Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
Peepli Live: Brilliant, nuanced satire
There are a lot of nuances in Anusha Rizvi’s “Peepli Live” that you may not get at once. There will be a comment on the health system in villages or the lack of hygiene but they are so subtle that it may escape the notice of the less attentive viewer.
It will be your loss if you do miss out on these small details because this film thrives on subtlety — something we aren’t too used to as viewers.
To be able to see the (dark) humour in a situation like farmer suicides without actually laughing at the issue is a tough act to pull off and fortunately for her and her audience, Rizvi does it with aplomb.
Omkar Das plays Natha, a down-on-his-luck farmer who can barely manage to feed his family, let alone save his ancestral property due to an upaid loan. When a local politician laughingly advises him to commit suicide so that he can claim compensation from the government, he grudgingly agrees. Egged on by his elder brother Budhia (Raghuveer Yadav), he makes his intentions public and is overheard by a local reporter.
Of course, what follows is nothing short of chaos. Natha’s death becomes a spectacle that is covered incessantly by the blood-thirsty media, exploited by politicians and watched by the nation.
Rizvi makes a biting comment on the aggressive nature of reportage in the country, government apathy and red tape and of course the real issue at hand — farmer suicides.
The best part is, she makes all these points in the funniest way possible. You will find yourself laughing hard most of the time in the film, but there is a very serious thought there so don’t forget to dwell on that as well. Shyam Benegal’s “Well Done Abba” also tried a similar theme but this one is much more successful.
Of the motley cast in the film, I have to say that this is one of the most well-cast films I have seen in a long time. From Natha’s wife Dhaniya, his cranky old mother to the reporters who are covering the event, they are all perfect fits. You may never have heard of these actors, but they all put in a great ensemble performance.
If you do just one thing this weekend, watch this film.