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.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


The word is dicey. It exhumes a beat of novelty. True to its meaning, Inception by Christopher Nolan is the beginning of a new cult. The creation of something that is so mind-boggling that it's too good to be true. I worship his genius.

Dominic Cobb (Leonardp Di Caprio) is an expert at stealing. Stealing people's ideas from their dreams while they are sleeping. Yes, our world could come to that. But the bigger challenge comes to him when he is asked to plant an idea in someone's mind instead. Saito (Ken Watanabe), a rich man, wants Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy), heir to his father's empire, to break it up in order to avoid a threat to his own business.

Cobb hires a young aspiring architect Ariadne (Ellen page) to construct dreams that Fischer would enter when dreaming. She has to create a maze that would allow enough time for the team to manipulate the subject's mind, luring him into thinking what they want him to think. They want him to destroy his father's empire. Not violently and forcibly in real life, but by injecting in him an idea using emotional play. A business decision needs to be communicated by hitting what's most sensitive to us - our emotions.

Going down three layers deep into Fischer’s subconscious, Cobb and his team control and navigate through the dreams facing numerous challenges on the way. They discover that Fischer has been trained to ward off dream infiltrators, and so has developed security, which will only hamper their mission. But the game must go on.

This film got me thinking of many issues. One most prominent being how the entire concept of breaking into someone’s mind is in fact a reality today. How? Simple. Through the innumerous information we are being fed day in and day out, with the bombardment of the media. We may not be wholly aware of it (a dream state?) because it works seemingly discreetly, injecting our minds with what it wants us to believe. We forget what’s real and what’s not. Like how Cobb heavily sedates Fischer, we too are sedated – on postmodern paraphernalia.

The second thing I’d like to mention is the power of the mind. The power to invade directly, in contrast to the powerlessness of surrender. While we all think we have complete control of our lives once we get our degrees and pass out of prestigious institutions, we are equally vulnerable to the evils of the real world. But like in the film, what seems real for the victim is in fact a dream, although what happens in the dream is real because he is brainwashed enough to believe that the decisions he takes are his own. Brainwash. The word seems more interesting to me now. It makes complete sense. Brainwash can almost be used as a synonym to inception. After all, doesn’t it do the same thing? Systematically frame a person’s mind and manipulate it enough to convince him to believe that what he thinks is right and true of his own accord.

Nolan’s concept of limbo I find quite fascinating. When you are heavily sedated in a dream, you may never wake up even if you kill yourself and you’ll fall into what he calls “unconstructed dream space”, where you only find “raw infinite subconscious”. And what’s worse, you’ll grow old in this indefinite world. I wonder if many of us have already fallen in this limbo, living our world in an infinite subconscious simply because we have been heavily sedated by powerful market forces. I find an uncanny resemblance to today’s brand culture being part of sedating us into limbo. Unconstructed brand space. Until we give ourselves an appropriate “kick”, we may never get out of it.

If, however, we are aware of these forces of propaganda, then we can develop a resistance towards it, just like how Fischer developed security against invaders who entered his subconscious. But if propaganda can reach levels where we are convinced that we are not being manipulated, then what else is left?

How we perceive is how we understand what we see. How I see someone may be different from what you may. So like in the film where one sees someone else in a dream as a “projection” which defines his perception of that person in real life, in a sense translates to the fact that how we really see people in real life is what they are in our dreams.

Waking Life by Richard Linklater is another film that explores the blurring lines between dreams and reality. A rotoscoped film, it traces the dream adventures of a young man who cannot get himself out of a dream. Lucid dreaming keeps us aware that we are dreaming, but what if we get stuck and simply can’t get out? The dream becomes a reality that we live in, floating in its surreal geography. Like how the young man gets lessons from philosophers about life, existentialism, reality and free will, Inception is an application of some of these ideas in action. What is free will? Does it really exist? Who controls what we think? Can an idea ever be original? Even if it’s planted in one’s head, can we be fooled to think that it’s “our” idea? According to one of Cobb’s associates, “the subject’s mind always traces the genesis of an idea. True inspiration is impossible to fake.” So who gets the real credit of an idea?

I know one thing for sure. Nolan’s genius is impossible to fake. With his execution of the most complicated mind games, it is a breathtaking experience to watch this film. Not once, not twice, but for as long as the totem spins. Lost in your dreams? You could be in danger. Because your mind is the seed of the crime.