It's celebration time when we see a meaningful film being made in India that is devoid of the usual rubbish mushiness and pop corn romance that makes little sense and call for unnecessary flood of tears that seem to go nowhere. Or, say, when they pick up a realistic subject and attempt to allegedly make a story out of it. In an industry that turns West every time it falls short of original ideas, here's a movie that is both contemporary and as original as it gets. The trick in the Indian context, however, is to pick up what appears on the surface to be a typical tear-jerker, possibly a social issue (something that our TV serials amply do these days) and turn into a product that keeps the histrionics at a bare minimum, appeals to a wider audience and doesn't sound preachy. (I caught the morning 10.40 am show at Pune's Inox (one of my favourite theatres) and the hall was about 20% occupied, mostly by young college kids. They were having a ball of a time, laughing merrily at the various twists, turns and dialogues.) That, in a nutshell, is Peepli Live, a film made by debutant director Ms Anusha Rizvi, who was earlier a journalist.
The story tracks two farmer brothers Natha and Budhiya, in a fictitious village called Peepli, who lose their land to a bank when they cannot repay the bank's loan. Getting to know about how the government compensates the families of those farmers who commit suicides, the brothers decide that Natha would commit suicide so that the government pays his family (Natha's wife, three children and mother; Budhiya is single and lives with them) so that atleast the family can live. The media comes to know of this story and very soon there is a circus of frenzied media chasing the story scrambling upon each other to cover what appears to be the country's first Live farmer suicide (hence, the name Peepli Live) on camera and politicians trying to get a mileage out of this awkward situation.
It's a serious subject, yet, not for one second does Peepli Live gets preachy. The film is not a documentary; it's a satire. It's a dark comedy about how the farmer brother duo aim to make a quick buck to ensure their family lives to die another day. The movie takes a satirical look at the the political class and the media. The opposition and the ruling State party falls head over heals to either take advantage of this situation or do a massive PR to save their faces. The media is only too happy to cover every aspect of the beleaguered farmer family, dissecting every little detail surrounding Natha, breaking news, and all of that; even answering nature's call becomes a big headache. It literally is a circus out there. It takes a journalist to show glimpses of how the media can chase a story, hook or by crook.
The script is tight and the screenplay is fantastic. The performances are superb and it's a wonderful sight to see raw talented actors from little known theatre groups turn in such marvelous performances. Clearly, the best film of 2010 so far.