In the lead up to state elections in the Indian village of Peepli, two poor farmers, Natha and Budhia, face losing their land over an unpaid bank loan. Desperate, they seek help from an apathetic local politician, who scornfully suggests they commit suicide to benefit from a government program that aids the families of indebted deceased farmers. When a journalist overhears Budhia urge Natha to "do what needs to be done" for the sake of their families, a media frenzy ignites around whether or not Natha will commit suicide. - Written by Sundance Film Festival
Movie Review: And that's the bottomline of Peepli Live, a small little film, that showcases the real India without glossing over the contradictions of our fumbling-bumbling democracy or getting overtly sentimental about garibi and the attendant grime that goes with it. Refreshingly, the film unfolds like a hard-hitting satire that turns its tongue-in-cheek gaze over almost all that's incongruous in contemporary Indian society: the rural rot, the yawning rural-urban divide, the vote-bank politics, the out-of-sync bureaucracy, the we-give-a-damn political class, the TRP-lusting media and the total insensitivity towards real people, real problems, real solutions for a real India.
So, we get to savour this delightful scene where the caretakers of the Indian state try to prevent Natha's suicide by gifting him a `Lal Bahadur' (read hand pump) without providing for the requisite funds for its fitting. Needless to say, the hand pump lies unused in the destitute farmer's courtyard and doubles up mostly as a plaything for the village urchins. Then again, there's a local politician who tries to gain mileage by gifting him a colour TV, quite like Marie Antoinette's famous blooper: 'If they don't have food, give them cakes!' And finally, there are the state officials who go through their entire gamut of garibi-hatao schemes, only to realise there is nothing tailor-made to prevent a farmer from committing suicide.
All this while hordes of television news channels have descended onto the non-descript village and transformed it into a comedy circus, complete with cameras that intrude right into Natha's house and try to do an expose on his poop as well. It isn't really difficult to recognise the various real-life TV journalists who are good-humouredly spoofed at in Peepli Live. And nobody should actually take offence, because it's all such fun, despite being a serious indictment of India's skewed development schemes.
The high point of the film indeed is its smart and sassy script. But more than all this, it's the life-like portrayals that add a refreshing authenticity to the film. Handpicking the actors mostly from Habib Tanvir's famed Naya Theatre troupe was indeed a coup for debutant director Anusha Rizvi. The show stealers here are Raghuvir Yadav, Omkar Das Manikpuri and Farrukh Jaffer. Jaffer's old and acrimonious mom act is absolutely brilliant, even as Natha's face mirrors the pain, anguish and confusion of a simpleton trapped between the contradictory pulls of a hungry family on the one side and an uncaring state -- and polity -- on the other. The music of the film deserves a special mention, with folksy lyrics and tunes by Indian Ocean, Nageen Tanvir, Brij Mandal and the rest. Just a word of caution: The film does tend to get repetitive midway and the story goes a bit low on the emotional conflict of Natha and his family, leaving them mostly as bystanders in the circus that revolves around them.
But by and large, Peepli Live is a lively and living document on the `other' India, that lives beyond the neon lights and the cruising metros. Another ace up Aamir Khan's sleeve! This time as producer of a film that has loads to say, without being boring and didactic.
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