Peepli [Live] is a delightful, adeptly helmed satire the likes of which haven’t been seen sinceJaane Bhi Do Yaaro and the innumerable attempts it has inspired. Yet these are films are in the realm of farce; Peepli [Live] however falls into a darker category, one which is more real than its take leads us to believe.
News channels are the target of Peepli’s hyperbolic reaction, and yet one questions if the moronic state-of-affairs that the film depicts is very far from the truth. The kind of content India TV serves up is but only one step short of the literal shit that their reflections in Peepli do. News, grave and serious, is nothing but popcorn entertainment – to be squeezed till the last drop – and no amount of self-respect or social conscience is allowed to get in the way of the holy TRP. All those behind-the-newsroom stories (an editor at India TV once said, puffing with pride, “I can pull a story for 30 minutes with a single image!”) Anusha Rizvi borrows and moulds into a brilliant comment that is fun to traverse and relevant to behold.
The film revolves around a villager called Natha,his brother Budhia and their family. The family is about to lose their land because they are unable to repay a loan, when, they hear of a government programme which offers the family of any farmer committing suicide a compensation of rupees one lakh. The older brother convinces his sibling into agreeing to commit suicide. This sets in motion a chain of events which finds Natha in the eye of a storm. The local big wigs, the state government, high ranking bureaucrats, federal ministers and the national media all become stakeholders in the mad circus that erupts…
To be fair, the theme is not entirely unexplored and the media is a favorite whipping boy of several Hindi films, especially in the last couple of years. In fact, poking fun at “sun-sunny samachar” for a scene or two is mandatory in every second release. Even the shortcomings of government policies (the superb bits on the ‘Lal Bahadurs’ and the ‘Jawahar Rozgar’ in Peepli) concerning welfare of the rural and those BPL has been ably-handled in the recent Well Done Abba. And yet the package is more than the sum of its parts, Peepli achieves that summit of satirical elegance like no film before it.
Perhaps it is the fact that below its insouciant exterior are deep, dark recesses that are home to painful truths we are privy to. What about the farmer-turned-laborer who spends the last days of his life in pain and misery? What about the journalist with a conscience awakening and the high price he has to pay for it? Even the socialite English-spewing journalist has her reasons to be the way she is. It is after all a collective society that decides the fates of the individuals that comprise it.
Peepli unfolds at its own pace and in its make believe world in an elegant, cohesive telling that encompasses hard slapping the media, poking pointedly at local politics, and taking a swipe at the workings of the central government. The characters are real to the last thread on their sweaters. From any slice of 10 seconds in the film – just based on costume design and dialogue writing alone – you will be able to guess that the setting is a winter in Haryana. We laugh not at any intended wit from the words that sit with a natural ease on that characters’ tongues, but indirectly at dilemmas that we as the audience would never face.
The grammar of the film is in fine form and Rizvi displays amazing maturity and control. Shanker Raman’s camerawork is crisp and doesn’t allow for narrative tedium. The editing capitalizes on the coverage and uses a couple of innovative techniques (like the journey form the village to the city in the end) to good advantage. Sound design by Harikumar Pillai is just plain brilliant. Indian Ocean’s music adds to the atmosphere and still doesn’t distract Perhaps the only compliant would be the attention to detail on background action. Neither are they dressed appropriately, nor are they ‘acting’ properly.
This is arguably Raghuvir Yadav’s finest performance. His understated, timely curses, his weak attempts at manipulating a situation that is soon well beyond his control, and his overall demeanor are testament to an outstanding run of films. Omkar Das Manikpuri works with his silences and his deadpan expression remarkably. He probably has all of 10 lines in the entire film and almost all of them are delivered in the first 15 minutes. After that he only has to count on his eyes and his look. The supporting cast – Naseeruddin Shah, Shalini Vatsa, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Farukh Jaffer, and Vishal Sharma do not disappoint in the least. Special mention for Malaika Shenoy, after a long time an English-speaking role isn’t etched by an elocution contest winner.
And so, while Peepli [Live] could’ve been darker, deeper, and broader in its scope, it isn’t exactly opportunity lost. Aamir Khan makes a master move backing a film that targets his lifelong nemeses, and with this blitzkrieg promotion has ensured that you will watch it, despite this favorable review. Be assured, it’s well worth it.
Hindi, Comedy, Color