Peepli Live

Peepli Live


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

It is sometimes said that sufficiently advanced satire is indistinguishable from reality. Peepli Live is insufficiently advanced satire, but it is very funny and pertinent. A deeply ironic up-front message that this is a work of fiction, and that any resemblance to reality is "purely coincidental", sets up a wonderfully warped situation.

Natha (Omkar Das) is a lackadaisical, pot-smoking farmer from Peepli, a tiny town in rural India. He is lumbered with a poor harvest, a dragon for a wife and elderly mother. He's in financial trouble, too - he's unable to pay back his government loan and is at risk of losing his land.

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A spate of farmer suicides, bordering on an epidemic, is sweeping the country. Through gossip, Natha learns that the government will compensate his family to the tune of 100,000 rupees (about £1,400) if he commits suicide. He discusses it with his deliciously cynical brother Budhia (Raghubir Yadav), who eggs him on to the "great honour". They have a lengthy (and very funny) argument about who should die to get the money. Ultimately, Natha agrees to fall on his sword.

And news of Natha's intentions spreads like wildfire through the little town. Soon, word gets to the media, and eventually local and national politicians, thus delivering the political perfect storm. The sociopolitical maelstrom of media and bureaucrats descend on Peepli, with far-reaching consequences for all.

Malaika Shenoy plays a enormously vain television journalist, initially fronting amusing The Day Today-style news bulletins, and who knows instinctively that the Peepli situation will grow and grow. She has a level-head on her shoulders and knows her place perfectly. Her argument with a small-time journalist digging for a story hammers home the consequences of ignoring social justice in favour of putting on a good show.

Some of the film's biggest gags come from political party leaders twitching like speed-freaks over the situation - rattling off press releases and commanding their bought and paid for newspapers print "at least 15 positive stories". They speak in soundbites, such as: "the welfare of the farmers is the welfare of the Indian People" or "Victory to the Nation". They spout nationalistic dogma, which is repeated till it has lost all its meaning.

The gags get broader and broader, with fashion correspondents interviewing Natha's wife with the result being a verbal knuckle-sandwich. Religious leaders descend, with their swathes of followers. There's even someone poking at Natha's faeces to attempt to discern his state of mind.

Anusha Rizvi directs from her own script, creating a clever and well-written parable. A very large cast, outstanding production values and a solid story cement the reality of the situation, and no character's motivations go unexamined. There are many very big laughs to be had. This comedy about mass suicide doesn't quite reach Chris Morris levels of acidic discomfort and nervous giggles, but it's still wonderful stuff.

Reviewed on: 20 Jul 2010
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Social satire about not-very-suicidal but desperate farmer.
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Director: Anusha Rizvi

Writer: Anusha Rizvi

Starring: Omkar Das, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Raghubir Yadav, Shalini Vatsa, Farukh Jaffer

Year: 2010

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: India

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