NRI

Google fb32x32 twitter linkedin feed-icon-32x32

Film Review: Peepli Live

Film Review: Peepli Live

August 21, 2010

One of the most effective and entertaining films of recent times, packed with dark humor, irony and sincerity.



When Natha, the unfortunate protagonist of Anusha Rizwi’s Peepli Live, wakes up from a peaceful nap to find his home being invaded by a news crew, the aggressive urban reporter tries to calm him by saying, “This is just a camera, it won’t harm you.” Perhaps it’s because I’m still getting over the impact of Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex aur Dhokha (LSD), but Rizwi’s film seems to be another distinguished specimen of Indian independent cinema’s recent focus on the role of the camera in modern Indian society. With a taut script, outstanding acting and mature directing, Rizwi’s directorial debut is a powerful and thoroughly entertaining film laden with irony, dark humor and most importantly, a wake-up call to a pressing issue.

The true winner in Rizwi’s film is the script. It is original, relevant, and doesn’t get distracted by pointless sub-plots. Natha (Omkar Das, who bears an odd resemblance to Rajpal Yadav) and Budhia (Raghubir Yadav) are farmer brothers who are about to lose their land to crippling debt. After an indifferent local politician dismissively suggests a government program that gives 100,000 Rupees to families of farmers who commit suicide, the brothers decide to try it out. Unaware that it was a joke, Natha agrees to commit suicide. The news spreads from local to regional to national news, until their tiny village of Peepli and Natha’s life are turned into a national media event – “the country’s first live suicide.” It isn’t long before the politicos get involved, each either encouraging or discouraging Natha from his decision solely for their own benefit. At first it seems bizarre, if not insensitive, to build a comic satire around the very serious issue of farmer suicides. However, it becomes very clear that the target of the jokes is not the plight of the farmers but the Indian news media and the politicians. And what a commentary it is!

Rizwi gets several nuances just right and provides cheeky humor around her various statements on the news media. The two most memorable include the reporter announcing the results of a poll on reasons for Natha's disappearance citing suspicion on Islamic terrorists and even America. The other is Hindi reporter Deepak’s (the hilarious Vishal Sharma) extensive analysis of Natha's feces to make conclusions on his personality and destiny. It makes you cringe but this isn’t cheap humor and you can’t help but burst out laughing at point the film is making. The battle for ratings between the Hindi and English networks and the incessant sensationalizing of the most trivial topics becomes the biggest joke in the film. This aspect of the film reminds the most of Banerjee’s LSD where sting operations become the key to news networks desperate for ratings.

One of the most memorable things about Peepli Live is the incredible acting talent that has been assembled. The only instantly recognizable face is Raghubir Yadav who plays covertly manipulative brother to Natha and once again delivers. The rest of the cast, including Natha, are all new or relatively unknown faces and each one lends such sincerity and conviction to their roles that you remain content just watching them interact with one another. Especially worth noting are Natha’s wife Dhaniya (Shalini Vatsa) and his mother (Farrukh Jaffar), two women who give the saas-bahu bickering a whole new ferocious dimension. They spew their tangy dialogs so convincingly that deep down a part of you wishes the entire film was about them. Omkar Das as Natha delivers a restrained performance. For being the center of all this attention and an entire plot built around him, he speaks the fewest lines in the film and does the least. Whether that’s an oversight in the writing or precisely the point of the film, Das is still very successful at garnering audience sympathy with his silence.

Peepli Live is a scathing satire on the news media as well as the hypocrisy of vote-bank politics in India but rarely does it go over the top. Rizwi exhibits maturity in both her writing and directing and above all brings to the forefront the pressing issue of farmer poverty and suicides. The ending, while it departs from the lighter tone of the rest of the film, is a worthy conclusion to such a story. It doesn’t spoon feed the viewer a happy conclusion but continues with the film’s ironic and realistic bent. Produced by Aamir Khan, Rizwi’s debut film is a triumph of story and, equally as important, provides a glorious boost to independent cinema hailing from India.

16 Comments

  • Chandrashekar
    By
    Chandrashekar
    08.09.10 05:53 AM
    'Peepli live' is a satirical dig that is great indeed;Frequent digs of this kind can stimulate the obstinate bureaucracy,the greedy politician,and the hounding news hungry channels.
    The middle class is made aware of the pathetic plight of the marginal farmer who is heavily exploited from all angles in bringing the food to the table of the masses.

    The case of the farmer in the film who sells sand by digging all the time and ultimately ending up in the same pit(Grave)is a satire on the plight of the farmer who is killed by slow and crippling death by loan sharks just to keep his show running ;leave alone profit!

    The Expert opinion on Natha's shit and the analysis on his state of mind is the ultimate satire on the crap churned out by many news channels!
  • Pulkit Datta
    By
    Pulkit Datta
    08.09.10 12:09 AM
    Thanks, Nikhat. Yes, the lone toiling farmer story was very effective and so well done. It was subtle and poignant. Great film indeed.
  • Nikhat Rasheed
    By
    Nikhat Rasheed
    07.09.10 11:29 PM
    Peepli Live was a fantastic film. Taut script, phenomenal acting and moving symbolism. The death of the lone toiling farmer was really gut wrenching. Where is our conscience?
  • parvin
    By
    parvin
    28.08.10 05:22 PM
    Hello my elder brother .you are a grate filmmaker.you have a grate miracler.by your story you pay attention towards rural area .i prey to god for your good achivent
  • Pulkit Datta
    By
    Pulkit Datta
    24.08.10 08:20 PM
    You're right, Deepak. It is meant to leave you thinking, it is a scary state of affairs with the direction that the news media is taking. I really liked the message of the subplot with the other old farmer who is really struggling and none of the media pays any attention to him. It was a good comparison to the Natha story. I hope there are more films like this that raise awareness to social issues in such a way - the film needs to not only have a strong message but also entertain. That's how you get a mass audience to pay attention. Thanks for the comment, Deepak.
  • Deepak
    By
    Deepak
    24.08.10 04:33 AM
    Hi,

    I saw the movie and I enjoyed watching, though the movie as such left me troubled about the state of affairs.But I guess thatz what the storyteller wants to happen, to senstize us to this apathy n not ignore it as another story 'bite' (no puns intended)
  • Pulkit Datta
    By
    Pulkit Datta
    23.08.10 02:32 AM
    Thanks, Gagan. I highly recommend it, let me know what you think after you watch it. You're right, the 70s and 80s were campy, but I think this current generation of independent Indian filmmakers are in some way returning to the realism of the 50s. Films true to social issues/causes that raise awareness and also entertain. It's a very good balance to the mainstream masala that is also going very strong, commercially anyway. I hope you enjoy the film!
  • Gagan
    By
    Gagan
    23.08.10 01:39 AM
    Great review and I can't wait to go see it - I'm sure it'll be a refreshing change from the same tired stories we see churning out. Though I have to say - I've been an avid Hindi film fan for decades and while the stuff from the 70s and 80s was campy and effective in its own way, this generation has taken independent Indian filmmaking to a completely new level.
  • Pulkit Datta
    By
    Pulkit Datta
    22.08.10 10:09 PM
    Thanks, Sowmya, Yes, you should definitely go see it soon! It does help that Aamir Khan is backing this, otherwise I probably wouldn't have been able to see it here in NYC. In this case, the star name backing the film was crucial but lack of stars in the film also worked very well. Good balance.
  • Pulkit Datta
    By
    Pulkit Datta
    22.08.10 10:07 PM
    Thanks, Jayanth. Yes, great movie indeed and it deals with the issues in an entertaining yet realistic way. A breath of fresh air for the film industry.
  • Sowmya
    By
    Sowmya
    22.08.10 06:20 PM
    On my list of movies to watch! The promos seemed quite interesting and Aamir has lent an extra dose of attention that such movies find hard to garner. Good review - thanks.

    Sowmya
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    By
    Jayanth Tadinada
    21.08.10 11:10 PM
  • Pulkit Datta
    By
    Pulkit Datta
    21.08.10 07:55 PM
    Thanks, Chandrashekar. That's true, and what an overdrive it is!
  • Pulkit Datta
    By
    Pulkit Datta
    21.08.10 07:54 PM
    Thanks, Lazy Pineapple. Do let me know what you think of it.
  • chandrashekar
    By
    chandrashekar
    21.08.10 11:33 AM
    Nice review!The Media in overdrive have been brought out on film.
  • Lazy Pineapple
    By
    Lazy Pineapple
    21.08.10 10:15 AM
    Planning to see this today :)
    Nice review..would be fun to see someone making fun of media..

Leave a comment