Seldom has a movie raised expectations in such a subtle manner as Aamir Khan’s latest diatribe on farmer suicides. Right from the motley bunch of stage actors to his tongue-in-cheek television commercial, Khan managed to raise everyone’s interest on ‘Peepli Live’ over the past six to eight weeks.
And make no mistake, the actor, who has been taking up hard hitting themes in two of his last three movies, viz., ‘TZP’ and ’3 Idiots’, does it again with this movie that has a heart and soul. And first time director Anusha Rizvi bravely uses biting satire to provide the multiplex audience a glimpse of their own ugly countenance among the many other obvious ills plaguing modern India.
The movie is as much about the growing gap between the haves and have-nots as it is about politicians stooping to win and urban TV channels routinely mistaking the woods for the trees. Rizvi, herself a former mediaperson, has a biting scene where an earnest local reporter takes on a city-bred English news anchor’s ignorance and her lack of “news sense”.
Five reasons to watch ‘Peepli Live’
- For the discerning, what stays along after the credit titles rolls in is the vast chasm in the calibre of actors and our stars, not to speak of superstars. The manner in which each of the actors have infused life into mundane characters brings out one of the biggest ironies of Bollywood where stars chop away 70% of a movie’s cost only because their audience differentiate style from substance.
- If Raghubir Yadav’s combines the helplessness of a debt-ridden farmer with the cunning of an elder brother manipulating his sibling towards a suicide with the ease of a veteran, Omkar Das Manikpuri as Natha creates a resigned-to-my-fate countenance without having much to say throughout the movie.
- Even the supporting cast of Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the local journalist who breaks the story, Shalini Vatsa as the wife and Farrukh Jaffer as the beedi-smoking mother of the protagonist are simply effortless. The best turn of them all comes from Malaika Shenoy who does a great take on a well known English news anchor on television without allowing it to become a parody.
- One of the best scripts in recent times, the movie unfolds as a farmer’s problem but slowly encompasses every facet of modern day life that has increased the distance between villages and cities as much as it has made the haves want more and the have nots get less. The tongue-in-cheek references to Lal Bahadur (euphemism for a hand-pump in the movie) Shastri’s Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan movement is not lost on the audience.
- Though the movie tells a serious tale, the element of humour is what director Rizvi uses to capture our attention. What’s more, it stays throughout the movie where nobody is spared from the satire – be it the Agriculture Minister, the sensationalism chasing Hindi news anchor or the nose-in-the-air English channel representatives.
Five reasons to avoid ‘Peepli Live’
- If anyone tried to truly imbibe the soul of the movie, it will leave a lump in the throat and maybe make it that much more difficult to continue living the consumerist culture of a city-dweller. The helpless faces of Natha and Budhia will haunt us forever though director Anusha Rizvi has already announced that she expects nothing like this to happen!
- While castigating the television channels for routinely missing the bigger picture and chasing sensationalism, the movie raised some uncomfortable questions about viewers like me and you. One cannot undermine the cause-and-effect relationship between TV channels chasing TRPs and viewers like us ensuring that we watch such over-the-top sensationalism.
- The irony of a politician’s one-upmanship is also not lost on us as approaching elections makes politicians swoop down on the otherwise nondescript village of Peepli. The hidden message that politicians have been treating villagers as a votebank only because the urban middle class has not bothered to participate in universal adult franchise is again not lost on us.
- On the scripting front, perhaps the only flaw is that the movie becomes a tad predictable in the second half… if one can call it that since the entire movie lasts much less than two hours. Like all good things, the movie winds up even as we begin warming up to its protagonists and start enjoying Nathu’s predicament and the impact it has on the high and mighty.
- And finally, as an audience if you are going to spend a weekend at the multiplex, be warned that more than a movie about a farmer’s plight it is a movie about the ignorance of the middle class to the farmer’s plight. So, if you want to stay happy within your comfort zone, watching the ODI cricket series in Sri Lanka and munching popcorn will be a better bet.
Postscript: Wonder what Amitabh Bachchan, who fought for the right to be called a farmer to own land in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, will do after he was shown the movie by Aamir Khan.[?]