Starring: Raghubir Yadav, Omkar Das Manikpuri, Vishal O. Sharma
Directed by Anusha Rizvi
Peepli [Live] is another of those new-age Bollywood films that win half the creative battle by their pitch-perfect casting. In her debut venture, Anusha Rizvi foregoes star names and brings to the fore interesting faces that are complete strangers to the big screen, most of them culled from the late Habib Tanvir’s Naya Theatre. Together, in Peepli [Live], they make for affecting cinema.
From the very first shot, the rooted and real feel is evident, especially in the honest eyes and faces of the villagers. You feel for Natha’s inarticulate dilemma about losing his plot of land. You sympathise with his wife Dhaniya’s frustrations, his elder brother Budhiya’s good-hearted shrewdness, the mother’s shrewish ways and Natha’s own half-hearted resolve to commit suicide for a Rs 1 lakh grant. His dour simplicity and pitiable state becomes even more poignant against the frenzied and farcical media and anarchic political circus that builds around him. The masterstroke is the quiet character of another farmer, Hori, who literally keeps digging his grave in the background. And no one notices.
Anusha’s sympathies are transparent. All through the film, her camera is on the side of the simple, gullible villagers who are being turned into fools and taken for a ride by the exploitative city-breds, the educated idiots, the politician-bureaucrat-media combine. It’s the relentless and scathing attack on this trinity that makes Peepli...discomforting.
For long, mainstream Bollywood has been taking potshots at the media, be it a Mumbai Meri Jaan or Rann. Peepli is the most belligerent, frontal attack yet. Many would deem it unfair but there is an element of real at play in the absurd. From how stories are chased, sound bites put together, to the rivalries and competitiveness. Vishal O. Sharma stands out as Kumar Deepak, the journo who carries sensational stories in his pocket. The media madness might seem loud and over-the-top, but doesn’t TV news, more often than not, sound as cacophonous, absurd and farcical to an average viewer? Just as we write this review, TV news is playing Keher Dengue Ka: “Machhar kaat sakta hai Dilli ki naak. Machhar ne ki hai tayyari poori.” Real turning reel or reel turning real? Quite clearly, the lampooning couldn’t just be a figment of Anusha’s bright mind.
Yet, she does show the redemptive picture of the media as well. The small-town reporter Rakesh is the voice of our conscience. He reminds us that our real stories are those of the “Horis” rather than the “Nathas”. That, we more often than not don’t take our significant stories to their rightful conclusions. And who decides these conclusions?
The popular song Mehngai Daayein seems thrust into the narrative and, save Des Mera, the other excellent songs don’t get integrated well in the film. There are repetitive strands and loose ends which ask for explanations but eventually Peepli makes a point and poignantly at that.