Aug 22, 2010

Notes on Peepli [Live]

There is something incredible that happens as you sit watching Peepli Live (PL), another gem from Aamir Khan productions. You start to feel fat, bloated, ugly, dirty, ummm, .... corpulent. This feeling hits the peak midway into the film when we meet the skeletal figure of Mahto, the farmer who has lost his land & now keeps relentlessly digging mud all day on an empty stomach and under a merciless sun, to sell it for construction work . You have seen such Mahto's in previous films of rural exploitation by mrinal sen, shyam benegal and adoor gopalakrishnan, yet it knocks a hard punch again. Any filmmaker who can present a story or material that we are already familiar with and yet shake us so hard, deserves kudos and that is the least of Rizvi's accomplishments.

PL tells the story of Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri), the dimwitted, ganja khor, younger brother of Budhiya (Raghuvir Yadav), both impoverished farmers living in one of the many hinterlands of our great nation where farmers' lives are held ransom to the gratuitous wishes of local politicians and their goons and the whims of a capricious monsoon. The family loses its ancestral land, though one look at the other farmers and you know the land wasn't that big a boon for them really; and through a curious mix of circumstances and very shrewed psychological manipulation by Budhiya, Natha announces that he will commit suicide as the government has announced a compensation of Rs 1,00,000 for the family of such suicide victims.  Post such sensational announcement, his suicide is touted as the first 'live suicide' and media channels from all across the nation swoop down on Natha and his family, and probe, poke, punch their way to obnoxious breaking news. As the media circus grows crazier and everyone from bureaucrats, reigning politicians to opposition members get involved, the once sleepy and dead village in Mukhya Pradesh becomes a hotbed of business. Corn stalls, sellers of 'Miss World' bindi , and candy floss carts range around the periphery of Natha's house. No one seems to care that at the heart of this drama is a very real & haunted human being who recedes deeper and deeper into a corner and loses all semblance of a living, breathing, individual. PL is not really about the scumbag that the media is or about political apathy to the nation's problems. It is actually about something that is dying, or already dead in all of us; something that was not supposed to ever die; the loss of which we cloak in an air of nonchalance as we cite our busy schedules and hectic lifestyle as the reasons behind such indifference. We watch wonderful films, read inspiring accounts of whistle blowers who pay with their lives, shed a few tears, write a blog and go get a drink.

PL has been labelled a black comedy, a satire and even been compared to Janey Bhi Do Yaron. The thing that stuck me as odd was that not once in its 2-hrs plus running time was i able to laugh as i do every time i watch JBDY.Thing is, there's too much at stake here; plus JBDY, while very distressing, delves about something that we have all had to accept fairly early on - the loss of integrity. But we haven't killed anyone! PL has at its centre a helpless human being ; one who, albeit an imbecile, is the father to 3 children and a son, a brother and a spouse. Sure his life is no great guns, yet it is all he has. You can't sit back and laugh as that life, the only one he has ever known, is taken away from him. As this theatre of the absurd unravels, you start to feel a strange constriction in your chest, you wish you could weep, but can't. In this, PL impacted me in much the same manner that Revolutionary Road & MDB did. These films leave a hangover that you struggle to shake off in the next few days.

What is really wonderful about the film is that even while outlining all the muck and dirt and corruption we have become so accustomed to, it never exhibits any self-righteous indignation, nor is the media a terrible conniving villain as in Rann or New Delhi Times. Like all of us, journos have their KRAs and KPIs to think of  and when TRPs decide your next pay hike or promotion, it doesn't take much pushing to cover sansanikhes stories like Prince-falls-into-the-well. The journalists in the film are not particularly unscrupulous, they have simply chosen to desensitize themselves in much the same manner a surgeon has to in order to perform his job effectively.  Which is why, when one of these journos does fall, that strange compression swells once again, yet you feel oddly relieved. Had he continued to live, Avinash (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) would have turned into another Mallika, another one of us.

I don't want to talk about the film's music or fantastic actors as much has been written about those things. But there is a particular scene that deserves special mention. Nawazuddin Siddiqui is that rare actor who can produce that slight crack in the voice that men emit when they are struggling to speak without breaking down, that slightly wet-eyed stare as they struggle to maintain their bravado in the face of events that scar them forever. He has done the same in a 5-minute scene in that eminently forgettable film New York where i first noticed him. He embodies all that was once alive within us and which we lose as we grow older. He reminds you of the wisdom of those old words - the good die young. 

Finally, a sense of immense gratitude to aamir khan for backing such films, for ensuring them the promotion that is PL's due, yet would have been impossible had he not been behind it. I'm an unabashed aamir khan fan and i can see many smirk at what i'm going to write next (D, jd, avi). To me, he embodies the life cycle of a successful man, one we must all aspire to be. He is/was a brilliant actor and now that he doesn't exactly have to bother where his next meal will come from, has branched out and lent his expertise to promote subjects close to his heart. It's not simply a TZP or PL that earns him my respect. This was the 1st actor who visited the jawaans in Ladakh before NDTV started carrying out weekly excursions with the likes of actors like urmila matondkar and sunil shetty! This is the very same guy who i have yet to see in a single yawn-worthy, forgettable ad. In an industry rampant with mediocrity, he is the epitome of quality (ok, am sure he signed Ghajini in a moment of amnesia). Salude Sir!


stonetemplepilot said...

he is also the first actor to refuse a wax display of himself in md tussad's!
he is also the first bolywood actor to marry a kannadiga! :)

drift wood said...


a new avatar, huh? :) but the snide comments continue. ah! never mind. good to have u back.

onlooker said...

was left teary-blurry-eyed for a while...sets in a sort of a benumbing effect...and wat uve said is so true, the effect wears of too soon, too often!!