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).

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