"Peepli (Live)"

“Peepli (Live)” Review


Omkar Das Manikpuri…….…….….Natha Das Manikpuri
Raghuvir Yadav……………….…….Buddhia Manikpuri
Malaika Shenoy……………….…….Nandita Malik


Director………………….….…….Anusha Rizvi
Producers……………….…….….Anusha Rizvi
Writers…………………….….…..Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao

The moment you come upon this review, you might think “Huh? What’s this?” Others may be happy to finally see an appreciation for foreign films on this blog because, after all, foreign films can make you think as well. What both parties have in common, however, is the fact that they are unlikely to have ever heard of “Peepli (Live).” Even in India, this movie passed largely unnoticed, and it may surprise even the Indians that this film was India’s 2011 entry for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. While it was never recognized and didn’t get a nomination, it nonetheless has an important story to tell.

The film is set in rural India, in a place called Peepli, and follows two brothers, Natha and Buddhia Manikpuri, who are impoverished, and barely have the means to survive. Despite this, with whatever money they do have, the two brother – instead of farming – go out and buy alcohol for themselves. This has been going on for a long time, and it simply could not be sustained; when the government comes and tells the Manikpuri family that they must repay their loans, or their land and home will be seized, the brothers know that they are in deep trouble. Without their land, they know they will be unable to make even the minimal amount of money they are making now and they will fall further into poverty and will not be able to uphold their family.

So when the family hears of a scheme which may get them out of this dilemma, they immediately take notice. The scheme is if a farmer commits suicide, the government gives the family Rs. 100,000 – at today’s conversion rates, that comes to just short of US $2000; that may not really seem like a great deal, especially considering that a whole family needs to be sustained, but that is how it is. The rural headmen of the village feel that this is a good way for the Manikpuris to get some money, and tell the brothers that one of them should commit suicide.

Now, the brothers have to decide which of the two must die, and finally, they reach the conclusion that it must be Natha who dies. However, a news reporter, Rakesh, from Peepli overhears this conversation in a bar, and reports it to his news agency. Immediately, the agency picks up the story in order to get a sensational suicide; farmer suicide stories are, alas, commonplace in rurual India, but to catch a “live” suicide would be making history. However, a rival Hindi news agency fins this story too, and this sparks off a tussle between the agencies for this ‘great’ story. Add to this the fact that there is political turmoil in the state where Peepli is (and where his film is set), and this is a recipe for disaster.

From here on, the story begins to take a very satirical turn, and uses dark humour throughout to get its point across. It takes a darkly humorous and satirical look at Indian media, and how it works, and on the ridiculously loose morals it is based on. It also comments upon the political indecision in the country and shows us just how incredibly stupid politicians and the government can be. And yet, we Indians gobble it all up and just keep on living.

The casting in this film is absolutely fantastic. Two relative unknowns in Bollywood (for those of you that don’t know, Bollywood describes the Hindi film industry in India), Omkar Das Manikpuri and Raghuvir Yadav give us extremely moving performances as Natha and Buddhia Manikpuri respectively. They completely embody their roles, and it makes for an enthralling move experience. The compassionate and sympathetic Rakesh, the reporter who overhears the story, is also played excellently as by another unknown Nawazuddin Siddiqui. The ever-amazing Naseeruddin Shah, an Indian film great, is also on-the-dot in his role as the Federal Agriculture Minister.

The score is also moving, with a pitch-perfect score. Many people feel that Bollywood is all about ramped up choruses and excessively large dance sets. However, this is not the case in “Peepli (Live),” as the music is subtle, and adds to the film very well.

This movie makes a lot of comments on media and politics in India, and on Indian society as a whole. The film really makes the audience think of the state of this nation; despite the fantastic 8% growth story, there is a deeply tragic back-story, and it simply cannot be ignored. It makes the viewers – especially the Indians – reflect on their own lives and the country as a whole. Despite humorous, this film makes us understand the bleak events that surround us at every corner, and that we are not doing anything about it. Unfortunately, suicide stories like this are all too common in India, but nothing ever changes.

This is not the usual garbage that Bollywood spits out. Bollywood, in terms of movies made, outnumbers Hollywood in the ratio 1:8. Yet, most of those movies are complete rubbish, just out to make a quick buck. However, occasionally, one comes upon a film which is deeply moving and makes the audience think – “Peepli (Live)” is just that sort of film. With a fantastic cast, moving story, and apt score, this film succeeds on every level. In the hands of any other director, this film could have turned into a mess, but Anusha Rizvi does the exact opposite, making an excellent film. Aamir Khan – in my opinion, the best actor in Bollywood – must also be given credit for the amazing job he has done as producer.

Many people have never sat through an entire Bollywood film, while others have never begun watching one, for whatever reason. But if anyone ever wants to delve into this industry and wants to see a good Bollywood movie which makes the viewer think, then “Peepli (Live)” is as good as place as any to start.