Monday, August 16, 2010

Peepli [LIVE]

This Independence Day comes a film directed by Anusha Rizvi, with a flavor that will tickle your humor buds and unassumingly heighten your awareness about the plight of farmers in our country.

A camera pokes right into the face of a poor farmer, who looks as innocent as a child who has just seen a toy gun. He is bewildered and doesn’t know how to handle all the sudden adulation. Why are all these people Peeping inside his house? Because he wants to, I mean wanted to commit suicide. To let his family live comfortably with the compensation that will be paid by the government. Until the media decided to make a sensational story out of it.

Natha (played by Omkar Das Manikpuri) and his brother Budhia (played by Raghuvir Yadhav) are farmers who run the risk of losing their land if they fail to pay back their bank loan. They are thrown into a helpless situation where they get no support to help repay their debt. The idea of committing suicide forms in their head as the only and last resort to save their family. As word gets around, television channels vie to make it a breaking news story; politicians try to make peace with the villagers because the elections are nearing and to top it, the agriculture secretary acts indifferent to all the developing mayhem.

I felt a certain inner happiness in watching this film, because more than anything else, I was blessing Anusha Rizvi for finally making a sensible film, bringing out a strong theme in a screenplay dripping with satire. What better way to show the deepest dirt and farcical nature of our so-called national system? I love the sarcasm in the visual language, for example how the Minster goes and gifts Natha a bright blue hand pump that is of no use to him or gifts him a television and garlands him in order to appease the threat he’s causing to the power play.

The role of the media is stark and shown in all its brutality. How far away are we from the truth? No too much, I believe. While all our news channels are bothered about TRP’s and being the “top news channel” with this “exclusive story” or that “special report”, how many of our journalists really care for the people or the stories they are reporting for? How many of us understand the real issue that these farmers are facing? How many Natha’s do we know about? I don’t know. Everything seems like such a drama. News has become theatrical. A live drama unfolding before us, with all the mise-en-scenes planned, and executed with perfection. With the perfect characters, and dialogues. For the perfect story. Why? To grab our eye-balls. So that we tune into the same news channel again to satisfy our thirst for dramatic realism.

While I write this at this very moment, I know that there are farmers dying, their suicides adding to numbers, and I feel restless now, because after watching the movie, I started to feel concerned. Although the film made me laugh, it also led me to a low when through the dark humour, I saw the real, cruel face of our power systems. The media, the politicians, the bureaucrats. Natha personifies the face of millions of peasants who face pressure and trauma to repay debts that is a matter of a life and death situation. When all the noise making elements left his village after his supposed death, we see how less anyone really cared about his fate.

Opportunistic. That’s what we all are. The world has become so competitive, that we seem to have lost that sense of humanity, that sense of not wanting to mindlessly think of how we can gain. Sometimes, it’s better to lose, in the eyes of the ruling power. Because, in our hearts, we have won. We may believe that everything needs to have a reason, but there’s no reason to play games with the lives of others to create that supposed reason. In the end, we are solely responsible for our actions, and if haven’t made that little difference in helping a Natha or a Budhia, then that action is not worth committing.

In a nutshell, Peepli [LIVE] shows us the voyeuristic nature of the media, how a story is not lived, but only thrust in front of the camera. Who cares about the old farmer who has been digging for days to sell the sand, and dies in that same mud trench he had been working his life for? Why couldn’t they show that story instead, voiced a more sensitive journalist Rakesh (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui). Because, according to Nandita Mallik (played by Malaika Shenoy) “Natha is the big story.” Rakesh’s questioning attitude only invited a more curt answer, “ We are journalists, and this is what we do. If you can’t handle this, then you are in the wrong profession.” So my question is, is it worth sacrificing the real cause in the name of “profession”? How can a profession demand belittling our moral standards?

It will enlighten you. It might empower you. It can disturb you. Peepli [LIVE] is a wake up call to notice our distracting tools of public broadcasting. Watch it for its satire, its clever manipulation of story elements, its necessary exaggerations and most of all for its endearing and innocent characters who are the victims of our mad rush for attention. An Independence Day special, most certainly.


  1. The last cut to the city addresses another big factor - of migration from villages to cities - albeit for another reason... in search of a better living or say survival...

    Well written... gives the feel of reading a journalistic piece... a feature ... :)

    & don't forget the moment where the lady journalist explains to rakesh (local journo)... about what is journalism when he raises a valid question...This indeed reflects the pitieous condition our channels/newspapers/media have drooped to... People who are today journalists ignorant of what true journalism is & thus excused to uphold the principles that journalists held once upon a time... & yeah.. the parallel drawn to the wasted hindi news channels ... slap on the face... !

  2. great movie... true is an awakening call for us and realize what we see is not always what it is .. loved the script

  3. Finally a well scripted movie after a long long time...what I appreciate most is the comeback of GOOD movies...we are getting there slowly..but steadily...

  4. @ Regil: Thankyou for bringing to light the significance of the final scene. It does bring out the sorry state of many villagers who flee to the cities in hopes of a better life. Alas, we only see more pain in Natha's eyes, as he has lost his soul, his family, his dignity.

    Our news channels need to get back to reality and stop this insane race to beat the other channel to a higher TRP. Our obsession with numbers and statistics only reaches shameful heights with this continued madness.

  5. @ Preeti: Yes, Preeti. The call is well needed and an urgent cry to our delirius media. Peepli carries a strong and loaded script, that brings across this message with the required impact.

    @ Ujjwal: True. It's relieving to know that our film industry does have thinking minds, who use the power of the cinematic medium for useful purposes. Our country needs it.

  6. I haven't watched this movie yet, but the script sounds like an adapted mish-mash of 2 classics:

    1. Frank Capra's 1941 masterpiece 'Meet John Doe'.
    Plot: As a parting shot, fired reporter Ann Mitchell prints a fake letter from unemployed "John Doe," who threatens suicide in protest of social ills. The paper is forced to rehire Ann and hires John Willoughby to impersonate "Doe." Ann and her bosses cynically milk the story for all it's worth, until the made-up "John Doe" philosophy starts a whole political movement. At last everyone, even Ann, takes her creation seriously...but publisher D.B. Norton has a secret plan.

    2. And, one of my all-time 'journalism film' favorites, Billy Wilder's 1951 tour de force 'Ace in the Hole.
    Plot: A frustrated former big-city journalist now stuck working for an Albuquerque newspaper exploits a story about a man trapped in a cave to re-jump start his career, but the situation quickly escalates into an out-of-control circus.

    Both these films are absolutely brilliant, and the fact that the "wake-up call" was cried out loud and clear 60-70 years ago makes both of these films all-time classics.

    So I'm really looking forward to watching Peepli LIVE, hoping it's as good as your review is... :)

  7. Thanks for the plentiful information as always!
    Just make sure you have some good subtitles on to enjoy the local flavour of Hindi.:)

  8. The final shots of Natha working in the city stirred inside me the same question that Regil noticed. The migration to city almost brings to my mind a new plight, life of day labourers and innocent villagers migrating for a living in a city, a Peepli sequel, A New Delhi [Live] or Mumbai [Live].

    The questions that film's concept has raised is experienced obviously by all of us while watching the movie and after its end but these end shots of the film made me ask questions on this other tragedy unfolding right in front of our eyes as we cross our city roads, go to malls, or buy that dream apartment...: What kind of life are these day labourers living? For them each day is a struggle, each meal, a looming question. I just kept thinking, how do they live and why doesn't anyone do somthing?

    I feel like not blaming the government but now simply requesting, pleading to do whatever can be done to address these basic issues.

    And requirement of possessing a Natha or BPL (Below Poverty Line) card by the poor to validate poverty is an utter disgust. As if the visible lack of basic life sustaining resources in their lives is not a proof enough for the administration.

    Coming back to the film, the script is superbly written. This is what Indian films should be and I just don't mean we must solely focus on realistic cinema, but be it any genre, the content must be the focus, Period.

    Udaan and Peepli[Live] are the films I would be proud to call as India's Official Entry to the Oscars or Our entries as the World Cinema.