PEEPLI LIVE (Dir. Anusha Rizvi, 2010, India)

Farmers committing suicide so they can be compensated after their death by the government is the backdrop to this Aamir Khan production. The opening dilemma of two farmers, Natha and Budhia, having their land seized by the feudalistic powers that be echoes Shambhu Mahto’s enslavement to the demonic zamindar in Do Bigha Zamin. Peepli Live takes the story of impoverished framers to analyse the state of the Indian media. At times, it was a case of too many characters and sub plots overwhelming the main narrative. I’m no sure why the film feels the need to work in so many narratives and although it might work to highlight the hysterical media frenzy, ultimately it detracts from the original story of the farmers. When the national media discovers that Natha has promised to commit suicide, they descend upon the village, turning the rural space into a media carnival. The film’s parasitic depiction of the media recalls with eerie precision the vicious journalism of Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole. Similarly in Peepli Live, the media pretends to care in the interests of coverage for their respective news channels. If the media is rightly the target of this satirical critique than it does a far better job than a recent film like No One Killed Jessica in which the media is presented as flawed but still courageous in its support of those denied a voice or misrepresented.

Additionally, what makes this film’s representation of the media much more convincing and complex is the attempt to include the role of local media. In this case, the indigenous and authentic voice of the media comes from a local journalist Rakesh who finds the ‘real’ story worth telling in the village. Natha and Budhia’s predicament becomes a political bandwagon, creating a media platform for ideological dogma that reduces life and death to an inconsequential meta-narrative. Director Anusha Rizvi’s film is an assured debut, which benefits from a well-written screenplay, good pacing and some flashes of visual imagination. However, it is a film salvaged in many ways by the end shot of an exhausted Natha covered in a mask of dirt working in a construction site, most probably in the city; it’s the most haunting and effective shot of the film because it says so clearly that no matter where Natha goes he will be always be part of an anonymous invisible mass.

The final shot – Natha as exile, worker, migrant and part of the invisible underclass.

2 thoughts on “PEEPLI LIVE (Dir. Anusha Rizvi, 2010, India)

  1. >>However, it is a film salvaged in many ways by the end shot of an exhausted Natha covered in a mask of dirt working in a construction site, most probably in the city;

    Wow, you put it perfectly. Even I felt the final moments salvaged the film a bit more for me because that shot conveyed so much without any dialogue. I also liked the inclusion of a silent farmer who is trying to kill himself by digging his own grave. The silent farmer represents the story of those who real life farmers who committed suicide but no one is looking to tell his story in the film as the story gets caught up in the media circus. I also felt the film tried to cover too much ground. What started out as a genuine story about a farmer's plight turns into an over the top satire of the media. At times, it felt like there were two films competing for space here. And the silent farmer's scenes are worthy but they also highlight that perhaps Peepli Live becomes part of the media satire the film is trying to make fun of. The media ignore the true story and in a way Peepli Live moves away from the true story as well and gets caught up in poking fun of the media.

    I have yet to see the Marathi film Gabhricha Paus (The Damned Rain) which stars Sonali Kulkarni but from what I have read that is a more serious look at the farmer suicide issue.


  2. This does seem to be the case that regional cinemas in India seem to much more apt at taking on such issues – Gabhricha Paus sounds really interesting, will have to give it a watch. Its important you mention the silent farmer digging his own grave – I overlooked that image, and your right, it is one of the more effective from the film.


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