Monday, May 20, 2013
Last Updated: 19 May 17:55 PM IST
13 August 2010
FILM: Peepli (Live)
By Mathures Paul
PEEPLI (Live) could be the story of any Indian village in any decade. It’s timeless and poignant. In fact, had Billy Wilder not made Ace In The Hole or Frank Capra his satirical classics, debutant director Anusha Rizvi’s film wouldn’t have had much competition. Peepli (Live) stops short of being compared to the brilliant short stories penned by past literary masters of India. The film is original, speaks about issues that affect the majority, is free of gimmicks and, most importantly, the narrative is not compromised. In other words, it’s a brave attempt at a time when Hindi directors are caught in a dilemma ~ whether to make films that pamper to drooling masses or throw in glitzy elements they think viewers would like to see. The film offers enough fodder for the brain.
From the very start, Rizvi makes excellent use of long shots to enrich her storyboard and in the process has to deal with enormous amounts of extras and background details. It’s certainly not the easiest of films but nowhere are viewers made to feel the underlying technical complexities. Rizvi puts on a brave face even in her choice of actors ~ theatre artiste Omkar Das Manikpuri (plays Natha) and the ageless Raghubir Yadav (plays Budhia).
On second thoughts, Peepli (Live) even becomes one of those brilliant short stories that Anant Pai (popular as Uncle Pai) published in his comic book Tinkle in the early in 1980s. The film has characters rich in comic element (though they are crying within) and the settings are rustic ~ making the urban population realise that 90 per cent of India still lives in villages where the more things change the more they remain the same.
Like millions of farming families, Natha and Budhia are on the verge of losing their land ~ their very existence ~ to an unpaid loan. Politicians turn a deaf ear to their problems and the best they could do is suggest suicide, a move that always makes the government look sympathetically down upon the family (by showering Rs 100,000). Budhia is clever and Natha a simpleton. Their story is real even though most widely-circulated newspapers refuse to spare even a column centimetre to the issue. Indian politicians continuously lie until lies take the form of truths, something the Left Front in West Bengal and Miss Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh know very well.
Anyway, Rakesh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a journalist, eavesdrops on the conversation and quickly gives the “story” an excellent spin. If Rakesh is hungry for stories, ace TV reporter Nandita Mallik (Malaika Shenoy) is ferociously foxy! She doesn’t hesitate to make it the lead item on her national news channel. Will Natha commit suicide to save his family? With elections round the corner, politicians, clutching their dhotis, make a dash for Peepli. Some want to cash in on the situation, some want to bail out the family (one even delivers a tubewell but doesn’t want to install it).
Like corrupt reporter Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) ~ in Ace In The Hole ~ turned a small mining village in New Mexico into a carnival, Peepli becomes the soap opera for the media (one journalist even gets Natha’s faeces analysed to gauge his emotional state!). The village is sharply divided and many, even Natha’s younger son, wants Natha to go through with suicide. Meanwhile, news channels start various polls to pin the blame on a group (terrorists, politicians, etc) responsible for Natha’s problems.
At no point will you feel that Budhia, Natha or their loose-cannon bunch of friends are acting. Viewers are sucked into the film but are not made to be mere onlookers. You will be forced to take sides and at times hope Natha goes ahead with the “deal”! And that is what makes Peepli (Live) a brilliant show. For Natha to live someone has to die. And the second part of the film deals with this aspect.
Since most of the actors are proficient theatre personalities, they make long sequences look like child’s play. Omkar Das Manikpuri is casual in his approach and Raghubir Yadav always has a glint in his eyes. The background drone becomes somewhat a part of the vibrant soundtrack. Though slightly long, it always amuses the very crowd it is satirising but without cracking foul jokes.
A palpable hit. Anusha Rizvi demolishes successfully whatever little faith we had in the political process. Peepli (Live) is entertaining and inspiring.
Peepli (Live) has been directed by Anusha Rizvi, produced by Aamir Khan (Aamir Khan Productions), Kiran Rao and B Shrinivas Rao. Written by Anusha Rizvi and music by Mathias Duplessy and Indian Ocean.