the sole figure on screen (excluding Pihu’s mother who never moves throughout the film), Pihu is a delight. Played by Indian actress Myra “Pihu” Vishwakarma, the ups and downs of this film are driven by the young child’s intelligence, playfulness and her attempts to fend for herself in her own young way.
Advertised as a social thriller, we – as the audience – are gripped at the perils that surround Pihu. Though not always obvious, we grow to realise just how dangerous a home can be, especially for an unsupervised two-year-old. Some of these dangers are funny, such as when Pihu accidentally locks herself in her fridge, whereas some are all too haunting as the child’s naivety is so evident. What makes Pihu’s innocence really stand out is the actress herself – who was only two herself at the time of filming. According to Kapri, due to Vishwakarma’s age they only filmed for two hours a day and used three cameras per take as a toddler is unable to do the same take twice. This directorial choice certainly flows through the film, as we are clearly given a front row seat into little Vishwakarma’s mind as she delights us on screen; one of my personal favourites being when she neglects to answer her front door because “Pihu is eating jam.”
Although Pihu is the only character shown on screen throughout the film, it is through adult voices we are fed the disparity and horrors of her situation, mainly through Pihu’s father (who is played by Vishwakarma’s own father). It is through these small interjections into Pihu’s narrative that we realise that all is not what it seems. In fact, Pihu’s home life is somewhat horrific, but the young child is none the wiser. One such moment that is particularly haunting is when Pihu’s father is attempting to extract information from the young girl, detrimental to the young girl’s safety, yet Pihu demands that he reads her a story instead as she giggles to herself on the sofa.
Though Pihu shines in its creation of character and its fluctuation between soft and hard moments, its technical prowess lets it down. Often, the shots are poor and the editing somewhat lacks as the filmmakers were unable to capture what they needed from the young actress – an issue they were aware of before shooting. Along with this, the feeding of the essential information that is necessary to build the drama is often force-fed to us, as our focal character is unable to do so. This is done through voicemails and messages around the apartment, often making the progression of the plot feel unnatural.
If you excuse the clear limitations of shooting a feature-length film with only a toddler at your disposal, Pihu does a great job of creating tension and displaying a truly heart-breaking story. Vishwakarma is captivating as the lead of the film as she is allowed to be exactly what she is: a child. Whether it be through childish tantrums, strange anecdotes to herself, or trying to act beyond her years, Pihu will steal your heart. And if that isn’t an excuse to watch this one-of-a-kind film, I don’t know what is.
Pihu is available to watch on Netflix.