Writer & Director: Anusha Rizvi
Cast: Omkar Das Manikpuri, Raghuvir Yadav, Shalini Vatsa, Farrukh Jaffar, Malaika Shenoy, Vishal Sharma, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sitaram Panchal, Naseeruddin Shah, Aamir Bashir
Producer: Aamir Khan
Music & Songs: Indian Ocean and Ram Sampath

Natha and his brother on their way to meet the local politician for help

I finally got to watch this movie over the weekend after hearing and reading much about it. Unlike most Indian movies which run close to 3 hours, this had only a running time of 104 minutes, keeping the storyline taut and gripping throughout.

According to statistics, 182,000 farmers in India ended their lives between 1997 and 2007. Additionally, between 1991 and 2001, 8 million Indians quit farming altogether, the main cause being that they could not repay loans. Rizvi’s directorial debut follows this theme in a satirical mode in ‘Peepli Live’ .

The film also takes a look at how media and politicians use such human tragedies to up their TRPs (Television Rating Points in India) and vote banks respectively. The humanitarian crisis is thus just a fodder for their agenda.

Set in a small village, the film follows the plight of a farmer’s family. Natha (Omkar Das). Natha and his brother Budhiya (essayed brilliantly by Raghuvir Yadav) had taken a loan against their land, the only source of livelihood for the family. The loan went bad and the land is about to be auctioned off by the bank.

The brothers try to seek the help of an influential local politician who shoos them away and insensitively suggests that they commit suicide to avail the Rs 1 lakh (about US$ 2000) that the Government would pay as compensation. Initially, the brothers are stunned by the suggestion, but Budhiya the elder brother cleverly convinces Natha to sacrifice his life. Saddled with a shrewish wife, three needy kids, a bedridden witch of a mother and a contrary brother, a ‘profitable’ death seems to make sense for Natha. While discussing this at the village tea stall, he is overheard by a local journalist who conveys the “story idea” to his head office from where it spreads like wildfire. Very soon a media and political circus descends on tiny Peepli village, with everyone from cotton candy sellers to tight rope artists swarming the dusty roads, and turning it into a country fair.


The hand pump and TV set gift given by Government

It’s election time in the region and the Chief Minister of the State, fearing Natha’s much-anticipated suicide would affect his political power, asks the local District Collector to look into the issue. Natha is then given a government gift of a water hand pump and a TV set, in an ironical, yet comical commentary on government largesse as these gifts will no way help him repay his loan or get his land back.

The news reaches a well known TV anchorwoman of a popular English channel and thus enters Nandita Malik (Malaika Shenoy), who reminds one of NDTV’s Barkha Dutt. She rushes off to Peepli as she finds this story promising her good TRPs. She is bossy and tries to manipulate the situation to her advantage, but is soon overtaken by the politicians and goons who descend there.

The irony is that nobody – be it reporters or politicians – wants to know why Natha decides to take his life. In fact, no one is interested in solving his problem as there are now two factions – one who believe they will benefit if he dies and other who are afraid his death will affect their political future.

‘Peepli Live’ is a tragi-comedy and a brilliant satire that shows the reality behind media houses, politicians and government bureaucrats. A sad tale couched in biting satire and comedy, you want to chuckle and cry at the same time.

The film also takes a dig at ‘Monsanto’ and its genetically modified seeds. This UK News story quoting Prince Charles tells it well and gives you the background for the farmer suicides in Central India.

Recommended: Yes, definitely!
Rating: 5/5

P.S. This movie has been selected as India’s entry to the Academy Awards (Oscars) in the Best Foreign Film category. I hope it does well when the awards are announced on Feb 27 2011.