BY SATYEN K. BORDOLOI
Director: Anusha Rizvi
Actors: Omkar Das, Raghuvir Yadav, Shalini Vatsa, Malaika Shenoy, Vishal Sharma, Nowaz
Rating: 4 out of 5
Watching Peepli Live makes you wonder – does Aamir Khan possess a magic lamp? Of course, the film is not about this Midas-touch man. Yet it is about him. Because every year scores of beautiful films like this one never reach your eyeballs.
A simple comment, “Brother what will happen if our land goes”, a satirical song Desh Mera by Indian Ocean and a ride on a rickety transport locally called ‘Jugaad’ opens the film and sets the mood. The transport where everyone hangs for a ride and our ‘hero’ pukes out of is an analogy for India.
Brothers Natha (Omkar) and Budhiya (Raghuvir) are two ‘insignificant’ farmers barely living in the CM’s constituency. Like farmers everywhere, no one gives a damn about them. A stray, drunk comment by Natha reported by a local stringer that he will commit suicide to get govt. compensation, sets off a chain of events that sees the national media camped in this rustic village and Natha becoming a national celebrity. With politics embroidered in his life and one faction pressuring him to die, and the other rooting for his life, the question that looms like the Sword of Damocles is whether he will live or die?
Though the basic story is inspired by the 1951 Billy Wilder film Ace in The Hole, the satire, the pun, the rural touch makes it entirely Indian. Anusha Rizvi with her brilliant direction makes us roll with laughter, cry and squirm with disgust.
And all because Peepli Live (a pun on ‘People Live’) is not fiction, but a mirror to our disgusting society, politics, government, media and each one of us. It stamps a hard slap at the bloated sense of existence of each.
And like a good satire, it is filled with brilliant observations like the contrast between an obnoxious Hindi media and the uncaring, elite English media. Add this to the satirical attention to detail (a patient trying to hang his own saline bottle), the juxtaposition of dialogues and images (the psychological analysis of Natha’s excreta on national television), the subtle surrealism (Natha on a bride-horse, the emaciated earth digger) etc. and you’ll see seer brilliance. One must also thank the Censor Board for not cutting out curse words, giving us an actual feel of how life really is.
The acting of theatre veterans is spot on.
There are a lot of hints made at actual figures and companies e.g. the American company Monsanto responsible for thousands of farmer’s suicide in India, becomes Sonmento.
Hopefully the film will stir you into realizing that the after air and water, food is most crucial for our existence and it is these dying farmers (at least 15 thousand of whom committed suicide every year) who toil to make them. With their death, dies our civilization.
In the land of the blind, the one eyed is king. Aamir Khan’s magic genie is common sense. He knows that all that a film needs to succeed is a heart-tugging story, good performance and direction. A film that would otherwise have died at the festival circuits gets a new life by Aamir’s genius for promotion. What remains to be seen is whether he will become the god of small films. The way Bollywood is going, it is in urgent need of one.