Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review : Peepli Live

In one of the first few scenes of “Peepli Live” we witness Natha and Budhia meeting the local MLA surrounded by his coterie at what looks like his residence. Natha and Budhia are hoping that the MLA can do something about their land that will soon be confiscated by a bank for non-repayment of loans. The attitude of the powerful towards these inconsequential men is full derision and ridicule till one of the lackeys suggest that one of them commit suicide as the government would then pay Rs 1 Lakh as compensation. The seed of the idea is sown and soon enough the shrewder of the two Budhia has convinced Natha that to retain their ancestral lands Natha has to commit suicide. The consequences of this decision lead to something beyond what either of them could have imagined (the dream that Natha has of running in the first scene seems a premonition by the end). It is by-election time in Peepli and a farmer committing suicide has the whole national news media landing up in Peepli. The way the news media ends up invading Natha’s life and their ridiculous attempts at capturing the most inane things and in some cases manufacture news to get TRP ratings forms the rest of the movie.

Perhaps in this also lies the main failing of the movie. Like most “breaking news” stories the real human beings involved get pushed to the background and the media persons take center stage, (one only has to watch the recent Randiv no-ball controversy where every two bit news anchor was bad mouthing a cricketer of the caliber of Kumara Sangakarra) by the second half of the movie we are no longer privy to what Natha is thinking but instead more involved in the way the media handles the whole situation. One cannot but feel that to do such a study one could have chosen from a host of other subjects, the way the news media regularly laps up the official version of events without any question when it comes to police encounters or chooses to remain remarkably silent when the usual suspects are illegally detained and interrogated after any bomb blasts or the uneasy silence that the media is maintaining over the “pay-for-news” controversy just before the elections. Perhaps farmer’s suicide is a much more acceptable issue for the multiplexes crowd to engage with and the news media to feel good about their own “social service”. This is though a very personal quibble.

Debutante director Anusha Rizvi shows remarkable balance in not going overboard with her depiction of the news media to the point of reducing it to a caricature while at the same time not taking a Madhur-Bhandarkaresque moral preachy high ground. Also for a first time director she has a remarkable understanding of the power of the camera. Shots that frame the MLA and his coterie at a much higher level compared to Natha and Budhia, the first shot of the movie where Natha and Budhia are traveling in a Jugaad tightly squeezed in and the shot moves out to show a Hyundai speeding on a national highway on which construction is still being carried out by impoverished children, a whole mela being set up at Peepli—mirroring the atmosphere of our news channels whenever there is an election/by-election. Our favorite though is in one of the most poignant moments of the movies where after the death of a farmer (symbolically one who has dug his own grave and maybe belonging to the lower castes considering the desolateness of his dwellings) a tight rope walker is shown indicating the precarious balance on which most poor farmer’s lives hang.

“Peepli Live” shies away and is much the better for doing so, from using abusive language in local dialects unlike quite a few movies released recently which for some strange reason are guaranteed to elicit laughter from the multiplex crowds. Admirable is also the way that the movie chooses not to have a gratuitous “sex scene” or a couple “making out” with no relation to the narrative. Maybe the budget allowed for it, but this is a movie that has all the actors performing equally well unlike other non-mainstream movies where the acting of the extras leaves a lot to be desired.

An exceptional sound track (by Indian Ocean and folk songs by Ram Sampath and Gangaram Siwar) means that this is the fourth excellent Bollywood movie we have seen this year (Ishqiya, LSD, Udaan being the others).

(Photo Courtesy :

Friday, August 13, 2010

Grace Under Pressure

It is said that in the Hyderabad of yore, one could walk into an Irani cafe to have a chai before the early morning cricket practice at 6am, find two old men debating about politics. Again when one went back at 9am to buy bread one could still see the same two old men this time talking about cricket. A throw back to such times is what VVS Laxman's batting is all about.

In today's times of T-20 cricket and sportsperson's increasingly looking like Hugo Drax's ideal human race it is ironical that the two batsmen who have catalyzed India's rise to the top in the ICC test rankings are both pot-bellied and bald. One only has to think that well oiled assembly line machine called the Australian cricket team and look at the fate of players like Martyn, Symonds, Warne (never to be captain) and Tait to name a few of the fate of players who would not conform to the win-at-all-costs mantra.

Our obsession with statistics implies that a middle order batsman who will probably end up with less than 10,000 runs and an average below 50 may never be counted in the pantheon of great batsmen that Sehwag, Sachin and Dravid are firmly entrenched in. But add 10 runs for each innings for the fact that VVS played at 6 with the tail and mediocre wicket keeper test batsmen (Dhoni included) and you get an average of 56 with close to 10000 runs.

But VVS's batting is more than just about the numbers. It is poetry in motion, batting as the gods must have conceived it. Throw back to the summer of 2004 and the SCG, the greatest batsman of my time is partnering VVS and for once Sachin is so overshadowed, so eclipsed by the sheer genius that is VVS. It was at this same venue in 2000 (ironically Sachin was captain then) Glenn McGrath over stepped by a couple of inches and so Shane Warnes catch at slip was dis allowed and what would have been a decent 50 from VVS was allowed to flower to an exemplary 167. The BCCI being what it is VVS probably has to thank that no-ball because his test career could have ended very well there and would have been consigned to one of the numerous what-if’s of India’s cricket players.

Rusell Arnold in the present series before the third test match was making a point that neither Dravid nor VVS have done much of note in this series and that they probably ought to be dropped. That great man called Professor Deano jumped to Dravid’s rescue but none was forthcoming for VVS. Three words come to mind to describe his response to such queries on his place in the squad – Grace Under Pressure, because whenever his place has come under scrutiny he has let his bat do all the talking.

Thanks to the BCCI’s magnanimity the final day of the last test match was on a weekend which meant I could watch it in real time. And what a delicious situation the match was in 200 runs needed on a fast deteriorating pitch. Once the formality of removing Ishant Sharma was taken care off by Randiv, VVS joined Sachin. It is very rare that the commentators these days actually say something of value but Arun Lal was spot on as the two removed all the sting out of the Lankan attack by saying “We are seeing two absolute masters of the game in action here”. VVS would have had to play against Mendis who had gotten him out 7 times (ironically in Mendis’s debut series where he ran through the Indians, VVS had the highest average after the openers Sehwag and Gambhir). The kind of form that VVS was in Mendis was greeted by an extra cover drive followed by an on drive the kind of which only VVS could play. Battling back spasms (the break for its treatment leading to Sachin losing his concentration and throwing his wicket away) VVS scored the kind of hundred that is most satisfying to any batsman, one that leads to the team winning. As Raina hoisted Welegedara to the mid wicket fence for a six one could only marvel at what we had watched an innings to treasure.

Arun Lal in a rare display of stating something other than the obvious uttered about Sachin and VVS’s partnership “This is probably not something that we will get to see again in Sri Lanka”. It left me feeling very old but unlike the way a grey fleck of hair this one seemed to leave a richer pleasanter feeling, like wine that that is ageing.