Every so often, a film comes along that purports to take up a subject of very serious import and presents it – not with moribund preachiness but unbridled zaniness (remember the Academy winner of the yore, Life Is Beautiful?). For such a film to work, the cynicism and satire should not overshadow the underlying pathos. The writer, director and performers have to tread a very thin line. Too much leaning to one side, the film becomes a farce with no soul; a little bit to the other, and the pathos makes the black humor jarring.
Writer, director Anusha Rijvi of Peepli Live negotiates this line with such seeming nonchalance that it is hard to believe that this is her first film and that she does not have a filmy background. What an amazing and audacious debut! Aamir Khan deserves kudos for recognizing her talent and backing her all the way.
Peepli (Live) is about two brothers in desperate straits. They are about to lose their ancestral land and there doesn’t appear to be any way they can salvage it other than for one of them to die and get the survivors a government grant for families of farmers committing suicide. Natha, the younger brother who is a little slow on the uptake, ends up offering himself for this honor. Their sleepy, way out from the rest of the world, village Peepli is in the throes of a by-election where the Chief Minister himself is the candidate. As news of Natha’s decision to kill himself gets around, the political opponents of the Chief Minister, try to exploit this to their advantage. Quite unwittingly, the family ends up in the center of a frenzied media circus and a political chess game.
Natha and his family want their farm to be safe and their lives to be back to normal; the CM wants his constituency to be safe for him; his opponents want to rub the CM’s nose in the dust; the government officials and the police want to be left alone; and, the TV channels want to outscore their rivals. What else can result out of this except, literally, a carnival? And, what is to happen to the hapless Natha and his family?
Anusha Rizvi handles this circus with the assurance of an experienced ringmaster. The setting and the language are rustic and realistic; the characters colorful, diverse and full of vigor and vim; the situations pregnant with irony. Rizvi varies her shots and the pace of the film to ensure that the script never lags. The multiple layers within the narrative fit well with each other. The occasional overwrought situations do not impede the flow of the narrative and Rizvi balances these with several underplayed sequences. The humor, with several scenes that had the audience in splits, flows naturally without being forced.
Rizvi is supported by an exceptional cast and crew. Another debutant Omkar Das plays Natha with such understated deftness that it is hard to imagine how it could be improved. Raghubir Yadav turns in another excellent performance as the older brother, Budhia. Shalini Vatsa as the beleaguered shrew of a wife of Natha and Faruque Jaffar as the tart-tongued mother steal their scenes. Naseeruddin Shah is – of course- smooth and suave as the wily Union Minister for agriculture. Every one else, including those playing the villagers, the media folk and the political junta fit well in their skins, amply aided by realistic dialogue, costumes, make-up and sets. Music, lyrics, photography and editing enhance the film.
Peepli (Live) is a complete package. Once again, Aamir Khan Productions does not disappoint us. They spare no effort in bringing us another excellent movie. The film deserves critical and commercial success.
On this Independence Day, this film should help us take a candid look at ourselves.
dES mEraa rang^rEli yE baaboo…
V. Chowdary Jampala
August 15, 2010